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Spaf's Farewell, Ten Years Later 446

catfood writes "Ten years ago this evening, Usenet legend Gene Spafford posted his farewell to news.announce.newusers, news.misc, and a few other newsgroups. Among other things, spaf wrote: 'People don't seem to think before posting, they are purposely rude, they blatantly violate copyrights, they crosspost everywhere, use 20 line signature files, and do basically every other thing the postings (and common sense and common courtesy) advise not to. Regularly, there are postings of questions that can be answered by the newusers articles, clearly indicating that they aren't being read.' Speaking of his own post, spaf said, 'even if it is perceived as self-indulgent garbage, it will fit right in with the rest of the net.' Ten years later, we still have all of spaf's complaints plus mounting spammage just barely held in check by auto-canceling volunteers. Is Usenet still useful? Is it worth maintaining? I say yes, but I can feel spaf's pain. It may be too late now, but hey spaf: thanks."
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Spaf's Farewell, Ten Years Later

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  • So that was (Score:4, Funny)

    by The Dobber ( 576407 ) on Tuesday April 29, 2003 @03:02PM (#5836658)
    his last, as opposed to first, post?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 29, 2003 @03:03PM (#5836662)
    I'm generally not interested in particular groups for the purposes of dicussion, however, when I'm looking to troubleshoot something, I always use Google groups. I figure if I'm having a problem, someone else has probably had it too, and posted about it. Most of the time, I'm right, and I can find a solution (or find out there isn't one.)
    • I always use Google groups.
      Same here. It's indispensable as a troubleshooter. I still use regular Usenet though, and even though most newsgroups are long dead (e.g. alt.2600 [alt.2600]) some are alive and well, e.g. sci.physics [sci.physics]. Personally I find it a nice example of what the Internet was like before the Web, where people traded info, insults and "binaries" over a purely text-based medium.
    • by rf0 ( 159958 )
      One good thing is mailing list -> usenet converters. It means we get all the mailing lists + the power of google. Killer combination

    • by FreeLinux ( 555387 ) on Tuesday April 29, 2003 @04:27PM (#5837484)
      Agreed Deja/Google Groups are fantastic. But, there is a down side to it. The problem is that if everyone is simply using Google Groups and then going elsewhere, such as yourself, then no one is posting to the groups. That means that Usenet will soon become Uselessnet.

      Granted, there are still many people who presently post but that number is definitely declining. The total number of posts is still maintained as spammers move to fill the void.

      To try to maintain the value of Usenet I still regularly post to many groups but, I don't follow the groups. What I mean is that I post solutions to the problems I encounter and thereby use Usenet as a storage medium for my personal knowledgebase articles. The posts are as clear and detailed as possible and usually follow the following format:

      Problem Summary: Brief by accurate and complete description of the problem. Think keywords and how you would have searched Usenet for the answer to the problem like error codes and specific error messages.

      Mitigating details: Such as Hardware and configuration details that did or could have an impact on the actual problem. Software versions specific details about teh problem etc...

      Solution: Detailed explanation of what you found the problem to be. Why the problem occured and referrences to relevant knowledge bases that deal with this specific problem. Finally, exactly what you did to fix the problem including snippets of config files etc...

      The most important thing is to make the post as clear and detailed as possible without confusing the issue. Try to remember that you may encounter this problem again and that you may not remember what you were thinking when you posted the solution 3 years prior. Don't just say, if your system won't boot the fsck the drive. You may be using a toally different operating system in the future and may remember very little of Linux. Instead give detailed steps of the operation and include complete commands that were used. If everyone does this effectively then Usenet will remain an incredibly powerful resource for years to come.
  • Spaf... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ackthpt ( 218170 ) * on Tuesday April 29, 2003 @03:04PM (#5836673) Homepage Journal
    Spaf... irate poster, or visionary?
    • Re:Spaf... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by EvilTwinSkippy ( 112490 ) <> on Tuesday April 29, 2003 @03:27PM (#5836933) Homepage Journal

      Before it was cool to blast the internet for the banal commercialized cesspool we know it today, he called a spade a spade.

      I don't think folks like Spaf are overly idealistic. Running a computer network for 5 years, you learn that some people are rude like it's their job. We don't accept rudeness in public places. People cutting in line get a firm dressing down from fellow line goers and/or ejected from the venue.

      I volunteer at a folk festival. You learn quickly that with 10,000 people in a campground, courtesy is not courtesy, its a way of life. We regulary exercise our ability to eject people who get drunk and rowdy. If you don't, you get chaos, injuries, or worse.

      Usenet, unfortunately, has no ejection mechanism.

      • Re:Spaf... (Score:3, Interesting)

        by ackthpt ( 218170 ) *
        Before it was cool to blast the internet for the banal commercialized cesspool we know it today, he called a spade a spade.

        I dropped off the USENET radar about 10 years ago, myself. Pretty much for the same reasons he posted, though I go back now and then for the great resource it still can be (now my bane, and everyone else's, is spam.) Some groups I still participate in are pretty well run by regulars, when not I've learned to just ignore the threads. I hate seeing groups move to moderation.

