flexibeast.space - gemlog - 2024-01-26

Back on Usenet

A few days ago i learned that Google will shortly detach Google Groups from Usenet:

Starting on February 22, 2024, you can no longer use Google Groups (at groups.google.com) to post content to Usenet groups, subscribe to Usenet groups, or view new Usenet content. You can continue to view and search for historical Usenet content posted before February 22, 2024, on Google Groups

...

Google's explanation for the change is that "legitimate activity in text-based Usenet groups has declined significantly because users have moved to more modern technologies and formats such as social media and web-based forums."

The search and ads giant added "Much of the content being disseminated via Usenet today is binary (non-text) file sharing, which Google Groups does not support, as well as spam."

-- The Register: “Google Groups ditches links to Usenet, the OG social network”

This made me want to check out the current state of Usenet, with the result that i'm now actively following some newsgroups again.

Đe Olde Internette

i first got on the Internet around '94, via my uni. Internet/email wasn't provided by default to students in general, but it was possible to get both by specifically requesting them, which involved doing some running around. Having done so, i played a bit with the NCSA Mosaic browser, Gopher, and MUDs, but it was Usenet that i ended up most focused on.

Spam and binaries did increasingly become a problem over time, but what eventually drove me away from Usenet was the toxic behaviours of a number of people, and the resulting signal-to-noise ratio problems. comp.lang.lisp particularly stands out in my mind in this regard, for various reasons[a].

Google providing a Web UI to Usenet via Google Groups certainly didn't create the problems with spam, binaries and toxic behaviours, but i feel it definitely amplified them. Significantly increasing the size of a user base is pretty much guaranteed to result in a corresponding significant increase in the number of bad actors, often beyond various communities' capacity to manage them. This had already happened to Usenet, in the form of Eternal September:

Eternal September or the September that never ended is Usenet slang for a period beginning around 1993 when Internet service providers began offering Usenet access to many new users. The flood of new users overwhelmed the existing culture for online forums and the ability to enforce existing norms. AOL followed with their Usenet gateway service in March 1994, leading to a constant stream of new users. Hence, from the early Usenet point of view, the influx of new users in September 1993 never ended.

-- Wikipedia: ‘Eternal September’

Usenet now

Some of the groups i'm now subscribed to include comp.infosystems.gemini, linux.gentoo.user, comp.unix.shell and comp.lang.lisp. All of these are active, albeit in the low-traffic range. Spam and toxic behaviours are in the low-to-nonexistent range. Binaries are nonexistent because i've signed up to the eternal-september.org server, which is text-newsgroups-only.

i'm using Emacs' Gnus as my newsreader. It's powerful, giving the sort of control we can often only long for in other discussion/forum environments; but it has a bit of a steep initial learning curve, which i say as someone who's been using Emacs for more than 25 years. (At one point i tried using Gnus as an email client, interfacing with my mail archive, which is maildir-based[b]; i spent a number of hours trying to make it work, but eventually gave up. i later ended up moving from using mutt as my email client, which i'd been using for years, to using mu4e, which i've been using ever since.)

We'll see how it goes over the medium-to-longer term, but for now, i'm appreciating a low-bandwidth discussion environment which doesn't require the use of the behemoth that is The Modern Web.

🏷 ict,sociology

Glossary

Gemlog Home

[a] For example, programming fundamentalist behaviour in the vein of a classic joke, which i've seen attributed to Emo Philips:

I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump off. I immediately ran over and said “Stop! Don't do it!”

“Why shouldn't I?” he said.

I said, “Well, there's so much to live for!”

“Like what?”

“Well ... are you religious or atheist?”

“Religious.”

“Me too! Are you Christian or Jewish?”

“Christian.”

“Me too! Are you Catholic or Protestant?”

“Protestant.”

“Me too! Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?”

“Baptist.”

“Wow! Me too! Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord?”

“Baptist Church of God.”

“Me too! Are you Original Baptist Church of God, or are you Reformed Baptist Church of God?”

“Reformed Baptist Church of God.”

“Me too! Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1915?”

“Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1915!”

To which I said, “Die, heretic scum!” and pushed him off.

[b] i have a strong preference for Bernstein's maildir format, after an accident many years ago caused me to lose a lot of mbox-based mail; it wouldn't have happened had i been using maildir.

“Using maildir format”