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Ask HN: I miss Usenet. Are there any modern equivalents?
261 points by mr_gibbins on June 9, 2022 | hide | past | favorite | 270 comments
Much as the title says, I really miss the Usenet days where I could contribute to a bulletin board-style forum on hyper-specific subjects.

If I remember my computing history correctly, Google ended up acquiring and eating Usenet, becoming Google Groups. I'm not sure if this is dead yet.

Arguably, Reddit fills some of this niche, but Usenet was tech-focused, generally quite professional and frankly didn't have the same clientele as Reddit does.

HN is topic-focused, rather than subject-focused.

Would be very interested to see if there's any Usenet-style project that's still alive.

Oh, that's a fascinating wild post.

> Google ended up acquiring and eating Usenet, becoming Google Groups.

They did not acquire usenet, they acquired Dejanews, a big usenet-archive and gateway to the usenet. Usenet itself is made of decentraliced servers. Everyone can have one, most big providers and tech-companies had one in the early days. Each with their own groups. There also were public groups, maintained by some hive-mind-org or something.

Anyway, Usenet still exists, it's not dead, technically. But there is also not much alive either. File sharing on commercial servers seems to be very popular now, and the discusion-groups are receiving more spam than actual worthy content.

> Reddit fills some of this niche, but Usenet was tech-focused,

50:50 I'd say. There were many tech-groups. But pretty fast there were also an equal amount of non-tech-groups. And in terms of hyper-focus I would say, reddit has far more focus today than usenet ever delivered. It's more about finding a sub and filling it.

> generally quite professional and frankly didn't have the same clientele as Reddit does.

I get the impression your problem is more about the people, not the platform. Yes, usenet had more nerds and expert, more technical capable people. But usenet was also significant smaller, as was the whole internet at the time. You had some kind of natural selection, as internet generally, and usenet specifically only lured very specific people in. With special interests, from a special age and culture. Today it's different, you have anyone from anywhere making a space. I'd say those time are lost forever. At best you get some overhomogenized communities, like this hackernews here. But if you look at reddit, discord, or web-forums in general, you will still find hyper-focused spaces. Just not necessarily with the kind of people your chemistry matches with.

> I get the impression your problem is more about the people, not the platform.

There's one structural difference: Usenet had no engagement metric but replies. Modern replacements measure and implicitly optimize for view counts (the lurker experience); both Reddit and Hacker News sort and surface posts based on a karma score/like count.

I think this difference led Usenet to implicitly optimize for high-effort posts. The stereotypical Reddit "in-joke" thread has no place on Usenet because the principal reward of karma is entirely missing. Instead, posters are implicitly rewarded with attention when their posts garner replies and discussion.

On one hand, this encourages real content and discussion over superficial "updoots to the left". On the other hand, it also encourages flamebait and high-effort trolling, which a vote-scoring system can silently suppress.

> On one hand, this encourages real content and discussion over superficial "updoots to the left".

Yeah no, if you go back to the supposed USENET glory days you’ll find a sense of humor that, to be as charitable as possible, is incredibly cringey by today’s standards.

People smugly typing stuff like ‘Bahagaha ZAP LART!! plonk Welcome to my kill file, lamer!!!.’

Today you only really run into such bafflingly unfunny stuff in the Linux kernel mailing list— you know, supposedly hilarious things like ‘Come to the dark side, Sarah. We have cookies!’

(You may find a rare exception like a shaggy dog story about how a coin flip going differently would result in HP’s UNIX, HP-UX, being called PH-UX.)

Just as in modern Reddit, the culture was very different from group to group. Some were like that, others were much more polite.

And culture is all it is.

Early technology for the internet was a natural sieve for nerds. As it became easier, that sieve became coarser until around Facebook and it became non-existent.

What I wouldn't do to be done with (some of) "today's standards".

I still like plonk.

>The stereotypical Reddit "in-joke" thread has no place on Usenet because the principal reward of karma is entirely missing.

Nope. `rec.arts.sf.written` and `alt.folklore.urban` immediately come to mind as having extensive in-jokes. The phenomenon of replies to a post being almost incomprehensible to the uninitiated because they use/rely on the existing ecosystem of said in-jokes is as true for such newsgroups as it is for any subreddit. The only difference is that on Reddit said comments will be at the top of the tree, but the metastructure of their replies is otherwise the same.

omg, what even moderately trafficked group didn't have in-jokes? Any community will get in-jokes as it ages. This isn't a feature of reddit vs usenet vs Bob's Web Forum Software v3, it's a feature of a community.

Just because there wasn’t an explicit upvote/downvote mechanism, doesn’t mean people weren’t posting — sometimes extensively — for a kind of social cachet. Witness, for instance, Kibo [1]

1 - https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Parry

edit can’t spel.

Having never experienced high-effort trolling, I suppose I don't really know whether if it's better. My gut reaction is that I'd rather have high-effort trolling over low-effort trolling though.

Then you have no idea what it's like to realize that a well-known Usenet crank is a real person, lives in the same town that you do, is pissed off at you, and is honestly crazy.

This happened to me with Archimedes Plutonium back when he was Ludwig Von Plutonium. You can find him discussed in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Usenet_personality. (Luckily for me, his brand of crazy didn't trend towards violence. Though I still regret later having introduced him to the p-adic numbers.)

There is probably more aggregate pain over time from something like a group of 4chan users coming up with Rickrolling then successfully making it a meme. But the pain that a high effort troll can cause is rather...special.

Reddit has plenty of flamebait for the sake of updoots.

Eh I mean Eternal September has it's own wikipedia page for a reason, and Usenet stopped being strictly nerd/geek/math/science 30 years ago. The only thing it is useful for now is piracy, and everyone else has moved on to either Reddit, or hyper specific phpbb type forums, both of which just require digging to discover what you like.


Usenet was probably still useful for some time after the Eternal September--especially if you mostly stayed out of the alt. hierarchy. But it definitely declined as access became more widespread.

Stuff under comp.lang was still useful way into 00s. I remember a lot of productive discussions on comp.lang.c++.moderated circa 2008.

As other commenters have pointed out Usenet was a serious of collaborating servers each independently owned & run so there was nothign to 'acquire'. What happened, from memory, was that a sysop made a backup of his Usenet feed and Google got that tape. My GoogleFu is to weak to find a link to the story.

I ran the Newzbin Usenet search engine so it's a topic of some nostalgia for me.

So you're the one that killed usenet for filesharing. (Binaries being unfriendly to download probably kept the DMCA folks at bay. NZBs changed that.)

THe MPA would have come for your groups at some point, regardless of NZBs. I don't know if we made it a more immediate problem or not, and in the meantime very many people found NZBs less of a pain.

> What happened, from memory, was that a sysop made a backup of his Usenet feed and Google got that tape

Google bought Dejanews, a service that operated a usenet2web gateway. It became Google Groups.


THis was what I was thinking of.. https://www.salon.com/2002/01/08/saving_usenet/

Thanks for Newzbin! NZBs were a revelation. I had to build a RAID array to keep all the crap I downloaded :)

Thank you for Newzbin, I've used it many times over the years!

A pleasure to finally meet you lol

> maintained by some hive-mind-org or something

I believe you may be thinking of the backbone cabal[1]. But maybe not, since it's secret and doesn't exist.


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Backbone_cabal

i bet you could fit all the BGP experts in the world in a medium sized conference hall and half of them would be on a first name basis with each other. That's what i think of when i think of "backbone cabal".