        I volu

        • Re:Spaf... (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Ataru ( 50540 ) on Tuesday April 29, 2003 @07:31PM (#5838907)
          But regulars are often worse than the spammers. Once people get to be regulars, they have no problem with writing endless off-topic, mind-numbing crap. They often enjoy putting "OT:" in the subject line as if to say, "hi, this has nothing to do with the subject of the newsgroup, and hence is against the charter, but I'm a regular, so that shit doesn't apply to me, so anyway..." and on with some boring stuff that happened to them that morning.
          Or the war in Iraq. I don't think I have seen a single unmoderated newsgroup that hasn't been full of pro/anti war flamefests over the last few months. Er, hello, is it "off" or "topic" that you are having difficulty with?
          And what the fuck is it with people that reply to spammers and trolls? Spammers aren't listening, trolls just feed off it, and you just reduced the signal to noise ratio. Well done pal. <slaps head>
          I'd understand if usenet was invented last week, and people were just getting used to it. But it's twenty years old and people really should know better.
          Does anyone remember Bertrand Meyer's Self-Discipline for usenet? Putting '[++]' (etc) in front of your subjects? It was a nice idea but it never caught on, nor did I ever expect it to. Basically, sadly, ultimately, undeniably, a large proportion of usenet posters are idiots.
          And yet I can't understand why. Most people you meet in person, when pressed, can put up a reasonable argument. You could have a reasonably entertaining evening debating with them. But on the internet, everyone knows you're an asshole.
          I used to think that the internet, in bringing us unprecedented global communication, would lead to a more peaceful world. How naive was I? Now we don't just hate people from other nations, we hate just about anybody with a typing finger.
          And why do people rant so much? Oh, wait...
      • Elitist (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Greyfox ( 87712 ) on Tuesday April 29, 2003 @03:54PM (#5837189) Homepage Journal
        Seems like every time someone bitches about the Internet having become overly commercialized and suggest solutions for same, they get blasted as being elitist.

        If you don't like netnews, why not start your own? It's gotta be much easier now than it was back in the days of trying to locate people in other states to hook you in to netnews, and there's nothing at all that says that any given news server has to hook in to any other given news server. You could start fresh...

        Perhaps the internet encourages us to take a global focus when we should be concentrating on building smaller trusted and authenticated communities. Maybe we don't really need to talk to everyone.

  • by jonathonc ( 267596 ) * <> on Tuesday April 29, 2003 @03:04PM (#5836676) Homepage
    Everyone knows Usenet is full of spam, trolls and people who've never mastered the subtleties of online etiquette. But don't write it off yet. It's still a fantastic place to interact, get technical support, debate the world, share common interests and grab MP3s. Just because it doesn't have a pretty GUI doesn't mean it lacks value. Usenet is the Wild West of the Internet. Use it, respect it and protect it!
    • s/Usenet/Slashdot/

    • by Joe the Lesser ( 533425 ) on Tuesday April 29, 2003 @03:11PM (#5836760) Homepage Journal
      Usenet is full of spam, trolls and people who've never mastered the subtleties of online etiquette.

      Reminds me of this site [].
    • by Kaimelar ( 121741 ) on Tuesday April 29, 2003 @03:16PM (#5836807) Homepage
      It's still a fantastic place to . . . grab MP3s."

      Considering that one of Gene Spafford's complaints was that Usenet has become a place where so many people "blatantly violate copyrights", I think that the MP3 trading you're praising may be part of the problem as he sees it . . .

      That being said, I still think there is a great deal of value in Usenet. Like everywhere else, though, one has to seperate the wheat from the chaff -- or, in this case, the insightful and useful information from the trolls, flames, and warez traders.

      • by Ryu2 ( 89645 )
        I don't see why people still use USENET for any sort of large file sharing, copyright violations or no... it's a incredible hassle, dealing with missing uuencoded/MIME partial posts and whatnot.

        it might have been the only option back in the UUCP days when live IP connectivity was limited, but now, IRC and P2P services seem to do the job quite well.
        • by Anonymous Coward
          It's the only internet broadcast I know of. Most popular P2P systems do not allow a true one-to-many broadcast.
          • But you are only theoretically right. _Real_ P2P doesn't meet the "classic" definition of broadcasting, but in effect, it is. This is, because it's a kind of "m:n casting". The - in retrospect - obvious, but also very ingenious idea of a "loosely codistributed" database (the clients peers) of filenames (or hashes) doesn't have the ubiquitousness of information that a chain of newsserver (databases) has, but it's is has a lot of other advantages, which outweigh that.

        • by cjpez ( 148000 ) on Tuesday April 29, 2003 @10:13PM (#5839883) Homepage Journal
          On the contrary, I've found sucking files from usenet to be exponentially easier than grabbing files from any p2p network (haven't tried IRC). The wonderful part about it is that what you see posted is what you GET. I see something I want off of Usenet, there in the list of subjects, and I know it's there. I don't have to waste a bunch of time downloading something from a potentially slow-as-all-hell connection just to find out that it's incomplete, or recorded from some crappy radio broadcast, or something else entirely. Even better, because my usenet feed comes from my ISP, it always maxes out my downlink. Now add in the fact that I can use incredibly simple command-line tools like brag [] to grab 'em, and you've got a nice little service there.

          I spent awhile living off of; it's what finally got me to stop watching TV...

    • by vasqzr ( 619165 ) <vasqzr@n[ ] ['ets' in gap]> on Tuesday April 29, 2003 @03:21PM (#5836859)
      Everyone knows Usenet is full of spam, trolls and people who've never mastered the subtleties of online etiquette. But don't write it off yet.

      Replace that with THE ENTIRE FUCKING INTERNET and the sentence is still true!!

      • by greg_barton ( 5551 ) * <> on Tuesday April 29, 2003 @03:57PM (#5837222) Homepage Journal
        Replace that with THE ENTIRE FUCKING INTERNET and the sentence is still true!!

        My god, the internet IS A FRACTAL!
      • by ajs ( 35943 ) <ajs AT ajs DOT com> on Tuesday April 29, 2003 @04:28PM (#5837491) Homepage Journal
        Indeed, I keep running into this in various quarters. Someone will say, "this netblock spews more spam than content," or "this user posts more noise than signal to (USENET/Slashdot/mailing-list-de-jour/etc)" or the like. What I'm getting tired of having to point out is that signal to noise on [insert your favorite human communication vector] is inversly proportional to the number of people who are allowed to speak. Through true freedom of speach comes noise. Through the application of intelligent filtering you can interpret this noisy spectrum just as you would any other.

