Usenet

April 19th, 2008 at 4:04 pm by David Farrar

Bruce Simpson writes on Aardvark about Usenet:

Usenet newsgroups used to be one of the cornerstone parts of the internet.

What started out as a relatively small collection of NNTP-based message exchange groups quickly grew into a massive list numbering over 100,000 separate areas of special interest.

Back in the early to mid 1990s, when usenet was at its peak, I used to spend at least an hour a day trawling through my favourite newsgroups discussing things such as guns, engineering, science and other subjects.

Indeed, I made many very long-lasting friendships through usenet and the information I gathered there was invaluable.

But I’ve been awfully busy for the last few years and hadn’t really spent any time in the newsgroups until last week when I decided to revisit my old haunts.

What a horrible shock I got.

Gone is the wealth of friendly discussion, gone are many of the old faces, gone is the useful information that used to proliferate. All of this wonderful stuff seems to have been totally eclipsed by an incredible tide of spam. So much spam in fact, that I doubt I’ll ever use usenet again.

It used to be that anyone posting spam to a usenet newsgroup would immediately be pounced on by system admins and dealt with in a very short space of time.

Now it appears as if nobody really cares.

Usenet looks to have become a ghost-town.

The occasional on-topic post appears, like a ball of tumbleweed rolling through a sea of decaying infrastructure and snake-oil salesmen.

I was also a Usenet regular from 1996 to 2004. More than a regular. I helped set up some new nz.* groups, took part in efforts to fight against spammers and other Usenet vandals, and even helped newbies by answering questions in the new users group. And met some very fine people through Usenet. I used to spend almost as much time on Usenet as I now spend blogging.

But once I found blogs, I started to use Usenet less and less as the signal to noise ration was so much higher on blogs than in Usenet.  And one day I suddenly realised I had not been into Usenet for over a month.  Today I only check it out a couple of times a year.

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10 Responses to “Usenet”

  1. infused (646 comments) says:

    usenet died along, long time ago. There are better ways to get information these days. The only usenet still worth using is the binaries section.

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  2. Ross Nixon (612 comments) says:

    DPF, all is forgiven!!! Come back to nz.comp (And alt.comp.freeware is quite useful). Best free server is news2.motzarella.org. Usenet may be down, but is not out. If you don’t post, it is still useful when researching an obscure tech issue (via groups.google.com).

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  3. Bob (495 comments) says:

    Multiple postings are helping kill it. I would like to see postings restricted automatically to say two newsgroups. I don’t imagine that would be difficult.

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  4. Rex Widerstrom (5,330 comments) says:

    The decline of Usenet is due to system administrators having given up, as Bruce says. I seriously don’t know why they bother keeping the NNTP servers running.

    Things have gone so far that if Usenet is to ever be useful again, I think it needs a reboot: shut it down for a few weeks, which will cause the dumber spambots to give up altogether, then start again with strict moderation policies.

    I too used to be a daily user, and made some friends there. But I’d go there less than once a year now.

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  5. Redbaiter (13,197 comments) says:

    Usenet- overwhelmed by the demented ravings of the looney left and they’re endless commie crap. Just too boring.

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  6. infused (646 comments) says:

    easynews.com is great if you feel like paying for a good service. $10 a month, all news groups with 2 month retention on the binaries.

    I use news.microsoft.com alot for support… that’s about it. Like other people said, the spam bots own them now, admins can’t be bothered. Paradise and Xtra have both shut them down.

    It’s like IRC, slowly declining.

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  7. Josh (54 comments) says:

    It’s really become a delivery mechanism for software/media pirates and a more sophisticated class of enduser, who knows how to obtain a Usenet account and go about obtaining binaries….as a discussion system, it’s outmoded.

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  8. Simon Lyall (101 comments) says:

    Usenet got hit hard by Spam earlier than email so I lot of people were put off it around say 1998-2002 as the web was taking off. Of course these days the amount of spam in newsgroups compared to email is pretty low and a fairly simple filter will keep most of it out ( Look at http://groups.google.com/group/nz.general/topics for instance, Perhaps 2 spams on the whole page).

    Besides the spam thing I think the big thing that killed news was the way one of two idiots could completely dominate a group. New people (or those without hours of spare time each day) would go into a group and see dozens of posts each day from a this small group of people attacking each other and others. Regulars in the group wouldn’t notice because they had filters or were used to it. Read some of the threads off the nz.general link above and you’ll see what I mean.

    It’s a bit like some of the more political threads on this blog (some of the people are the same even) but without any moderation or original posts to provide the useful content for casual readers. Russell Brown made a recent comment in his Webstock08 talk (about 47 minutes in) about how public address tends to have a nicer enviroment (especially in the comments) thann other NZ blogs by which I guess he includes this one.

    So the lack of people joining and the gradual loss of previous users at the same time as other areas of the internet were taking off mean’t that Usenet’s importance pretty much died.

    Usenet has some really good features like threading and scales great ( try and following 100 web forums each with 100+ posts per day) but I think without a good moderation system it won’t ever come back. And people today will demand a good web based newsreader rather than a specialised client which makes things harder still.

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  9. Simon Lyall (101 comments) says:

    Usenet got hit hard by Spam earlier than email so I lot of people were
    put off it around say 1998-2002 as the web was taking off. Of course these
    days the amount of spam in newsgroups compared to email is pretty low
    and a fairly simple filter will keep most of it out ( Look at
    http://groups.google.com/group/nz.general/topics for instance, Perhaps 2
    spams on the whole page).

    Besides the spam thing I think the big thing that killed news was the
    way one of two idiots could completely dominate a group. New people (or
    those without hours of spare time each day) would go into a group and
    see dozens of posts each day from a this small group of people attacking
    each other and others. Regulars in the group wouldn’t notice because
    they had filters or were used to it. Read some of the threads off the
    nz.general link above and you’ll see what I mean.

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  10. lprent (102 comments) says:

    I was a heavy user of usenet using uucp feeds, especially on some of the technical forums. But it started to get very noisy, even in the moderated groups. Wasn’t worth the bandwidth

    I haven’t looked at it for quite some time except when a google search throws something up. My experience with the way that it deteriorated is the main reason that I’m a strong believer in doing moderation of online forums. Otherwise it becomes a case of people with the most free time or the strongest obsession dominating discussion. The people you most wanted to hear got drowned out.

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