That actually happens. The few hundred people who keep the internet humming along all get together twice a year. (At least for North America, other groups exist in other regions)

Coincidentally, NANOG 85 just wrapped up!

I came from the BBS era before Usenet and I think that would be an interesting experiment in social networking today.

Allow regular people to set up a BBS that other people could connect to. Once there they can read/post on public message boards, they can send direct messages to other users on the same BBS, they can exchange files between them, they can play multiplayer online games with their friends, engage in group chat, etc.

A small percentage of people like running things like this. Right now they're probably starting up a Facebook group that has draconian content restrictions and extremely limited functionality. Make it easy for them to start a BBS - either on a SaaS platform or literally hosted on their own device, they might just switch to it.

> I came from the BBS era before Usenet

Unless you were dialing up to CBBS between 1978-1980, i.e. the only BBS in the world at the time, then USENET predates your BBS era, which I would assume like most is really somewhere between 1984-1994, even if BBS existed prior to then and after then.

In practice I think access to BBS systems came before Usenet for many of us. I didn't have Usenet access until I had internet access (through a BBS). And I didn't have a good nntp server until I had a dedicated ISP many years after accessing dialup, non-internet BBS systems.

I remember reporting a PINE newsgroup thread bug at the height of my nntp usage and several of the local BBS systems had started dying off by then.

Yes, PC-based BBS systems BBS systems were quite widespread going back to at least the early eighties. (BBSs existed before that but were often pretty primitive--e.g. a personal computer with a floppy drive and a 300 baud modem. You had a sort of parallel version of Usenet because in addition to the local BBS you had PCRelay, FIDOnet, and possibly other message exchanges between systems.

Especially the commercial BBSs could have quite a few systems and phone lines and, as you say the bigger BBSs often became the first ISP that consumers had access to if they didn't have access through their company or university.

You also had the big commercial services like Compuserve, AOL, Bix, Delphi, and so forth.

There were also a number of Usenet <-> FidoNet/echomail gateways. This was especially useful for local BBS users that weren’t affiliated with any university computing facilities.

The opposite is also true for many, namely, lots of university students who were on usenet in the computer labs, and maybe had a TRS-80 in the dorm connected to nothing.

That's true but the BBSes were available to anyone with the money for a computer, modem and the phone bill. Usenet and the internet was reserved for the chosen few.

So in that sense BBSes would predate Usenet for most people.

I got Usenet access before I got full internet (even dialup) in fact but it was much later, in the mid 90s, using a really expensive UUCP account.

For most people outside universities, BBSes came first for all practical purposes.

> Allow regular people to set up a BBS that other people could connect to. Once there they can read/post on public message boards, they can send direct messages to other users on the same BBS, they can exchange files between them, they can play multiplayer online games with their friends, engage in group chat, etc.

So, Discord?

Discord is centralised, proprietary and all owned and controlled by one company.

Which 99% of people couldn't care less about.

Hey there, former sysop here, both on a C64 in the late 80s and a PC in the early 90s. I've been tossing around the idea of starting another one that you ssh to, and make it available as a docker image. Would anyone show up? Maybe if I make a web interface...

I have left all social media - this site is the only social thing I do now - and this whole thread is giving me all kinds of sad feels.

> Allow regular people to set up a BBS that other people could connect to.

What do you mean "allow"? Unless you have a ridiculous ISP, you're allowed to host just about anything. I seriously doubt any ISPs are blocking NNTP, UUCP, or SSH.

“Make it easy for them to start a BBS”

You mean, like this?


That's not really a BBS, though... a BBS was something you dialed a phone into. I don't think that in the modern era of ubiquitous cell phones, that you really could set up an actual BBS.

I disagree. The modem was the transport mechanism of the BBS and it did shape the experience. With that said, just as we are still seeing great new games being produced with 8-bit style graphics in a world where the hardware can do fully immersive VR, I believe that the experience of the BBS is still just as relevant today over IP, especially in the context of this original post.

The old Usenet had social groups and discussion groups for almost every interest you could think of. New groups were created multiple times per week, and when the backbone maintainers tried to rein that in, the alt hierarchy was created and vastly more groups were created. But most of the non-tech groups were not archived so that discussion is gone. Arguably fortunately: we were young and stupid and posted embarrassing stuff using our real names and affiliations.

Rhizome has painstakingly documented its forensic archival of The Thing BBS


It's a testament to how de-centralized and randomly those archives were served. And the death of dial-up async long manifesto culture. Any greenfield cloud based approach can scale users, but not that culture of usenet binary harvest tools, irc #warez clubs and constrained bandwidth netiquette ;)

> Everyone can have one, most big providers and tech-companies had one in the early days

In the late 90's, when the web started to dominate the internet, I was hoping for an NNTP overhaul that would allow most people to host mini-NNTP servers for true decentralization. Freenet and I2P seem to be sorts of stabs at the idea, but never really caught on, unfortunately. I'd love to see a truly worldwide Usenet.

> an NNTP overhaul that would allow most people to host mini-NNTP servers for true decentralization

That would be quite an idea: extended NNTP over P2P, but doesn't Mastodon do sort of a similar thing today?

> receiving more spam than actual worthy content.

Let me take a minute to commemorate "Canter & Siegel, green-card lawyers", for being the first sharp-eyed critters to spot they could make a buck shitting in the common's spring.

Does alt.sex.robots fit into tech or non-tech?

Depends on the use case :)

The question is - What are you missing? I suspect you probably miss something that has more to do with the participants.

In the early days of Usenet there were very few ways to access it from the perspective of an average person. You either had to be working on one of the small number of companies that were internet connected or were at a university. That significantly restricted the available pool of people using it, and also filtered that pool.

Up through the early 90s that natural filter mechanism kept the focus of individual groups small, reduced noise, and increased signal. Over time as internet access became more widespread that signal to noise decreased, and most modern forums still have difficulty with it.

There are a few other interesting characteristics - the specific nature of the tree approach and the availability of lots of specific groups gave it some uniqueness - Today you might see a bit of that in Reddit subs, Facebook groups, and other similar platforms, albeit lacking the tree.

Piggy-backing off of this post: the answer is to get off the high-trafficked parts of the public internet. Examples:

1. Meatspace user groups / interest groups.

2. University lecture series (the type of weekly seminar that all graduate students and faculty in a given research area attend). You can usually attend as a member of the public if you have an "in".

3. Mailing lists and discord servers for specific projects.

"Moving Castles" was the terminology I heard someone propose[0].

Unfortunately they got too caught up in the crypto nonsense but the idea was sound - good communities have to be guarded and they occasionally "lower the drawbridge" to bring on newcomers, potentially with semi-public spaces. This could be a minecraft server, a facebook group or what have you.

Since the group is motile, they aren't affected by platforms being subpar. They can avoid stagnation by bringing in newcomers, but have a way to vet incoming people too before allowing them "internal" access.

[0]: https://trust.support/feed/moving-castles

Yeah exactly. Usenet wasn't what it was because of the technology, it was because the participants were mostly there to have 'professional' conversations, and the kinds of conversations that nerdy techie-minded people have over beers after work (wesley.crusher.die.die.die, etc).

