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January 11 2011

Usenet: The corpse still twitches

A year and a half ago, I posted that Usenet is dead.

I was only partially correct.

Usenet is like a fungus that grows in the ventilation shaft of your car. You can never make it all go away. No matter how much time has passed, there is always a little left.

Usenet is the same way. It's dead, but the corpse still twitches. On a lark, I decided to make my Wifi router (a netbook) a news server, since having it just be a wifi router was a waste.

Back in the day, a Usenet server was a service any decent ISP was supposed to supply. Those days are long gone. Usenet is now served by a variety of for-pay servers catering to people who use Usenet to download pornography or copyrighted material, as well as a speckling of free servers that only serve text newsgroups.

Looking around for the easiest Usenet feed to hook up to, I found, who allow posting without any registration required. I figure it would give me something to read the next time my internet connection goes down (Usenet's great strength is that you can read and post to it offline).

After too much bother getting everything set up, I was able to download Usenet articles, store them on my hard disk, post (which goes to a file on my hard disk until either I or the crontab runs the script to update Usenet). That done, I was able to look at what has happened to Usenet in the over seven years since I last was on it (my last posting to Usenet was in July of 2003).

A lot has changed. The number of active newsgroups has decreased greatly. The mass exodus to web bulletin boards (phpbb, etc) was well under way when I left. This process has not stopped. Newsgroups with a healthy userbase back in 2003 are now deserted ghost towns. Others have no on-topic traffic, but are merely repositories for off-topic excessively cross-posted flames. Others have very little traffic, barely hanging on by a thread.

In news.groups.proposals, people talk about demolishing whole scale hundreds of inactive newsgroups, just as they have talked about demolishing entire neighborhoods of towns in suburbs of Detroit where no one lives any more.

A number of newsgroups, however, are still active, albeit with far less traffic than they used to have. To correct something I posted on that blog posting: actually is still remarkably active; a lot of regulars who I remember from years back still post there today (and they, nicely enough, remember me).

So, yes, Usenet is dying. It has all of the issues the old Usenet had: Out of control flame wars which can only be stopped by people updating their filters (Usenet is unusable without both a killfile on my local client and a filter for more obnoxious trolls on the server); the same cliquish elitism that it has always had (partially in response to the number of trolls and flamers in Usenet, admittedly); and the same obsolete text-only interface which was outdated in the late 1990s and downright prehistoric today.

But, it has it charm. Mainly nostalgia for someone like me who likes to wear rose tinted glasses and remember the old Usenet. I like to imagine myself in the 1990s with far more money than I actually had back then, using a Poqet PC or Gateway Handbook to access Usenet via a dialup to some *NIX shell account.

Some cool newsgroups I used to participate in which are now ghost towns

alt.hackers (then again, this group was in its death throes back in 2003)
soc.religion.christian (to be fair, this was a moderated group and it might just be a case of the moderator moving on to other things)

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