        The problem is that too many people are convinced that rational, intelligent discourse cannot happen through a noisy vector and they get mad at those who add noise for their failure to adequately filter the medium. Oh well.
        • by Simon Brooke ( 45012 ) * <> on Tuesday April 29, 2003 @05:10PM (#5837856) Homepage Journal
          What I'm getting tired of having to point out is that signal to noise on [insert your favorite human communication vector] is inversly proportional to the number of people who are allowed to speak. Through true freedom of speach comes noise. Through the application of intelligent filtering you can interpret this noisy spectrum just as you would any other

          I just don't accept this. Noise is a result of bad manners and selfishness. Most people voluntarily refrain from bad manners and selfishness. Slashdot to some extent protects itself from the effects of the tiny, destructive minority who for reasons of egotism or spite seek to destroy the information systems they use. Real-life social fora (such as bars) protect themselves from antisocial egotists by, er, physical persuasion. Usenet has no such mechanisms for self protection.

          Among other things I'm control for the scot.* hierarchy. Currently we're having an election campaign in Scotland - we're voting on Thursday. It's quite an important election because for hte first time ever the nationalists could be the largest party. But if you were to look at scot.politics [scot.politics] you'd never know this, because the group has been effectively destroyed by the actions of trolls. What makes it even more painful is that the principal troll has (or claims to have) no relation to Scotland - he doesn't live here, he has no scots ancestry, and his only interest is to destroy for the sake of.

          For twenty years Usenet has been a vey important part of my social life, but like Spaf I now feel that it is dying. And I think that is extremely sad. I think it's a crashing indictment of modern standards of behaviour and manners that people are prepared to willfully and casually destroy something which has been so valuable to so many.

          Bad behaviour is voluntary. No-one is compelled to be destructive. Freedom of speech does not cause people to behave badly, it only permits them to. Usenet, as a semi-anonymous virtual arena, doesn't have the normal social sanctions on bad behaviour - but just because you won't get beaten up for being abusive or antisocial does not force you to be antisocial.

          Thinking about this makes me feel very old, and very depressed.

          • by ajs ( 35943 )

            "What I'm getting tired of having to point out is that signal to noise on [insert your favorite human communication vector] is inversly proportional to the number of people who are allowed to speak. Through true freedom of speach comes noise. Through the application of intelligent filtering you can interpret this noisy spectrum just as you would any other"

            "I just don't accept this."

            That's your perogative...

            "Noise is a result of bad manners and selfishness."

            but if you're going to disagree with me, yo

    • Usenet is the Wild West of the Internet.

      I believe a more appropriate metaphor would be "Usenet is the Ancient Indian Burial Ground of the Internet."

      Comparing it to the Wild West would lead people to believe that it's new and uncharted. On the contrary, it's very, very, VERY old and busted.
      • The "Wild West" was NOT "new and uncharted" at the time that it was called the Wild West. It was quite well charted and explored. What distinguished it was the fact that it was still in an early stage of being settled and the Territories had not yet congealed into more well organized States.
    • by ctr2sprt ( 574731 ) on Tuesday April 29, 2003 @03:38PM (#5837050)
      Well, you look at USENET the way it was described 10 years ago, then look at it now, and you won't see any changes. Seems depressing at first, but then look at the WWW. It's gotten orders of magnitude worse. It's populated by narcissistic children (mentally, at least) spewing forth their idiotic opinions from every orifice, completely free from any criticism or objective evaluation. Even worse, 90% of the Internet inexplicably thinks this is a good thing: they equate the freedom to express useful, new, creative ideas with the freedom to make a complete ass of yourself in front of millions of people. Ads on the WWW are unavoidable: we get excited when we find a website that only has 3 or 4 unobtrusive banners (this means banners that don't actively impede your ability to use your computer). Most of these trends were around then too, of course; they are, as others have noted, a part of human nature. But this self-indulgent celebration of some of the worst aspects of human nature is very new, and very unpleasant.

      You look at all the shit that's gone horribly wrong with the WWW and how fundamentally worse it is compared to 10 years ago, and suddenly USENET's "lack of progress" looks pretty damn good. It's not perfect, but at least there's a core of really dedicated, smart, and talented people working really hard to keep it usable. And because of this, USENET continues to grow in utility and popularity, though probably not as fast as the rest of the Internet.

      • You look at all the shit that's gone horribly wrong with the WWW and how fundamentally worse it is compared to 10 years ago

        What in fuck's name are you ranting about? Ten years ago there was no Google, no Amazon, no Yahoo, no Slashdot, no NOTHING on the web. Vast, VAST amounts of information are available on your home computer now that 10 years ago would have required at the very least a trip to the library, and probably a lot more work than that to find what you were looking for.

        To suggest that there w
      • by 2short ( 466733 ) on Tuesday April 29, 2003 @04:38PM (#5837587)
        "the freedom to express useful, new, creative ideas"
        pretty much requires
        "the freedom to make a complete ass of yourself in front of millions of people"

        "You look at all the shit that's gone horribly wrong with the WWW and how fundamentally worse it is compared to 10 years ago"

        The web is "fundamentally worse" than 10 years ago!?! What a ludicrous statement. Let's see, 10 years ago I used the WWW to look at the card catalogs of libraries (but not the ones I could check books out of), find documentation on the WWW itself, see if there was coffee available in a room across the ocean, and that's about it. Today it is my information portal of first (and generally last) resort for pretty much everything. In the last few years I have not used a prited newspaper or reference book for any purpose but nostalgia. Is there a lot more excrement on the web these days? Sure, there's a lot more of everything. A higher percentage? I have no idea. Simply put, I do not "look at all the shit that's gone horribly wrong with the WWW". I look at the stuff that's gone right. These days I find USENET is only usable at all because someone (google) put a nice web-based front end and search engine on top of it.

        Do you seriously measure the worth of the web based on the worst sites you can find? Try measuring by the best sites you can find, and how easily you can find them.
      • You look at all the shit that's gone horribly wrong with the WWW and how fundamentally worse it is compared to 10 years.

        10 years ago, we had the BLINK tag. Now we don't. That's progress.

        But seriously: it sounds like you want a nice and tidy online space where everyone diligently prepares material that is meticuously reviewed by third-party editors for correctness and relevance before it is registered and indexed in a global information hierarchy devoid of marketing and mindless blathering "chatter".