As another Member of the Society to Reduce Wesley into a Little Styrofoam Dodecahedron, I can certainly attest that usenet wasn't as gleamingly professional as we remember. The original stereotypes of discussion group users (trolls, white knights, etc.) came from usenet.

don't forget porn, there was a tremendous amount of porn on usenet. a friend of mine had some perl script he called "aub" that scraped alt.user.binaries or something like that. catalogs and catalogs of stuff on a quiet little server in a university lab.

alt.binaries.pictures.erotica FTW

(There was also a computer at MIT called "zurich.ai.mit.edu" that you could FTP to in 1990 and download really raunchy NSFL porn. I still have scars.)

Not OP but the thing I miss the most from Usenet and IRC is the fact that they were client agnostic. I hate the discord client. I hate the reddit client and the facebook. I'd love to be able to have an open source desktop based client that I can modify and implement all sorts of plugins for it. I hate that we moved from services/protocols to closed vertical monolith.

I'm guessing they have limited functionality, but Pidgin is free software and has both discord and Facebook plugins. They've certainly made it difficult for the free software clients, but people continue trying to maintain this ideal.

The thing I miss most was having one single newsreader interface that I could configure as I liked. With web forums everybody has their own idea of how things should work and I end up having to remember a dozen different flavors of "markdown" and ways of filtering users or threading posts. The Usenet had issues, chiefly the lack of a good way to moderate channels, but I wish we had gone with an open data model instead of the countless walled gardens that sprang up in its place.

Yea, that is something I too can appreciate. The simplicity of having a single place where I can read about a wide arrangement of hobbies, interests, and professions.

Maybe matrix and/or mastodon?

I thought Matrix was more of an IRC replacement than a new Usenet. Mastadon always seemed to want to be Twitter.

Not quite IMO. Matrix gets very cluttery very quickly once you join more than a handful of rooms with lots of activity. At least with the mainstream clients. It seems more targeted at replacing telegram and its public groups than IRC.

The channel list in particular is way too low density.

You mention the filter effect: I think what really killed Usenet, at least for me, was spam, much of which was automated, with no great mechanism in place to combat it.

These days you could fight spam simply by adding a proof-of-work requirement for posting content to the network. Isn't that exactly what this Web3/Blockchain fad is all about anyway?

This was in fact one of the earliest use cases of proof-of-work from the 90s [1].

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hashcash

This is a really interesting use-case. I don’t think posting spam is really a zero-cost thing though. So we wouldn’t be adding a cost, we would be increasing it. So I guess the big question is, how much can we charge per post that spammers couldn’t afford but wouldn’t scare away actual community members?

Wouldn't proof of stake be much more promising?

1) Start off with a trusted group of people (stakeholders)

2) Set up an invite-only system

3) Inviting someone means sharing some stake (i.e. some reputation) with them

4) To post you need some minimum amount of stake

5) With every post that's not downvoted into oblivion you increase your stake until you reach a certain equilibrium point. (So there's a limit and it's not about gaining status points.)

6) Posts that are downvoted into oblivion will cause their authors to lose some stake.

This is the best explanation of proof-of-stake I've seen yet! Thank you! This does sound just like minimum karma limits to me though. Per-community karma though instead of the global kind that Reddit uses.

I think making a non-free Usenet is pretty much anathema to the whole concept of Usenet.

I wouldn't want to pay Real Money for it, but somehow it doesn't seem the same to say "I'll spend some finite amount of computation time/energy to make this comment". That seems like a much lower hurdle.

At the same time, paying ten cents to make a comment on Reddit or HN is very unappealing.

10c of crypto mining is about 30 minutes on an RTX 3090. It would have to be a much, much lower cost!

That's been attempted for email too, not sure how far it ever went. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hashcash

>These days

HashCash is older than Bitcoin, and Bitcoin sybil-attack protection is basically HashCash.

From late 1990 until around 1997 I had a full feed via UUNET and ran cnews locally on my pc with cnews and trn for reading. It wasn't long before I had to scale back and drop all the binary groups and eventually others. IIRC a full feed when I started was about 3MB a day (still tough to do at 12/2400 bps)

I had a Usenet portal subscription between 2005-2008. I ran Thoth (usenet client) on Ubuntu on old Mac G4 towers. At the time, the connection speed blew away torrents.

It still does. I download 30GB 4k movies in a minute or so, consistently, from Usenet.

I missed torrentZ, do you know how should I search torrents again?

> What are you missing?

Early Usenet was like Reddit, without the corporate (and come on, blatantly left-leaning) censorship.

Try posting on any of the right leaning subreddits, they are heavily censored and non-conforming people are frequently banned.

I’d encourage you to post a scientific or academic survey of Reddit’s political censorship. I think it’s common that everyone believes their own ideology gets censored when it’s probably not the case overall.

> If I remember my computing history correctly, Google ended up acquiring and eating Usenet, becoming Google Groups.

Usenet was a distributed set of news peering relationships, exchanging posts via NNTP. There was nothing to acquire, so that's not what happened.

Google merely set up a web interface to it, which was eventually extended to the abomination that was Google Groups. This was intended to be some sort of mix of Usenet group and mailing list, all via a web interface. In reality it was awful and I suspect development on it stopped 10+ years ago.

Google acquired DejaNews, which was a popular web interface for reading Usenet. They rebranded it into Groups at some point.

But what is called Groups now is something else entirely, as you said.

Google Groups still has usenet support, I used it the other day trying to track down the source of an old story.

> The abomination that was Google Groups

FYI, Google Groups are literally the “groups” of Google Workspace — every time you create a group of users to e.g. assign that group some GCP roles, that group then also gets an email address (that being the group’s global primary key), and that email address then implicitly becomes a mailing list all group members are subscribed to.

It’s actually very useful in a corporate Google Workspace context — it’s rare to need an actual mailing list given Slack et al, but they’re effectively “group email-forwarding aliases”, allowing messages to e.g. devops-billing@example.com to arrive in the inboxes of multiple people.

the fact that it's a mailing list is so much better than a plain forwarding alias: it's a searchable/shareable archive for people who joined later. No more asking a coworker to dig through their emails for some important information

Dejanews built that frontend on top of an archive they had. Google bought Dejanews and thus the archive.

Google really destroyed that archive, there's posts from the 80s and 90s I know used to be in deja and in early google that just can't be found any more.

Agreed. I posted a lot in the 90s, especially to groups like sci.math and rec.arts.books.tolkien, and there is almost no trace of any of it in Google groups.

When Google bought the Dejanews archives I thought it was good, because Google was good at search and I naively still believed that the company actually wanted to make all information accessible. It's a real shame that all of the old Usenet stuff is gone.

And it seems that a lot of uuencoded content was removed at some point. You can see the text of the message, but the uuencoded part is mostly cut out. Here's an example: https://groups.google.com/g/misc.int-property/c/f2-dV5wVP9U/...

If anyone here knows how to get the uuencoded part of that message, I'd be interested.

You can't. It was never there.

I wrote the first custom NNTP client for Deja. (This was a high-performance replacement for the community, open source client.) All it did was receive and dump articles in a format for the indexer. It did some light processing, including stripping uuencode content. So uuencode never even made it into the archive.

Thanks for the information. I figured someone here might know something.

The final nail in Usenet's coffin was the removal of the discussion filter from Google searches in 2014. Before that, people could use that filter to easily find others talking about something, but apparently that didn't please advertisers who wanted users to find only companies selling that something, so Google removed that filter and problem solved.



To be honest a lot of what I posted back then I'm happy has been lost to the sands of time.

