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The Internet Oracle (internetoracle.org)
89 points by kimi 12 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 20 comments

One of the fun, easily missed little things in the original Deus Ex is correspondence with ”The Oracle” found on a couple of computers if you hack into them.


Holy. Talk about nostalgia -- I used to read these all the time when I was a kid in the 90s. I had no idea the internet Oracle was still around!

I came here wondering if someone had finally created a ML version so you could choose your answer from AI or meat popcicle responses.

can you explain in simple words.. what exactly is the internet Oracle?

It's ... sort of a text-mode chatroulette, but with presumed roles of the asker (supplicant) and responder (Oracle), a protocol for asking (#INCLUDE grovel) and answering questions, and a presumption that what is being submitted is in fact a question, with a voting mechanism for best responses.

Best question-response pairs were curated weekly and at longer intervals, in a digest. Those were absolutely delightful to read.

TL;DR: Like "Ask HN", but very, very, very different.

You owe the Usenet Oracle a pint of maudlin.

You send an email to the oracle asking a question (usually funny, but sometimes very personal). The oracle will return somebody else's request (in an anonymized form), and you reply to it. The result is publicly readable, and a whole culture developed around it. Try it!

See https://internetoracle.org/about.cgi

It's interesting how over time standard riffs and memes developed for message responses, "the you owe Oracle x" which I'm always reminded of when I see "the ol' switcharoo" on Reddit.

I always thought Zadoc the Priest stories tended to be lazy but maybe it was a victim of it's own popularity and it got hard for everyone to keep up.

It was one of my favourite sites back in the 90's and I used to take the time to vote on digests each week. Tempted to look back at some early ones to see if they stand the test of time...

This was indeed a part of the early, pre-Web, 'Net.

I'd stumbled across TUO whilst at uni. Two particular oracularities have stuck with me through the years.

One, I've shamelessly borrowed numerous times:

Q: What is the point of anything?

A: The sharp bit at the end.


The supplicant owed the Oracle a picture of a porpoise.

The other was one of the occasions on which the oracle instance broke character.

The supplicant was in what was then still sometimes called Yugoslavia, asking why what was happening there was happening -- a rather bloody and horrific civil war slash genocide.

The oracle's response, paraphrased: I'm just a humble graduate student and really cannot answer your question, but yes this is indeed horrible. Told rather better than I'm recounting it here. The impression of two minds sharing empathy across an anonymous interface stuck with me. It's small example of some of the best that the 'Net can do. (And yes, occurred at the same time that genocidal propaganda was also being disseminated across Usenet.)

Likely some point in the 1992 - 1994 timeframe, most likely 1993, and contained within one of the digests.

(I'll see if I can track it down more precisely.)

But the whole schtick generally: grovel, Oracle, payment, Oracle's backstory (girlfriend, etc.). I guess they're a marker for a fairly small subculture.

Here's to having been there.

Internet Oracle and alt.religion.kibology were fantastic in the day, but just wouldn't work these days if they became even moderately popular.

Kibo for President!

Jason Scott is something of a modern-day Kibo, in my experience.

I try. But I'll never be the true Kibo.

(We went to college together, though. Worked on the same humor magazine and everything.)

My college roommate participated in the crowdsourcing aspect of that service and managed to get a few through.

As they allude in TFA, it's faster to read than to write, so people would volunteer to write answers and the good ones would be published. Effectively it was a curated list masquerading as a single entity.

I've just downloaded the full set. Searching for some faves.

Actually, feeding these to a fortune-like engine (or dict) might be interesting.


The whole archive is 54 MB of HTML, about 34 MB text. Runs 12,765 pages as text via pr(1). About 52 volumes of 250 pages each.

I was just looking at the archives trying to understand what one of the jokes meant and then thought how insane it would sound if you told the person that the post they are about to submit in 1989 would be read by someone on the internet in 2019.

Very similar to another answerboard site https://www.straightdope.com/ -- still receiving weekly mails since forever!

With the major difference that the Oracle pretty much guarantees you will receive a joke answer to your question, while Straight Dope aims for accuracy...

I think I am still subscribed to it (since 90s) and ocassionaly receive an update.

Funny, I've never noticed the homophone between "UNIX" and "eunuchs" before.

It's intentional. UNIX was like Multics, but without some bits. It was originally spelled Unics and was probably named that by Brian Kernighan. This is why UNIX is not an acronym for anything.

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