    • It used to be that only the intelligent could make it to Usenet, as getting to Usenet was non-trivial, and Usenet was a good place. Then came AOL and the advent of the dial-up ISP self-installers with Usenet support, and any idiot could get on usenet, and usenet started to go downhill.

      Fortunately, the advent of easily installed web forum software, coupled with "proprietary" per-ISP discussion areas, has created discussion "honeypots" that suck in the less intelligent users before they manage to get to Use
  • ummm. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by fjordboy ( 169716 ) on Tuesday April 29, 2003 @03:05PM (#5836677) Homepage
    Among other things, spaf wrote: 'People don't seem to think before posting, they are purposely rude, they blatantly violate copyrights, they crosspost everywhere, use 20 line signature files, and do basically every other thing the postings (and common sense and common courtesy) advise not to.

    I actually wrote an article similar to this [] on my webpage that discusses the lack of common courtesy and many of the problems with discussing things in email/instant messaging and messageboard style communication. I don't think it is that people don't have common courtesty, I think it has more to do with the medium of discussion and the false sense of intimacy and the obvious sense of anonymity. I guess I focused more on instant messaging, but the same things apply for message board style posting as well.
  • by jtkooch ( 553641 ) on Tuesday April 29, 2003 @03:05PM (#5836686)
    Everything I need to know about the Internet I can learn from reading /.

    The most important lesson is that 90% of all websites are down.
  • by TexTex ( 323298 ) * on Tuesday April 29, 2003 @03:06PM (#5836691)
    I think Spaf is dead on then and probably even more today. While there are good efforts being made to safe Usenet from itself with moderation and filtering...Usenet spam seems to have been serious longer before email spam even was a blip on most radar.

    Which is why I find myself subscribed to WAY too many mailing lists these days. Mostly clean, mostly useful...just not as cool as Usenet.
    • I think Spaf is dead on then and probably even more today. While there are good efforts being made to safe Usenet from itself with moderation and filtering...Usenet spam seems to have been serious longer before email spam even was a blip on most radar.

      I agree but there are mitigating factors that have held off the worst of the privations for a fair number of USENET trees. Automatic spam cancelling bots have saved some of the worst excesses. Using a GOOD newsreader makes a huge difference - personally I s

  • USENET is useful. (Score:5, Informative)

    by DCowern ( 182668 ) on Tuesday April 29, 2003 @03:06PM (#5836700) Homepage

    Especially since the advent of google groups. It makes it much easier to find past posts. This gives news groups a much longer memory and, in theory, should prevent repetitive posts.

    In addition, it makes USENET an extremely effective support venue. Whenever I have an unexplained error or problem with one of my machines, I just search and more often than not, I find that someone has had the same exact problem that I'm experiencing.
    • Re:USENET is useful. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by repetty ( 260322 ) on Tuesday April 29, 2003 @03:38PM (#5837051) Homepage
      Okay, you just taught me the first useful thing I've learned in months... "".

      I had no idea how often I'd posted to the newsgroups and, everyone's right -- it's all total crap!

      Seriously, though, when I need technical information or if I want to see what's for sale here in Austin, the newsgroups are the first place I go.

      Why do I use newsgroups instead of website forums?

      1. No registration, no login.
      2. More users = more potential resources
      3. Not at the whim of website entreprenuers
      4. Lax standards as to my post's worthiness
      5. Incredible delineation of topics

      If I sit here longer I could come up with more reasons.

    • Agreed, USENET is a valuable tool. It represents alot of information grouped together. The web, while worderful, is much harder to search.

      The problem I see is the lack of new traffic on USENET. Many ISPs either don't offer a USENET feed or it is terribly incomplete or out of date (mine is days behind).

  • by TheViciousOverWind ( 649139 ) <> on Tuesday April 29, 2003 @03:07PM (#5836709) Homepage
    What I see happening most of the times, is that advanced users have a kind of "private social club", then a lot of newbies arrives, asking questions that don't really interest the more advanced users.
    It usually ends up with arguing about it, then a FAQ is made, no one reads it, then the more advanced users leave... And after a while the group isn't useful for anything else than simple answers anymore, because the persons with the skill to answer them are gone.
    • You're describing what is known in businesstalk(TM) as "communities of practice"--groups of people with very specific domains of expertise who interact with each other in various fora and who thus exchange information that becomes collective knowledge (knowledge=information that can be acted upon).

      For these "advanced" communities to thrive--i.e., for the advanced members of a community of practice to continue to be involved--the advanced nature of the group needs to be maintained, and the new users need to
  • Porn (Score:5, Funny)

    by Nanite ( 220404 ) on Tuesday April 29, 2003 @03:07PM (#5836711)
    Where else can you find free repositories of porn, sectioned off into seperate areas, from leather to hamsters? Usenet rocks.

  • all that happened was that usenet became a large enough phenomenon that it began to reflect society at large rather than a group of elite users.

    all of spaf's complaints are the same complaints i can make about human behavior on any street corner of any city. or a complaint a roman could make about streetcorners in rome 2000 years ago.

    the problem is not usenet.

    the problem is moral idealists who don't understand human nature.

    you don't change human nature as a whole by chastising and scolding the already-converted-to-responsible-behavior. you adopt your understanding of human nature to fit in with reality, and you make the technological changes to the medium to prevent it's abuse by the common rabble of the world. and if you can't do that, you get used to it.

    welcome to the real world.
  • by immanis ( 557955 ) <> on Tuesday April 29, 2003 @03:09PM (#5836735) Homepage Journal

    "People don't seem to think before posting, they are purposely rude, they blatantly violate copyrights, they crosspost everywhere, use 20 line signature files, and do basically every other thing the postings (and common sense and common courtesy) advise not to. Regularly, there are postings of questions that can be answered by the newusers articles, clearly indicating that they aren't being read."

    This wasn't even news 5 years ago. Hell, this wasn't even news 10 years ago, at least to me. I agree with all of it, sure. But it's the byproduct of cultural evolution. As a community gets bigger, more stupid people move in.