I will say one thing I've found strange is how spotty old posts are. Even within the same newsgroup. I can easily track down old posts of mine but sometimes stuff is spotty within a single thread. I've not seen any true rhyme or reason to what's gone and what remains.

The gateway between Google Groups and certain newsgroups is still running, in both directions. For example, I received a copy of this Groups posting https://groups.google.com/g/de.soc.recht.steuern+buchfuehrun... over regular Usenet NNTP.

The technology is still up and running. Some of the people from the 90s are still there. But Usenet definitely has peaked in terms of users and postings.

> Arguably, Reddit fills some of this niche, but Usenet was tech-focused, generally quite professional and frankly didn't have the same clientele as Reddit does

I see you didn't hang out in alt.wesley.crusher.die.die.die much

Didn't alt.barney.die.die.die.die have more dies? I don't remember exactly

Usenet was a cost to ISPs unfortunately. But, it wasn't centrally controlled or moderated either. It also was minimally technical to use, which served as a good filter.

But I guess reddit's subreddits may be the best alternative with viewership and specific groups/areas.

You know... it should be possible with tagging to take something like twitter reddit, and generate "views" that are groups. Maybe make some spec with three letters, maybe R and an S, and heck another S for the hell of it.

Balkanization and content gardens/API walls block integration of like minded content.

The cost to ISPs was mostly in the binaries groups, and some usenet servers were set up as a paid service for this purpose when ISPs started dropping the binaries groups.

I don't blame the ISPs for this. At the time, you could be an ISP with what is essentially a low-end home Internet connection now, but it cost thousands per month.

What started the downfall of Usenet was Eternal September when AOL let their hoi polloi access the Big Boy Internet. The "Me-tooer" phenomenon was particularly irritating.

> What started the downfall of Usenet was Eternal September

that, and the unfortunate but probably not unexpected flood of actual child abuse photos. this became a huge problem real fast. an ISP I worked for back in that day dropped NNTP like a hot potato when the company lawyers caught wind of the potential legal issues.

You're thinking of the ".word.word.word" convention for newsgroup names. The last word would be repeated three times. The prototype for this was "alt.swedish.chef.bork.bork.bork," though "alt.wesley.crusher.die.die.die" (and the related "alt.ensign.wesley.die.die.die") came soon thereafter.

The name of the group you're thinking of was probably something like "alt.dinosaurs.barney.die.die.die."

Reddit is not an alternative as it is heavily censored (same as HN really) and centralized. Usenet still exists and discussions still take place there. Being a decentralized protocol, censoring (or scoring, killfiling) someone is left up to you.

And this is the major advantage of Usenet. You can’t be silenced by a mob, which leads to freedom of expression and disparate views. Sure there is spam and flames, but one gets all the tools one needs to deal with that. There is no committee deciding what posts should be kept or deleted. We are a lot worse off today than we used to be, largely because of the centralization of discourse.

> Sure there is spam and flames, but one gets all the tools one needs to deal with that.

Asking the user to implement measures and keep them up-to-date is detrimental to adoption from users that are aware of curated sources. Pretending this is net-neutral is misleading.

> We are a lot worse off today than we used to be, largely because of the centralization of discourse.

Usenet was centralized in practice, so I think you mean something else. It's not clear how much the curation of content stifles discourse when creating new forums is essentially free. Either way, I would tend to disagree that curated is worse. Everyone curates to some degree, even when they are free and open discussions.

Usenet is just better in this respect. Nobody says anybody has to use it.

Usenet was not driven by advertising, so it wasn't constantly pushing "click bait" and other unsolicited nefarious content onto its users. You could spew all the dumb misinformation you wanted to in your newsgroup, and it wouldn't leak into the more sane newsgroups (unless someone crossposted).

Unless you mentioned Turkey, in which case your group would suddenly see massive cross-posting by Serdar Argic.

Or anything in the alt or rec hierarchies really.

alt.religion.scientology is where many of the secrets around Xenu, etc., were originally leaked.

Not all of the alt.* hierarchy was vapid.

Yep, alt.religion.scientology, alt.tv.northern-exp, and news.admin.net-abuse.email were my main hangouts.

My first thought when seeing "tech-focused" was "let's see, I hung out in alt.atheism... wait, that's like /r/atheism?" (I see there's also an /r/nonsequitur/, kinda like alt.non.sequitur though the reddit version seems a more....attached to reality.)

rec.music.gdead was one of the most active usenet groups. IIRC rec.arts.books.sf-lovers was also a very popular group. I'm a bit nebulous on whether it originated from the mailing list or the other way around

There were also quite a few "for sale" type groups, I remember when the group for computer equipment was split into about five subgroups after it got too big.

Just editing to add - there were also a lot of regional groups, one of the earliest and probably biggest was ba.* There were also state/country level top levels and a few colleges had their own too

This is a strangely rose-tinted view of Usenet. Usenet was a mess well before Eternal September. You can't talk about Usenet without talking about alt.*

After alt.* was inagurated, the very first group was (IIRC) alt.swedish.chef.bork.bork.bork. Then there were alt.destroy.the.earth and alt.pave.the.earth, which were bitter enemies despite their opposition to alt.save.the.earth, because if you destroyed the earth there'd be nothing left to pave. Alt was also the home of the Big Seven sex groups, plus piracy in the alt.binaries groups. The talk.* groups had problems as well. Oh, and then there was alt.2600, which purposely had a moderator who rejected any and all postings: you had to hack USENET and assume moderator privileges to post there.

I think easily the closest thing we have nowadays to USENET is reddit. And, to be honest, if you average over its entire audience, it's more tame than USENET was.

Yep, having been around for Usenet I don't find Reddit all that different. The main difference is the moderators I guess. But for all the stodgy work related groups on Usenet it was the alt.* groups that caught fire. Reddit is much the same, there are subs for all kinds of serious moderated technical discussion still. Those aren't the popular parts but they weren't popular on Usenet either.

Unless you've received an award, have a gold subscription, or have moderation privileges, finding new comments in a thread is not easy. In a news reader, it's trivial.

old.Reddit.com along with RES and only having handpicked subreddits on your front page (ie none of the default dumpster fire ones) makes Reddit halfway decent.

I think the difference is, back in usenet times the weirdos were also technical professionals. There wasn't the same need to be concerned for professional reputation so you'd get things like diatribes for fringe political beliefs strewn in among deep technical discussions. I used to lurk in alt.fan.warlord and watch Bram Moolenaar make fun of people's ascii pic signatures. It was a mess, but a technically informed mess, which somehow made it more interesting.

> Oh, and then there was alt.2600, which purposely had a moderator who rejected any and all postings: you had to hack USENET and assume moderator privileges to post there.

This is the kind of internet we lost when it went all corporate.

Defacing websites with crude messages and garish colors was the internet's graffiti. Ascii and Demoscene was its street art. Zines and hacker radio were the warehouse art shows. We have all these documentaries about punk music, but so few about punk computing.

You do not recall correctly, not even close.

See https://www.livinginternet.com/u/ui_alt.htm

(and I knew Brian Reid and John Gilmore in those days).

>[redd]it's more tame than USENET was

Of course it is, it's beholden to advertisers. Chairman Pao saw to its taming, right before getting canned.

Don't forget alt.chrome.the.moon and alt.sexy.french.captain.borg.borg.borg!

alt.hackers was another moderated group, but it had no moderator.

In fact, I think I had alt.2600 and alt.hackers mixed up.

> Google ended up acquiring and eating Usenet, becoming Google Groups.

