Recently, an article was published for PC Magazine that made the claim that Usenet, which celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2009, is supposedly dead. The article goes on to write presumptuous claims on the direction that Usenet has taken as well as the impact that both Usenet and its Newsgroups represent.
First off – Usenet is not dead, and far from it, as facts provide. As evidence, Newsdemon.com as well as other 3rd party Usenet service providers alone have users in the hundreds of thousands that use newsgroups in both HTML translated base and NNTP.
The article fails to reflect that Usenet is not part of, nor can be compared to other internet services that may exist. Usenet may not be the prevailing discussion system that exists on the internet today, but its popularity has proven only to be increasing once again.
Just because it may not be integrated into your “MySpace” or “Facebook” profile yet does not mean it does not exist anymore. Usenet is still vital and useful.
Usenet In Use
Usenet’s technological underpinnings predate its association with the Internet, resting on dial-up-based store-and-forward e-mail BBS systems and UUCP protocols and programs. Usenet is perhaps best described as a huge, loose collection of informal information-exchange communities that have little in common beyond their naming convention and their reliance on the Network News Transfer Protocol used to manage Usenet messages.
People had been predicting the death of Usenet almost from the beginning by those that have not comprehended the conception or the value of the protocol. However, almost 30 years later, tons of intelligent, meaningful, and important conversations still take place in just a couple megabytes worth of text-based posts.
Consider that Microsoft uses Usenet for community discussion and support. Realize that Google Groups makes Usenet searchable for people who may not have Usenet access. Google Groups alone has a high traffic volume and promotes considerable community participation off this channel of access alone.
Usenet is constantly evolving. Unlike most technologies, Usenet continues to surpass the longevity of most decentralized networks. There are, of course, online communities and massive acts of collaborative authorships today, but Usenet has always been the first.
To this day, Universities and Colleges alike actively use Usenet for studies and group discussions.
Usenet vs. The Web
While it’s fair to characterize it as a series of bulletin boards, it is much more. The thousands of newsgroups on arcane topics was the first place that collective authorship really shined in the form of FAQ’s and tutorials. A role that Wikipedia itself models itself after. For many of us, this was the closest thing to a reference on rapidly changing technologies. Follow groups like comp.lang.c.moderated, microsoft.public.development.device.drivers, microsoft.public.platformsdk.msi to see that Usenet is still vital for power users.
Sifting through Usenet has become increasingly easier over the years with feature rich Newsreaders such as Newsrover and many others that allow multiple Newsgroup results on search terms. These methods rival, if not surpass, the searches found on Google or Google Groups as the extension of Newsgroups that are not carried on either of the Google services are easily accessible with a Usenet account and a multitude of Newsreaders. Additionally, unlike many web forums, reading through posts do not require authentication on the part of the user to access the content.
Usenet is fast, being a simple text protocol with built-in multicasting that can support communities of millions with virtually no drain on resources. Web forums and sites frequently rich limits when they start to become popular because the centralized hardware requirements and the use of a database mean that once it starts getting more than a few readers per second, specialized solutions are a priority. Otherwise, there is a great chance of losing the community to database overload crashes and general slowness. As long as there’s a Usenet, there will be service providers such as Newsdemon.com who disseminate and maintain it. If anything, Usenet may actually return to a more usable medium again, now that it won’t be free for all the spammers and trolls anymore. There are some things that no Web site can offer that you can only find on Usenet.
The Future of Usenet
The bitterness that this is not “your fathers” Usenet is not relative. Usenet should be noted as a champion by surviving the dot com crashes that continue to plague the Web today. The geek paradise is still the utopia known as Usenet. The society of Usenet still thrives and continues to grow. Although it may have turned off some, Usenet remains consistent on bridging the gap with new members on a daily basis, contributing to the growth that Usenet continues to exhibit.
Usenet is far from dead. The fact is, the evolution of what Usenet has become is greater and stronger than it has even been before. Since its inception, we have seen factual technological growth of Usenet over the years. Newsdemon.com serves as a great example as a 3rd party Usenet provider that continues to grow retention rates, completion of articles, bandwidth limits and capacity 100 times more than it was in 1993. Usenet follows a variant of Moore’s law and as time progresses, these values will only increase. With any technology, it is better to understand and realize the evolution as progress, rather than making ill assumptions of its demise by presumptions.
Even as the author states:
“It’s hard to completely kill off something as totally decentralized as Usenet; as long as two servers agree to share the NNTP protocol, it’ll continue on in some fashion.”
The fact of the matter is that Usenet will always in exist in a certain capacity. As it stands now, Usenet has evolved and grown by catering to the community it represents. Besides the protocol, Usenet will continue to exist as long as there is an interest in the conversations that take place on Newsgroups. Usenet is well alive and more capable than it has ever been.
Usenet hosts a robust and vital discussion community. Other internet based services capture a limited site-specific audience. Same topic groups may be found on other sites, but unifying these sites the way Newsgroups operate on the Usenet global distribution network for unified discussion groups is a limitation that internet services still cannot duplicate.