  • by mahdi13 ( 660205 ) <> on Tuesday April 29, 2003 @03:10PM (#5836741) Journal
    and nothing has changed

    People don't seem to think before posting, they are purposely rude, they blatantly violate copyrights, they crosspost everywhere, use 20 line signature files, and do basically every other thing the postings (and common sense and common courtesy) advise not to.

    Here's to 20 more years of a complete waste of time!
  • "Reason, etiquette, accountability, and compromise
    are strangers in far too many newsgroups these days."

    Same beefs, different protocol.
  • by sirinek ( 41507 ) on Tuesday April 29, 2003 @03:11PM (#5836752) Homepage Journal
    With the massive proliferation of special-interest web sites and message boards (helped in no small part by quality OSS software such as apache, php, mysql and phpBB, as well as many others) usenet is becoming more and more irrelevant. Most action happens in the binaries groups where people just fire up pan or agent (or some other bin-friendly news reader) and go to town downloading software.

    Another large part of this is the signal-to-noise ratio. Even though you have the cancel-bots traversing usenet, its still choked full of spam. Web-based message boards and plain old email lists that require you be authenticated before posting have done much to raise the all-important s2n ratio.

    • by ctr2sprt ( 574731 ) on Tuesday April 29, 2003 @03:29PM (#5836961)
      USENET has two things going for it. First, there is a much greater ratio of clueful people to clueless people, simply by virtue of USENET being less well-known than "the Web." This increases your chances of getting a useful reply, instead of "u 2? i have that problem, email me if u get an answer" over and over. And second, all this accumulated knowledge is really easy to access using Google Groups. It's like a search engine that ignores the 95% of the Internet that's useless trash.

      I just can't explain your problem with spam. I see maybe one spam article per week on about 5 newsgroups. Either I have a really good feed or you have a really bad one (or both), but spam is simply not a problem here.

  • by arvindn ( 542080 ) on Tuesday April 29, 2003 @03:12PM (#5836768) Homepage Journal
    For instance, I often read rec.humor.funny [] and rec.humor.funny.reruns [] and a few other newsgroups via google groups when I'm bored.
  • Usenet still rules (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dubbayu_d_40 ( 622643 ) on Tuesday April 29, 2003 @03:12PM (#5836777)
    Because web interfaces for threaded discussions suck shit. This is one area client side apps are superior.
  • My Usenet feelings (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Punk Walrus ( 582794 ) on Tuesday April 29, 2003 @03:13PM (#5836786) Journal
    When I first started on Usenet back in... 1991? 92? Something like that, I recall how excited I was to see so many newsgroups out there. Back then, if a group got over 100 posts in a day, that was BUSY!

    Now I see Usenet like a button I have []: "Reading Usenet is like drinking from a firehose, posting to Usenet is like shouting at people in a passing rollercoaster, and archiving Usenet is like saving used toilet paper." Usenet is like a philosophical particle accelerator which creates opinions of such energy and instability that they could not exist in nature, and a great way of being annoyed by people I otherwise never would have met.

    Now a newsgroup that gets less than 100 posts a day are ones that haven't been harvested by spammers yet. I knew it was over when in a base about Nordic culture was innundated with binaries of jpegs which I am sure were not Viking artifacts or ethnologist and museum lore.

    That's why I spent my time on e-mail lists and UBB/phpBB boards. Sure, we get jerks, but well-moderated forums with e-mail verification keep a lot of idiots away.

    __________________________________________________ _
    "Internet is so huge and pointless that for some people it is a complete substitute for life []

  • by yndrd ( 529288 ) on Tuesday April 29, 2003 @03:16PM (#5836805) Homepage
    "Usenet is like a herd of performing elephants with diarrhea--massive, difficult to redirect, awe-inspiring, entertaining, and a source of mind-boggling amounts of excrement when you least expect it."

    - Spaf, 1992
  • A visionary (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bendebecker ( 633126 ) on Tuesday April 29, 2003 @03:16PM (#5836812) Journal
    He saw what is the biggest problem with the net at least five years before anybody else. The net is full of great people it interconnects millions, and is home to some of the biggest rejects, dickwads, and lamos in the history of the world. In the last three years alone, the net has become the focal point for every immature jackass on Earth. People are insulting for no reason, rude becuase they can be, and moronic pretty much all of the time. The worst thing that ever happened to the net was when we let Joe User on to it.
  • I remember when... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Augie De Blieck Jr. ( 13716 ) on Tuesday April 29, 2003 @03:17PM (#5836824) Homepage Journal
    When I first got on the internet in 1994, USENET was the place to be. I remember the early rumblings, tho, that segregated web-based message boards would one day overtake USENET and make it a vast wasteland. I didn't think it made any sense to purposely limit your conversations to such small focused sites, and figured it would never work.

    I haven't used USENET in years now. It got too painful in the mid- to late-1990s to sort through all the spam and all the trolls and all the people posting pointless one-liners to hear themselves talk.

    Granted, you still have many of the latter showing up on web-based message boards, but the spam is definitely much better controlled, and the volume of traffic is easier to handle as both a reader and a moderator.

    But, man, Spafford was dead-on and years ahead of his time. I'd love to see a message board system with the kind of intelligence and grace that he used to see on USENET in the earlier days. The only way you're going to get it is on a web-based board or through a mailing list.

    Too bad.

    Too many cooks, perhaps.

  • by mccalli ( 323026 ) on Tuesday April 29, 2003 @03:18PM (#5836830) Homepage
    Usenet legend Gene Spafford posted his farewell to news.announce.newusers, news.misc, and a few others...spaf wrote: '...they crosspost everywhere...'



  • Someone get this man a blanket and the worlds smallest violin.
  • Is Usenet still useful? Is it worth maintaining? I

    I say certainly! I use USENET daily. Believe it or not, there are still some groups where valuable discussion still goes on and where the tide of spam isn't much more than a trickle. Certainly, I'm not sure I participate as much as I used to, but I attribute that more to school than anything else. I'll take USENET over web based message boards any day - it's quicker and you don't have to reload your interface every time you view a new message. All availa
  • ... for example, many people find it reading and posting to /..