That is false and nonsensical. Usenet is a federated network of NNTP servers; Google just joined that with their own implementation having an awful web front end, which they proceeded to revise in even worse directions. That happened right in the middle of a decline that was happening, driven by ISPs shutting down their NNTP servers. So it might have looked like Usenet is somehow transitioning to Google. Google did also acquire a Usenet archive, and then make it impossible to use.

Anhyway, Usenet is alive and (sort of) well. There are new posts daily in newsgroups like comp.unix.programmer, comp.lang.c. Even comp.lang.lisp sees some action.

See you there!


Hey look, comp.lang.awk has a new post, from the somewhat kooky, but topical, KPop 2GM


I'm currently using the news.eternal-september.org NNTP server.

Note: there is spam, but not nearly as much as you see through the Google Groups interface, and that's the interface that offers no filtering features.

You need a newsreader with killfile processing. I use the terminal-based slrn (S-Lang Read News). It has a score feature for assigning scores to articles based on matches on arbitrary fields. If you give something a -9999 score, it disappears. The fields have a lot of information. You can kill based on what server someone is coming from, or what client they are supposedly using, if you want.

Usenet is still there, I download TV shows from it all the time. The discussion forums are still there, too, but are completely overridden with spam. Most of the public unix [0][1][2] servers have a Usenet server that federates with some other tilde servers, though not the wider usenet. I stumbled across a group called ALTEXXANET [3] that claims to have one, though I've not checked to see if it's still there.

What were some of the newsgroups you were interested in? When and why did you stop checking them?

[0] http://sdf.org/ [1] https://tildeverse.org/ [2] https://tilde.club/wiki/usenet-news.html [3] http://www.altexxanet.org/usenet.html

I use a feed with no binaries groups, which is how I like it. Most groups aren't exactly overrun with spam, they're just not very active. One or two spam messages a day looks like a lot when actual users are only posting one or two messages a week. But if a group is active (like comp.sys.raspberry-pi), you hardly notice the spam.

A friend was still using it for tv/movie download a couple years ago too

I think people overlook web forums. I would point to





as good examples. There are a lot of dead forums out there, but there are also ones where the administrators make the effort to greet new users and make them feel welcome. For instance that last forum covers a fraught issue where emotions run pretty high but the administrators do a good job of "onboarding" new users.

This is true. I have tried to maintain the same type of "great people" in my forum. It's a lot of hard work and it's been costly to maintain over the years. It is also admittedly very limited in focus.

My favorite part of usenet was the FAQ's. I didn't have internet access at the time but I downloaded the comp.lang.c faq along with 3d graphics programming faq from a local BBS. Tons of fun reading!


The worst part about Facebook groups, Reddit, and even most forums is the same questions being repeated over and over. You can do sticky threads and links on subreddits (not really sure how you would do it on Facebook) but it's not often done.

Cool kids these days are using Urbit. It has the same style (p2p) and has a niche but active community of people interested in all kinds of areas, mainly tech, politics, aesthetics, etc.

If you find it 'gimmicky' which I don't, but lots do, just focus on the 'Groups' app.


To communicate you need a 'ship' (an ID). This could be a free 'comet' and a paid planet. Layer 2 Planets are relatively cheap, and they'll be yours forever too, so it's just a one time payment.

You can find them here:


https://azimuth.shop/ (3.5 bucks atm in this one)



Any questions, lmk. (not affiliated, just a fan)

Also, you'll notice this is my first comment and you'll think I'm shilling, which is understandable. I felt the need to comment cuz I felt the same way. I was tired of reddit and discord groups. I guess the quality of the content wasn't enough. In the urbit groups you'll find people who (imo) like heterodoxy and 'different' things.

> Cool kids these days are using Urbit

I still haven't dived into it, it felt obscure and obtuse last time I checked, but are the cool kids actually using it? I.e. do you have any more link to this niche community, to check what's the status of the project?

No. The cool kids aren't even aware Usenet exists, the nerds are using Mastodon, the turbonerds are using Freenet, and the hypernerds wrote their own protocol and only shared it with like twelve of their friends and they have a blood pact between them to never post it to HN.

Don't worry about the 'obscure' aspect. That's part of the aesthetic imo. Just install it, boot up a comment and go to this group:


Justin Murphy also has a pretty cool guide here: https://imperceptible.computer/

You could boot a comet and message me (~piclyx-docsun) there with your HN name and I'll link you cool groups I'm in.

What I find weird about Urbit is that it isn't mainstream, but most groups I'm in are pretty active. The UI also adds to the experience, it is soothing.

Would be happy to show you more stuff.


To answer the status, you could check the blog (https://urbit.org/blog) or you could join the network and follow the beginner groups (i.e. ~bitbet-bolbel/urbit-community).

No one is using Urbit. Stop trying to make Urbit happen. It's not going to happen.

The fun police has arrived.

Who exactly are you to stop people from enjoying something impractical and controversial? Accept the fact that some might have a more open and curious mind.

Not OP but..

It’s more that I don’t want to interact with the general group of people that would be seriously attracted to Urbit.

I tried doing something with it once and my impression was that it is just needlessly/deliberately obtuse/arcane. There are much simpler alternatives.

… [166/256] GIANT FILE… [167/256] GIANT FILE… [169/256] GIANT FILE… …

Kids today will never know the pain.

That's what parity data was for. There were even clients that would seek out all of the binaries that had enough parts for a full download and do all of the work for you.

That said, alt.binaries was a big reason that ISPs started dropping Usenet. The other being the ever decreasing signal to noise ratio as the entire system proved to be vulnerable to spam and trolls. Yet another example of why moderation is a necessary evil if you want to scale up a discussion group.

"GIANT FILE" == porn...

How many of us attempted to automate this process :-)

Isn't that what parchive[1] and/or RAR recovery volumes were for?

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parchive

The solution to that was a perl script called (I think) aub (Assemble USENET binaries). I remember back in the 90s, some friends and I in college would run that as a cron job to accumulate files over time. This was long enough ago that the version we ran was Perl 4.

This is interesting, i know that same script. I thought a buddy of mine out of Arlington TX wrote it around '96 or '97. I didn't know it existed outside of our autonomous vehicle systems lab. We used it to accumulate and categorize certain pictures.

I'm disappointed that NNTP servers and clients didn't get wider use outside of Usenet.

Most public forums back in the day would have been vastly improved if they had been done as an NNTP server with each sub-forum as a newsgroup rather than doing them with something like phpBBB on an HTTP server.

Heck, most forums today would have better threading and post organization with NNTP than they do with the popular web forum systems.

Same goes for non-chat communication within companies. Newsgroups on an internal NNTP server would be better in most ways than mailing lists for topics in which people actually need to discuss things as a group.

> Heck, most forums today would have better threading and post organization with NNTP than they do with the popular web forum systems.

I beg to differ.

NNTP's lack of moderation is a bug, not a feature. Between the spam and abuse, NNTP would be an utter cesspool in today's world.

> NNTP would be an utter cesspool

I've seen Usenet, and I've seen Reddit. I'll take Usenet.

Whatever platform gets popular is bound to become a cesspit.

If Usenet was as popular as Reddit, you would hate Usenet just as much.

You can only take Usenet because Reddit exists. If it didn’t Usenet would be more of a cesspool than it already is.

NNTP can be moderated.

Gibson Research (GRC) still runs an active news server, I believe.


