The Death of Usenet


Ok, it is probably a little early to make this proclamation based on the growth of the usenet community around Microsoft.public groups, but the news of AOL no longer offering Usenet Access is a sign of things to come. The best post I've seen about this comes from Many 2 Many.

"This feels to me like they’re tearing down an old diner in a neighborhood I used to live in. I never go there anymore, but I spent 5 years of my life on usenet, and 2 of those years in a fever I can’t characterize as anything other than addiction. I learned to write there, and it’s one of only two places where I had people I’d call real friends who I never met IRL. (The other was Old Man Murray, RIP.)..."

"Still, it feels kind of funny. Usenet was such a spectacular experiment in the annals of human communication, the idea that it’s value isn’t worth the cost of keeping the servers running comes as a marker of things I already knew, but which still feel different when they become facts in the world. "

Personally I heard some of the Microsoft.public newsgroups most staunch supporters (our MVPs) really start foretelling the death of Usenet at the MVP summit this past year. The allure of modern web-forum based communities with moderation, improved identity, less spam, etc is starting to tear some of them away. Last year many of the developer newsgroups (and I'll lump developers into an early adopter category) actually saw a decrease in the number of return users.  Look at the Asp.Net forum community. It already outpaces all of the public Asp.Net newsgroups. Sure, these are web guys, so they would naturally gravitate to the web interface.  But how long is it before someone makes a great offline client that talks to standard web protocols to fit the bill of other high volume contributors whose only reason for not moving to web forums is the desire for the faster client cached access?

Comments (10)
  1. Nektar says:

    A better news group / forums protocol perhaps? One that will support the ease of use of client progrmas and also the ease of use of the web interface. Like RSS perhaps? XML based? But a protocol that will allow identification, reading and posting of posts (feeds) and other fields like for avators. In other words a protocol that will give client programs access to web forums. Is it so difficult to create? Based on RSS perhaps? Why doesn’t Microsoft try?

  2. Looks indeed a nice project to make…

    A new protocol that combines the best things of forum and usenet …

    Looks pretty damn interesting 🙂

  3. Darrell says:

    They probably won’t try (for a while) because the research project Microsoft uses to mine usenet doesn’t work with the various different structures of web-based online communities. The vast majority of MVPs are active in the newsgroups, even though we all see that they suck compared to the features in a web-based community such as ASP.NET. I don’t like the spam and what-not of the newsgroups, so I probably won’t ever become an MVP, at least until Microsoft changes their evaluation process.

  4. G. Man says:

    "long is it before someone makes a great offline client that talks to standard web protocols …"

    The web protocols would have to come first. I would hate to see someone writing a client that just uses screen-scraping to deliver the forum content on asp.net.

    So, is there any such initiave underway? I doubt it. Asp.net and every other web forum, for that matter, wants people to use their webpage to view the advertisements. But maybe a fee-based rich client access could work. Not sure if I would pay for that or not. It wouldn’t be worth much. It’s not that different from RSS except that RSS is only one direction and we would need read-write(post) access.

  5. Ross Mayfield has been chatting with Marc Smith about Netscan His blog entry (and the associated Flickr series) shows some cool pictures of the reply-to network in Usenet: that is, the network of who replies to messages by someone else….

  6. John Eddy says:

    There are those who might say this will signal the rebirth of Usenet and the end of a very long september.

    Darrell – There isn’t that much spam on msnews.microsoft.com. It’s my job to make sure it’s cleaned up as much as possible. What isn’t my job is knowing whether I should use it’s or its. However, I do take issue at "I don’t like the spam and what-not of the newsgroups, so I probably won’t ever become an MVP, at least until Microsoft changes their evaluation process." I was an MVP Lead for quite a few products (Exchange, Outlook, Outlook Express, WindowsXP, TabletPC..) If the only reason you feel you aren’t qualified is because you don’t work in the newsgroups, I have to tell you I picked a good number of MVPs from web based forums. The problem is getting noticed. What forums do you post to? Where are you active? Do you regularly communicate with any MVPs?

    And as for ‘we all see that they suck compared to the features in a web-based community,’ I wouldn’t generalize. Not all of us see that. Can I work offline in that web based community? Can I have a client experience that I prefer (OE? Gravity? Forte Agent? Tin?) Can I connect to a local server to read posts rather than connecting halfway around the world?

  7. Joku says:

    I doubt they’re going to die technically, but increasing spam and decreasing discussion in the few ones which I occasionally visit supports that..

    And now for the real topic I wanted to talk about (a tiny bit OT though).

    There has been reported increasing amount of interesting topics of discussion at blogs.msdn.com, however at same time comment facilities are closing for older posts, presumably for a) the fear of spam b) no interest to hear about old subjects long forgotten.

    For point a) there has been many suggestions for captcha instead of closing the comments permanently. Now I personally hate those stup*d images with obfuscated numbers, so here’s the simple variation of mine that would apply well to the msdn blogs environment:

    Instead of the image&number, give the blog owner a personal preference setting to replace the Submit button easily with a question about the blog owner, upon typing the answer – pressing the enter key would submit the comment. captcha: "my last name" a: "ledgard". Or if you wanted to be nasty, it could be something that requires reading your first blog entry/bio perhaps. Upon entering this captcha correct the first time, .NET users could have one click installable app which receives some sort of key invisibly from a page that is shown upon entering the captcha – this would be generated on the base of IP address the blogging software sees. The user end program would then use this key along with the blog url to remove the need to enter the captcha again.

    Also to avoid the blog owners email being ‘spammed’ with stupid, but non-spam, comments like this in the past blogs, there could be a threshold such that only comments to newer blogs would inform the blog owner through (email/instant means), comments to older blogs would be available in one page view where you could just view the comment the subject of the blog where it was written on quickly by hovering mouse over or similar no-clicking method. This would allow everyone to comment and even discuss on past topics of interest at blogs.msdn, without having the blog owner being drowned in instant notifications/emails.

    And why do I whine about this instead of blogging about this? Well I do not see every MS employee with a blog, some may not even want to have one for free – but they still want to make occasional comment and instead of just two way discussion, have the comments of interesting blog subject act more as a discussion conversing on one place instead of scattering in many blogs which may have comments closed etc. The blog owner may not care about the past topic anymore, but there’s many who do!

    And what about the people in MS usenet groups who need help for their particular issue can may not have blog? Well I’m thinking Big, like something like more end user centered, but still very connected with MS, approach on combining the PFC with ability to let users help each other and find the issues. There’s already a community at PFC, sort of – this can not be seen on MS internal tools I hear – cause they do not see the comments on bug/suggestion that anyone can write. This concept could be taken so much further. Certainly there would need to separate the "authoritative" answers and KB related content by some visual cue from the community content regarding those issues. Sort of like PHP online manual, where you have the "specs" of how things how and then the community of developers talking about how to make use of the methods etc. With MS running the server for this system, they could get statistics for popularity of those issues and also give authoritative comments regarding what MS is going to do about those in future releases.

    And who would code and pay for all that? Changing face does not come for free, blogs & Channel 9 & PFC are a good start, but target mostly developers. But I would think in the end you want the big message of Change to target bigger audience. From technical standpoint the PFC would need more powerful and much more fast means to find if my issue is already on the database. Such would be most appropriate to run locally for best UX and the search should find the issue even if Joe spells technical word wrong and incorporate something along the lines of the clustered menu used in http://www.vivisimo.com clustered search (beats google if your trying to find hardware reviews for example..).. I could go on and on 😉

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