    Come to think of it, a moderation system like /.'s for Usenet might just make it tolerable again. (Usenet, that is.)
  • The signal to noise ratio of UseNet makes it completely unusable. This is why you're more likely to find good company in smaller forums. Why not sign on to an Internet-connected BBS instead, and have discussions with people who you might actually get to know after a while? Where the users number in the hundreds rather than in the millions -- and there's not only a hope, but a good probability, that any abuse of the medium gets nipped in the bud right away?

    That's for your everyday "hang out with good com
  • by fetta ( 141344 ) on Tuesday April 29, 2003 @03:23PM (#5836889)
    I still find Usenet extremely useful, but if you want to avoid being overwhelmed by the garbage you have to take advantage of the filtering features provided by your newsreader. Marking threads as "ignored," creating a "bozo file," etc.
  • I'll start by saying that I've been using Usenet since before the great hierarchy revision (back when it was

    And I remember the day of the infamous Green Card Lottery usenet spam. This was after Spaf bailed, I believe, but it sure was a rude awakening for me. Had I only known what horrors it predicted for my inbox, I would have quit computers and become a subsistence farmer right then and there ;)

    But even with the depths it's all sunk to, Usenet (especially via the Deja News / Google Groups inte
  • I'm sick of you all. I'm leaving. Inconsiderate bastards. All of you.
  • by David Kennedy ( 128669 ) on Tuesday April 29, 2003 @03:30PM (#5836969) Homepage
    I read Usenet daily. I post daily. I have done so for years.
    Usenet is alive and very useful.

    In particular, Usenet offers a set of very mature readers which provide way more functionality than a web browser can give, even for a forum like this..

    Don't like someone's attitude-filled posts? Mod them down, all the time. Kill file them even; never see their comments again.

    Getting trolled all the time? Set up regexps which kill gnucontrol threads, or any thread started by someone in your troll list.

    Distracted by big sigs? Snip them off. Almost all readers will manage this (I just colourise them differently, but auto-trim
    when replying.)

    Even the older newsreaders, heck, especially the older readers, offer colour highlighting and mark up, making
    it easy to skim a thread, noting new comments.

    Usenet is actually becoming a nicer place now; the Spam has died away, attracted by the bright lights of the web and mass email. Many newbies don't know what Usenet is and can't flood the place, even in these days of mass broadband. However, the trick is finding an ACTIVE group. Some groups do have a clique sitting in them, but on any decently on-topic group there remains plenty of activity.

    Lastly, Google groups. What a goldmine of trivia. And how awful to see your own past posts...

    (Amusingly, I still read Usenet with the venerable Unix command line app, 'tin'. It's not perfect, but it's fast and easy to use. It just looks so archaic when running on OS X, on a TiBook...)

    • Usenet is actually becoming a nicer place now

      I agree entirely. The stuff Spaf was complaining about was probably true in '93, and certainly became much, much worse throughout the rest of the 90's.. but now, I honestly believe things have calmed down.

      Obviously it varies from group to group - many are no doubt still wastelands of trolls and flamers. But the groups I read in the 90's, that were basically good groups with a sense of community, but being ruined by spammers and trolls, are now all much better

  • I feel his pain. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by RatBastard ( 949 ) on Tuesday April 29, 2003 @03:30PM (#5836971) Homepage
    I used to be heavily involved with the*) and* newsgroups and I undertsand what he was talking about. I speant a tremendous amount of time kicking newbie-bashers in the teeth. Newbies are a fact of life and the only thing I've found that really works is to politely stear them to the information they need, including the resources already available.

    I bailed out when I found myself spending more time yelling at people for being assholes than I was spending either getting information I wanted or helping people with questions/problems.

    The arival of SPAM didn't help anything. Yeah, I was there to see Kantner and Seigel's landmark Greencard spam. I also saw, and helped difuse the infamous VS Clark.Net fiasco: some tool spammed a insulting and vulgar message to every Clark.Net user with as the sender. Which caused every angry responce to get posted to

    Anyway, Usenet is almost useless unless you are involved with one of the more esoteric newsgroups out there. Pretty much anything in the alt* region is burried in a sewer of spam.
  • by EricFenderson ( 64220 ) on Tuesday April 29, 2003 @03:30PM (#5836975)
    I've been a casual Usenet guy for quite a while now. I've read a fair variety of groups, and it varies widely in it's quality.

    The trick? Find groups that have communities. This really makes or breaks the experience. The best example in the world is the unbelieveably awesome people who hang out in rec.aquaria.* (aquarium related chatter). The community in there is just amazing. Some of the most experienced fish keepers I've ever heard of happily exchanging their knowledge. Members often trade fish, send each other plant clippings, snails, etc. I find it hard to believe there's a cooler community on the internet, anywhere.

    On the other hand, take There are lots of helpful people and a good friendly community of people who are knowledgeable about drums. But at least 3/4 of the posts are nothing more than crapflooding. Seems a few experienced members really hate each other. So the factions are constantly starting flamewars (and worse), just because. If there weren't so many people here that knew a lot more than I, I wouldn't read it.

    I think it's hard to judge Usenet as a whole - you really have to seek out the people worth hanging out with. They're definately out there.

  • by hey ( 83763 ) on Tuesday April 29, 2003 @03:31PM (#5836978) Journal
    The best things about Usenet:
    - its public ... no one company owns it
    - its mostly text only so it can be searched
  • I use Usenet.... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by UrGeek ( 577204 ) on Tuesday April 29, 2003 @03:32PM (#5836992)
    ...only when I can find a small group, with an esoteric topic, of dedicated people. The smallness goes under the radar of the mass marketers and the esoteric nature keeps out most of the trolls and dullards. I will not pollute this friends by revealing them here to the Slashdot effect but if you learn to search the topics of your choice, you too many find a nice little corner of Usenet space that you may enjoy.

    But gawd, there is SOOO much noise!
  • by LinuxParanoid ( 64467 ) * on Tuesday April 29, 2003 @03:40PM (#5837064) Homepage Journal
    The problem with USENET was the signal-to-noise ratio got worse as the number of users grew.