I also worked for a place in the early 2000s which used an NNTP server internally (large corp) for company communication and discussion.

using NNTP internally was something I always thought would be a great idea: all public discussion (i.e. public to all inside the company, as opposed to siloed conversations in emails or Slack/Teams) and a repository for knowledge transfer (whereas wikis and such are always out of date and usually do not record the arguments that led to a decision)... unfortunately I never saw it used that way at any place I worked at (lucky you).

Back in the late 90s I had some forum software which would sync with NNTP, either posting from the forum into NNTP and vice versa.

I ran it, and linked it to a new group. Nobody ever posted in usenet, and I suspect nobody read in there.

https://getaether.net/ is an attempt at a modern usenet, i.e. decentralised discussion. However it doesn’t have many users or third party clients.

https://xn--gckvb8fzb.com/superhighway84/ is a more directly nostalgia inspired clone of usenet.

You can still access USENET if you have an account on <https://www.eternal-september.org/>. <https://news.individual.net> works, too, but I think it costs ten euros a year.

At least eternal-september and nntp.aioe.org are free access -- but both have text only newsgroups, no binaries groups.

There's a reason for that. Binaries groups were historically dens of piracy and CSAM. They consume HUGE amounts of traffic and hosting them presents liability issues to the providers.

Usenet binary groups still exist and are heavily used for piracy.

> dens of piracy and CSAM

Tangential, but fascinating that we've binned these categories together. The latter is likely orders of magnitude more harmful to society.

It's not about "harmful to society" in this case, but more "illegal, attracting attention from entities that make hosting the service much more painful and difficult".

More than once, I've had thoughts about developing some sort of discussion platform, but binned it because the thought of hosting it and having to deal with the not-fun problems of reducing spam and handling illegal content made it entirely untasteful. At least spam reduction can be done entirely on my own terms, but illegal content requires me to then coordinate with external companies or agencies, report content, figure out how to deal with and purge the content (or quarantine and hang onto it hand it over when requested), and live with the the pain of having to field DLNAs and other copyright claims.

I obviously have different feelings about piracy than I do about CSAM, but from a hosting perspective, both are just big pain points that make hosting a service where people can share non-text content a pain in the ass.

The former's arguably net-beneficial, in a world with effectively eternal copyright terms. It's shouldn't be possible for Disney to own so much of the last ~100 years of popular media, for example, because most of that should no longer be ownable.

I'd argue that piracy is beneficial to society. Copyright (and most of IP-law) is a scam at this point. 10y is enough on any IP-thingy (to have a head start on the rest of the market); but that's just my opinion.

Yeah looking at you Mickey Mouse.

Indeed, but I was just listing them as "two major illegal things that binaries newsgroups are used for", not tie them together or relate them in a jejune "four horsemen of the infocalypse" kind of way.

It sounds like that would be fine with the OP who is looking for tech community and discussion.

https://www.techradar.com/au/best/best-usenet-providers (of 2022)

Seems to be oriented toward binaries though.

HackerNews seems a viable alternative with a daily delivery of interesting topics, excellent moderators and often highly interesting comments from a diverse crowd of users -> check it out ;-)

Maybe check out some Tilde servers? https://tildeverse.org/

Some of them run their own NNTP servers as well.

Does that link rick roll everyone, or just me?

EDIT: Turns out was from a cached point in time where it was doing that.

Everyone clicking through from hacker news

It's clearly reddit.

... which is not to say I love reddit or believe it has the same aesthetic as usenet, etc. ... but it's reddit.

I wrote a dependency tree python3 library to make your own NNTP servers:



It's used in my link aggregator forum, https://sic.pm/ which also has a mailing list bridge functionality.

As a demo, I have implemented a HN mirror on NNTP: (quoting README.md)

hnnntp.py querying news.ycombinator.com (hackernews) API and caching results in an sqlite3 database. A public instance might be online at nessuent.xyz:564 (TLS only)

Reddit is in theory the same.. but it also is loaded with spam, in the form of ads paid to reddit. This is worse.

Compare: FPGA group on USENET, very little spam: https://groups.google.com/g/comp.arch.fpga

Reddit, full page animated old-spice ads: https://www.reddit.com/r/FPGA/

Also as much as you dislike google groups, just compare the UI of the above two.. ugh.. of course there is old reddit:


> full page animated old-spice ads

This is what ad blockers are for. I don't see any ads on reddit.

Except that the majority of content there are posted from karma-farming bot aggregators. Reddit does the same thing digg did that got them killed - curate submissions, but they wisely didn't announce it. Reddit uses a combo of algos, mods, and other bots to promote this curated content and bury unwanted content on frontpage subs.

Ad blockers unfortunately don't work on those.

You dismiss Reddit pretty quickly but if you want a bulletin board-style forum on hyper-specific subjects then it's a good option. I'm subscribed to some hyper-specific tech subjects and the posts are very professional and helpful.

The other place I've found even more hyper-specific subjects is, ironically, Facebook. I, in general, stay off of Facebook but when I was looking for details on some very rare hardware, the communities there were actually the most active and useful.

You may be lamenting Eternal September and not the loss of Usenet itself.

Reddit. Most know the reputation that the largest subreddits have, but if you drill down past those troll-targets, you'll find very specialized subreddits that have very focused conversation.

I’ll take the liberty to re-post what I wrote in a similar thread:

It can be quite difficult to find online oases […]. HN is quite unique. Have you considered starting your own Slack, invite interesting people and build a new oasis? (Or Matrix channel.) It would take some work to get people to join, but it’s not impossible.


The main difference between Usenet and Reddit/SO/etc was posting speed. The Usenet groups I posted in were slow by today's standards. No one expected an immediate response, and the groups didn't hide things after a few hours. Paging back through 5 or 6 pages of threads in `tin` was common. The equivalent today is probably a subject-specific mailing list.

There are some BBS based mail networks, but they are hyper specific to retro stuff I believe.

Based on your description of Usenet I think what you miss is the context around Usenet (exact period of life, young/single/student for example) and not the Usenet itself. You can find plenty of places where there are forum like discussions, but it won't be the same without the context.

Google ended up acquiring and eating Usenet, becoming Google Groups. I'm not sure if this is dead yet.

That's absolutely not what happened. What actually happened was that binaries traders took over the Internet's best discussion medium and used to to shuttle uuencoded chunks of huge files to every single Usenet server in the world, and screamed bloody murder when anyone failed to keep up. This naturally drove the cost of serving Usenet wildly up, and independent ISPs dropped the service just as the retail Internet came of age, because haphazardly serving porn videos and pirated software to 0.5% of their customer base wasn't worth the cost of giant fast disk arrays.

Things like DejaNews were just the dying gasp of Usenet. Google didn't ruin anything (though I sorely wish they could have kept the archives online).

Take a look at https://lemmy.ml/ . It's a federated reddit alternative that has a very usenet-like feeling. You can also go for one of the other instances (there are some good ones like feddit.de and also some really crazy ones).

cool technology, not enough people.

which can be said about usenet too lol

like, even fedi/ration with mastodon &co is not enough to overcome pure network effect of twitter and reddit

It has been growing fast since the beginning of this year. I moved most of my "aimlessly scrolling through stuff" from Reddit to lemmy.ml .

I think different projects are now active in different places depending on the whims of that project. They might have their own forum like https://discuss.rubyonrails.org/, or they might be active on discord, or reddit, or they might just discuss everything on github, or mailing lists.