    The first solution was moderation, but this placed too much of a burden on a single volunteer for all but the narrowest topic groups and the most dedicated volunteers.

    The brilliant concept that Slashdot introduced (as far as I've been able to determine) was distributed moderation-- a mechanism to distribute this moderation load among more than one person. An approach that was hard to conceive of under NNTP made a lot more sense with a database-backed website.

    If you compare the number of postings made to the top 3 most-posted-to newsgroups from the 1995 USENET statistics (which have not, to my knowledge, been updated since), to the size of discussions held on Slashdot, the number of posts per day absorbed by Slashdot had eclipsed anything on 1995 USENET back in 2000 when I last looked into this issue.

    I consider "distributed moderation" a huge advance in online community development.

    Corrections to my notion of history are welcome.

    • Unfortunately it would seem that Slashdot has not solved the troubling problem of butt kissing the choir.
    • Slashdot is probably the most advanced of web-based fora, but I still prefer usenet.

      When was the last time you had a discussion on Slashdot that last more than a day or two past the article being on the front page?

      I like the fact that usenet is text-based. It's simple and straightforward.

      I like the fact that it's client-based, rather than browser-based. I can modify the look and feel, the filtering capability and a host of other features, by changing, or re-configuring my NNTP client program. With a web-
  • Usenet, warts and all, will be useful far into the future, because its store-propagate-forward protocol will continue to work in the face of long delays between nodes. Hell, in early Usenet days some links were done with courier-carried magtapes.

    Usenet will be useable between planets in this solar system - a web forum based on Earth wouldn't be useable by anyone past the Moon. And if we finally get out of the solar system, the Net of a Million Lies [] can go out with us.

    Returning to Earth, Usenet still scales better than web forums. I wonder how many web forums have started up, been swamped by lots of users, and had to close for lack of bandwith money, or gone so commercial to pay for server resources that they alienated their community. Neither of these are a problem when creating a Usenet group.
  • by weave ( 48069 ) on Tuesday April 29, 2003 @03:57PM (#5837218) Journal
    Anyone older than 35 should remember the CB radio craze from around 1976. Before the mid 70s, CB radio was almost the exclusive hangout for truckers. Then it got popular and went to hell. The FCC removed the requirement for a token license, they expanded it from 23 channels to 40, and it was all garbage. Idiots would key their mic next to an FM radio to drown out others (we'd call it spamming today), no one would do a customary and polite "breaker" to ask permission to talk, and others would buy "heaters" to boost their signal to illegal levels. It became a big mess.

    It became so bad that it became useless. You could barely get a response from across the street, let alone the next county like you once could. People got fed up, left, newer technologies like cell phones replaced the need to use CB like a phone, etc, etc...

    Now it's back to a more civil sane level, full of mainly truckers keeping themselves company during that long haul.

    See ya on the flip side good buddy, keep the rubber side down.

    So, I actually think usenet is getting better. Newbies don't bother with it. Just ask your average net user about it, they don't have a clue. Others who use usenet just use it for binaries. The text groups are actually becoming almost useful again!

    So keep your mouth shut. Let usenet groups become the hangout for hardcores again. The idiots can hang out on their various noisy useless user-friendly web discussion boards -- like slashdot for example. :)

  • by Moderation abuser ( 184013 ) on Tuesday April 29, 2003 @04:00PM (#5837241)
    The largest UK newsgroup; One of the largest in the world.

    Almost no spam. Why? Because spammers get flamed mercilessly, their accounts get cancelled and the advertisers accounts also get cancelled. Plus the cancelbots of course.

    No top posting. Why? Because newbies and OE morons get flamed mercilessly for doing it.

    The FAQ does get read. Why? Because for a start, it's useful and newbies and morons get flamed mercilessly for not reading and absorbing it.

    Crossposting is limited. Why? Because crossposters get flamed mercilessly for doing it.

    It's the usenet equivalent of New York's zero tolerance campaign.

    In short, usenet has degenerated to crap because people don't stand up for the use of their groups. Basically, don't be so fucking polite. If you don't like it, feel free to fuck off and die.

  • Answer (Score:3, Insightful)

    by limekiller4 ( 451497 ) on Tuesday April 29, 2003 @04:07PM (#5837290) Homepage
    catfood writes (quoting Spafford):
    "Regularly, there are postings of questions that can be answered by the newusers articles, clearly indicating that they aren't being read."

    This is because when you're a newbie, it is sometimes impossible to (a) not know what the right question to ask in the first place and (b) realize that people have anticipated your question and if they have, where to find it. Further, people are generally not interested in weeding through a few dozen pages of text in order to find out their question is not covered in any of it. Much easier to simply ask. He's railing against human nature on that one.

    But I understand, appreciate and agree with everything else.

    catfood then adds:
    "Is Usenet still useful? Is it worth maintaining?"

    Are you kidding? Have you been to any time lately?

    Oh! You mean for actual coversation. Well then... The answer to that is "hell no." I stopped around 1997 when I returned after a 18-month hiatus only to find the exact same people arguing. Worse, it was about the exact same thread.

    I went to talk.religion.buddhism [] the other day for Christ' sake and read a few threads of people being complete assholes. I said to myself, "if this is the current state of the Buddhist group..."
  • by Rimbo ( 139781 ) <[ten.labolgcbs] [ta] [ytisobmir]> on Tuesday April 29, 2003 @04:09PM (#5837311) Homepage Journal
    In Diamond's book Guns, Germs and Steel (funny, we had a Jared Diamond article just yesterday)...

    He talks about how growth of a community leads to a change in how the community has to be managed. At a certain point, you need a centralized government to manage the interactions between people, because you no longer have a community.

    USENET actually allowed a much larger community than had ever been possible before, before things broke down and the need for some kind of governance emerged. On the other hand, you can't kill someone over USENET. It's not real life.