Back in the usenet days there was really only one place to host discussions, and that was usenet. But now there are lots of places. I guess this makes it harder to find, and makes it harder to jump from community to community.

Reddit is probably the closest thing. And I wouldn't judge all subreddits by the "front page" subreddits. I think the ruby and emacs subs are good.

Usenet still exists, but some groups are mostly (but not entirely) spam, at least when you view them through Google Groups, for example comp.lang.python at https://groups.google.com/g/comp.lang.python . It would be great if a coordinated effort to mark spam as spam cleaned up comp.lang.python. https://groups.google.com/g/comp.lang.fortran has less spam, and I regularly flag spam there.

This is not technically Usenet, but you can access various mailing lists via NNTP at nntp://news.gmane.io. There used to be a browser interface, but apparently that attracted abuse and legal threats.

Hard to participate as an English-speaker, but just to scope out a still-thriving BBS: students at the local university maintain a telnet BBS called PTT, which is essentially the Reddit of Taiwan. As I understand, it's been crucial in recent political movements (like the Sunflower movements and parliamentary occupation) and lost of current events in Taiwan:


Usenet did not require a "web browser" nor Javascript. Advertising came eventually but it was not accompanied by surveillance. Famously, the first advertisement on the internet was allegedly via Usenet, from an immigration lawyer. But ads were basically just spam as I recall, much less invasive on ads on the www, and easier to filter out.

Most importantly, I never read anything on Usenet that suggested, "If we do not have a robust advertising ecosystem, all this "free content" will disappear." Even regulators today are prone to believe this nonsense. Quite silly. I remember getting news and other content from Usenet without the presence of any advertising. With Usenet, the cost was the internet connection. That's it. No allegedly "necessary" trade-off between (a) allowing personal data collection and surveillance and (b) accessing "free content". Accessing mainstream news is still just as "free" today as it was then. Relatively little news or other "content" on the www is password protected. Except in the heydays of Usenet there were no advertising company-sponsored browser vendor Javascript engine-powered "paywalls" to try to annoy users into paying (more) money, on top of the internet connection charges.

discord /s

every specialized sub-group now holds small portion of the web by/for themselves and only needs to interact with those of same mindset — no need to keep every single word in public forever.

but what you really missing is people of the same~ish age-group having enough time and topics to argue about

Usenet (IRC channels too) had a sense of _place_ that I think is less common in mainstream social media, but still exists to an extent in forums, just with a worse interface overall. I remember some things fondly (partly because I was a teenager) but I'd struggle to say it was superior and certainly no healthier than today. I don't remember it being tech-focused or professional, unless you only hung out in comp.* and not alt.*. Like, who remembers Terry Tickle etc?

> Usenet (IRC channels too) had a sense of _place_

Not sure what you mean by this, but they sure were not fully clad with ads and tricks to get you to pay for some virtual gifts or pro-accounts.

There was plenty of spam, to be fair. What I mean is, I don't feel like I inhabit or share a space on Twitter or Facebook (or here) with actual humans I feel I know. I did feel that in various Usenet groups and IRC channels. There's a kinetic, physical quality, an explicit coming-together, like having your favourite, regular table at a pub, compared to standing on a busy street screaming at anonymous strangers. But tbh I don't really seek _out_ those niches now, and presumably they exist.

I enjoy Twitter but I agree with your assessment. Disagree a little about Facebook though. No argument about FB the company being soulless, evil, etc. But FB groups can be a great experience. Especially the smaller ones focused on a niche subject. Those are some nice communities, but it can take a while to find the right ones.

You're correct about the niches existing. There are little corners of the internet that exist as the neighborhood pub. Not just small FB groups and Discord channels. But I also know blogs still going strong with their 200-1000 regular commentators. The only problem is the audience for those blogs is aging. Not exactly a problem for me since I'm aging too. But does make me a little sad for their longevity because they have a problem attracting new users.

I think the closest I've seen is Twitch chat communities, but obviously that's a very different dynamic overall. I agree with your last point, I am older now, have a company and a family, and I don't really have the same emotional needs as teenage me. I just don't go looking for that level of commitment to internet spaces now. I'm sure in 25 years people will be on here lamenting that Floogleblarg neural pools don't capture the same vibe as Twitch chat circa 2020.

I think signature lines on the posts helped with that.

> ... IRC ... had a sense of _place_

IRC is alive and kicking.

IRC is a long way down from its peak both in share of attention and relevance, but yes, probably still more alive than Usenet, although that still also has many pockets of activity.

> Arguably, Reddit fills some of this niche, but Usenet was tech-focused, generally quite professional and frankly didn't have the same clientele as Reddit does.

It all depends on the community you want to hang out in. Usenet was tech-focused because the only people who knew about it or had access were tech-focused and the community was smaller (see: Eternal September).

One of your best options are niche, smaller or heavily moderated reddit communities or web forums that share the same characteristics.

Honestly I think Reddit, at least in terms of topic segmentation, original demographic, and rough functionality (threads conversations) is the closest thing we have.

The biggest difference: the maturity and culture (compared to when reddit started).

This isn't a problem that needs "solving". If you want a different community, you either need to find one or start one. HN is probably the closest demographic to what Usenet had, so advertising anything you start here would make sense.

I've thrown around the idea of a paid access forum with heavy amounts of curation, strict rules etc. The biggest obstacle is the network effect. The only ways I have thought of to overcome this initially are: have a launch date with pre-signups so that a chunk of people join at the same time, and, have some high profile individuals from within your demographic agree to join. Eg find some CEOs or CTOs, academics, thought leaders, commentators, whoever - people with big names within your target demographic - and have them sign on to participate. This will attract more people and might help with the initial network effect hurdle.

I think what you miss is the time when only the intelligent and sensible <10% of the population are on-line. There was no social network, so Usenet was where the cool kids hanged out. Now that everyone is on-line, and dragged 99% of the intelligent and sensible people over to social networks, so the remaining 0.1% of the population is not large enough to make Usenet interesting any more.

I never thought of usenet as tech focused. There were many areas that were non-tech topics. Sure there was comp.sys., but all the alt. boards and others. Web forums were kind of the spirtual successor, and many of them have subject subforums, but within that most web forums segregate discussion by thread. I find that much more useful since usenet felt like a mailing list of post after post after post. Threads allow me to ignore discussion that aren't relevant to me.

I haven't migrated from web foums to reddit or facebook groups though I'm sure there is much information in those places. I prefer that independent web forums introduce some friction to participating. You have to create an account, and some forums have limits for new members until they reach a certain post count. While the friction is small that does seem to discourage bad behavior a little.

I have easily found forums for subjects I'm interested in, but none of them are tech, so I don't know whether you'll find web forums on current tech subjects.

I don't see it mentioned yet that there are some still active, moderated Usenet groups, such as misc.legal.moderated and misc.taxes.moderated, which don't include spam.

Back in the day, even some unmoderated groups were mostly self-moderated, such as the comp.*.oracle and comp.*.perl newsgroups. What spam there was, was posted by humans, not bots, and was quickly ignored to oblivion.

I have found similar scenes in the p2p/decentralized/dWeb protocols groups. Scuttlebutt, Mastadon, DAT/Beaker Browser/Hypercore, IPFS, Gun protocol.

If you're interested, the Internet Archive is doing a dWeb Camp where a bunch of these folks will be coming together in the northern California woods to build further community.