    What happened to USENET was inevitable. It is not a critique of human nature to say so; this is what happens when societies reach a certain size when there is no governing force to maintain order.
  • by AB3A ( 192265 ) on Tuesday April 29, 2003 @04:46PM (#5837661) Homepage Journal
    If Usenet weren't relevant and useful few would make so much effort to reproduce it in other forms, such as e-mail lists or Slashdot.

    Are there flaws in NNTP? I think it could be improved with some form of authentication to help guarantee that the source address of a post can't be forged.

    However, the beauty of Usenet is that anyone can post there. Yes, that's also the flaw.

    The problem is that we're all seeking quality answers and interesting discussions, but nobody can agree on just what we need to do to achieve that result. Even if there were no off-topic posts and everyone behaved like ladies and gentlemen, there would inevitably be people who want to read more basic information and people who want to read more advanced techniques.

    Not having to rely on people to set the agenda is what makes Usenet so engaging to me. It's fast, it's a big free-for-all, and yes, there's lots of nonsense and wrong information. The best solution is to do what most people are simply too lazy to bother with: build a healthy kill-file and a substantial watch list. One person's troll is another person's jester.

    I have grown used to rude behavior on the Internet. Anonymity can lead to this sort of thing. However, the same anonymity is what enables many to speak what's on their mind. While this can result in a very low signal to noise ratio, it also results in very candid experiences and ideas.

    It's worth the effort to find those ideas and ferret them out of the background noise. Nobody can do that for you. That's what is so great about Usenet.
  • by pyramid termite ( 458232 ) on Tuesday April 29, 2003 @04:58PM (#5837751)
    ... and to fight, as the old saying goes. My observation, as a former alt.flamer, Meower and veteran of the wars is that for every clueless newbie, there is a self-righteous experienced idiot who will burn a newsgroup down to the ground around him in flames rather than just use a killfile, sit on his hands and ignore the wretches. And before you blame troll sources such as Meow or "Aol'ers" or "Altopia posters" or "Web TV'ers", note that most of the flame wars I've read in various newsgroups are not newbies or trolls vs newsgroup regulars, it's interior faction X vs interior faction Y.

    The mechanics of how these things work is interesting -
    1. Poster A has been posting in alt.* for a good long time.
    2. Poster B posts a flame, a troll, or just an unpopular opinion that Poster A objects to, in flaming language.
    3. Escalation.
    4. Poster A becomes a and net.cop and attempts to first, convince Poster B that he is "off-topic", abusive, or not part of the "community" and attempts to cut off B's net.access by complaint letters to B's ISP.
    5. a)This often fails, in which case B finds out about it and the entire controversy continues to fester, with charges and countercharges of censorship and "law" breaking. b) It succeeds and B either learns a lesson - or gets a more secure account from netcopping and proceeds to start a personal vendetta against A.

    The results are predictable - useful discussion decreases and noise increases.

    Web boards, strangely enough, don't have this problem as much - seeing as it's one or a few people responsible for admitting people into the site, rules and enforcement tend to be more clear cut and not as controversial and varied - Slashdot, for example, isn't dependent on whether ISP X has a looser TOS than ISP Y. Furthermore, it's up to the administrators, not any Tom, Dick or Harry who wants to send a complaint E-mail to the offender's ISP. No one, even if they've been at a web board for X years is under the illusion that it's "their" webboard and they have the right to "enforce" their personal interpretation of rules.

    In short, it's not just trolls and newbies that have impacted Usenet negatively - it's also the self-righteous and the intolerant.
  • Memories (Score:4, Insightful)

    by dsplat ( 73054 ) on Tuesday April 29, 2003 @04:59PM (#5837766)
    Ask yourself whether either of these phrases mean anything to you. If so, you know that Spaf merely recognized the problem earlier.

  • He was NOT spot on (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Alomex ( 148003 ) on Tuesday April 29, 2003 @05:09PM (#5837854) Homepage
    You young kids don't know that net.gods, as they used to be called, routinely dropped from Usenet to great concern of those involved. Yet usenet marched on.

    This gave rise to the old joke: "imminent death of Usenet predicted, film at eleven".

    Yes, usenet has deteriorated steadily since it's creation. No it is not dead. Traffic and users are still increasing, hard as it might be to believe. I call this the Groucho Marx effect, people confuse the drop in quality with a drop in popularity i.e. "nobody eats there anymore, its too crowded".

    There are many reasons why usenet was/is sick. None of them were addressed by Spaf. Users are making the best of a really flawed medium (and by this I don't mean text, but the oddities of the group hierarchy, the difficulty of moderation, the lack of collective memory, and so on).
  • by Cranx ( 456394 ) on Tuesday April 29, 2003 @05:28PM (#5837987)
    Why is when folks try to induce others to do things a certain way, no matter how often they are reminded that their system is not natural for people to use (at least in the fashion they envision), they cling to the notion that the problem is with the people using it and not the system itself?

    This is the nature of people. If you want something better than this, you're free to search it out, but standing around stamping your feet insisting that everyone behave is pointless.

    What is it people expect from Usenet? Write it down on paper and make a list of "properties" that you folks (whomever that would be) would like to get out of Usenet -- then imagine you're holding a pool that represents the entire population of the world and say to yourself "how do I get just these certain types of people to post on Usenet and no one else?"

    For starters, the answer is simply to close off Usenet to the public. If you want a certain set of behaviors, you need to be able to enforce your rules (which are, in the context of human nature, unnatural and arbitrary). Perhaps create tiers, in which only those who have graduated from the lower tiers may participate in the upper tiers. The public at large (including all the porn and get-rich-quick schemes) can post at the bottom, and as people prove themselves, move them up through the tiers. Use certified PGP signatures to enforce posting rights.

    You have a wide-open system. You have people acting like humans act, and will always act. If you want something different than what you get with Usenet, go build it.
  • by securitas ( 411694 ) on Tuesday April 29, 2003 @06:37PM (#5838499) Homepage Journal

    We published an interview with Spaf [] a little while ago and his insights still are well-worth reading and heeding. He is still very concerned about the newest users on the Internet, etiquette, ethics, and the impact of networked communication on society. You can read the interview here [].

Logic is the chastity belt of the mind!