As an experiment, I'd love to see a forum which required all users to use their real identities, where identities for user accounts must be legally verified through an accredited notary service, similar to E-Verify/I-9 verification.

I'm curious how much less toxic behavior on a platform like that would be.

So, like Facebook? Twitter? Or any other social network.

Ok, they are not notary certified identities, but bit's pretty common and depending on the platform also demanded and enforced, with enough people following the demand. But I don't get the impression it made the platforms a better place.

People only learned to better hide their tracks, or don't care about it.

What? Facebook/Twitter and others do not require Notary-verified identification.

Yes, as I wrote they don't require notary-verification, but they still have verifications and some demand usage of real names. Most platforms even have verified accounts for somewhat important people. My point is, a notary alone would change nothing. People already use their real identity, and they are still toxic.

But, it of course would have an effect, for the simple reason that the expensive and long verification will filter out many casual users, so your user base is smaller and more dedicated from the beginning. But for this, you can also just open a commercial forum, maybe even with a fee for posting. That would probably have far more impact on the quality than any identity-check. I remember the Something Awful-Site seems to fare quite successful with that approach.

Nextdoor requires address verification and your real name on posts, and you are only talking to people within your block/neighborhood. There are still constant arguments and bad behavior on it. People are just not afraid to be assholes online or in person anymore...

I'm in a community like this, which is also very heavily moderated.

It still has toxic elements because the people who run the platform think a certain way.

Smaller communities won't be as active, but discord servers have been great for talking with like minded people about hyper-specific things. The thing I like about discord is that even if the main server seems pretty general, they have channels and those tend to get much more specific.

It's up to the community how real time it feels. I know some servers that have global interest and there's usually someone to talk to regardless of when you ask a question. On the other hand I have also noticed servers where it's becomes obvious who is on EST vs PST.

Google groups hasn't been the main method of communication for a while.

There's discords for TV shows and Games, but I also see discord for development projects. Some even use patreon and have discord access as a subscription benefit where the developer posts beta builds.

For example, Uberduck https://uberduck.ai/ has an pretty active discord for developers. Uberduck have a free tier when you can synthesize TTS that sound like well known voice actors or singers. https://app.uberduck.ai/speak#mode=tts-reference&voice=cave-... And it has a paid tier if you want to clone your own voice.

EleutherAI's discord has a similar healthy discord community. GPT-NeoX talk there.

Two Minute Papers , the youtube channel run by Dr.Károly Zsoln has its own unofficial discord as well. Unofficial but Dr. Károly Zsoln has shared a twitter linking to it, so he is aware of it.

Lichess.org has a discord server.

I can't promise if your hyper-specific interests will have discord server dedicated to it, but there's many. In fact my university has a specific server for CS and Math and you can ask for help, and from the last time I checked, specific professors do come and answer questions, although more likely it's other classmates.


So somebody just needs to spin up 3 million dang-bots to moderate them. Is dang containerized yet?

Oof, that, past the docker analogy, has some VERY macabre other meanings.


MMAcevedo (Mnemonic Map/Acevedo), also known as Miguel, is the earliest executable image of a human brain.

Most of this thread is devoted to correcting his understanding of Usenet history rather than providing useful info. What he wants is to find subject-focused discussion forums. The answer is to stop thinking in terms of Usenet and look for forums on special interest web sites. You can find anything from boardgaming (https://boardgamegeek.com/) to computational fluid dynamics (https://www.cfd-online.com/). I find the best forum experience is when you have strong moderation by subject-area specialists whose only concern is to keep things on-topic.

The forum/mailing list format is over, most good discussions happen on discord now (some people swear by telegram - mostly Russians).

I'm not claiming it's a change for the better. I'm old enough to have caught the tail end of phpBB forums about every niche so I know what was lost. From a technical perspective forums are superior for long term discussions (especially for non-members!), but in terms where new stuff happens and where community forms - it's over. The closest replacement are specific channels on discord that allow sometimes for week-long discussions.

One of main social effects I see is that knowledge starts to get siloed. There are many technical details that exist online only on specific chats, which aren't google searchable. The main negative is that if you don't even know where to look or ask, it's way harder to figure out anything. There's also a positive: because people are forced to join they are more likely to contribute. In fact I have observed this in myself: often I only join some discord to look for one thing, but I just leave the server on afterwards. In many cases I see something worth responding to and morph from an observer into an active participant. This would never have happened on a forum. It's possible this factor is solely responsible for the current dominance of discord/telegram.

One future shift I can see is a move away from chats into VR. I don't think it's going to happen with zoomers, but alpha gen - assuming they grow up in VR spaces may find it natural to prefer literal talking as anime and furry avatars, with (almost) full nonverbal communication, instead of writing text messages to each other. In a way, it would be a return to the historical norm of human communication.

From a social trend perspective it's the same direction as the move away from forums into chats: worse information search (basically gone with VR). More emphasis on contributing and on personal relationships. The main disadvantage I can see is that it's going to place much stronger emphasis on people's characteristics: age, gender, native language.

I hate chats so much. Having to ask something manually and then wait and hope for minutes/hours/days for a manual reply, I can’t think of something more opposed to what people who are familiar with what computers can do for humanity should recognize the value in, and yet here we all are.

On the balance I like chats much more. In terms of personal connections per time spent on contributing I found chats to be about one order of magnitude more effective than old (gone) phpbb forums. Forums were much more transactional and impersonal in nature.

Compared to what forums morphed into - reddit, hn, similar - these are another order of magnitude worse than old forums. See, consider yours and my reply. I won't remember your nickname nor will you remember mine. There are no avatars. It's borderline machine level information exchange with the author itself a faded out barely visible string.

I find the exact opposite - it is multiple orders of magnitude worse in chat than in forum or newsgroup type discussions. But I also had the pleasure of being in some very active and substantive discussions in both formats. Chat is so inefficient, particularly the part where we decided to put them all behind walls that search engines cannot pierce. So you can't find the conversation from 6 months ago that answered the exact question you have, you have to ask it again. It reminds me of IRC days where people created bots to re-answer FAQs.

This is likely something where it isn't something that can have an absolute worth put on the various technologies, but where it'll change from person to person, depending on how they like to interact with others, how comfortable they are in a real-time vs. asynchronous setting and so forth.

But that said, I do believe that all of the walls that currently exist (and yes, I know they've existed in the past, not like IRC was archived) as antithetical to the spirit of the Internet and the idea of sharing information effectively. We have yet to find the perfect medium that combines some level of privacy for those that want it but allows for information to be shared so it isn't lost to the annals of some chat log.

And there are projects that interest me where whatever they’re up to is all in a chat so the rest of the world never does know if/how things have been progressing.

We still have Usenet. I use the aioe server (I do not use the binary newsgroups).

I also have my own NNTP server (although currently there are very few messages so far, but anyone who is interested in this things can join if they want to do). Currently the messages are only on my NNTP server, but it would be possible to be propagated to/from other servers too.

I set up NNTP instead of using mailing lists/forums, since I think that NNTP is better. (It would be acceptable to also allow subscribing like it is a mailing list, and web interface, but the NNTP must be primary.)

There is still some spam, but the spam seems to come from Google, as far as I can tell.

Trivia: one of the first newsreaders that helped make Usenet popular in the 1980s was rn[0], written by Larry Wall, the same fellow who created Perl.

[0]It was one of the first newsreaders to take full advantage of character-addressable CRT terminals [Wikipedia]

There's still vBulletin/phpBB places out there. I spend a lot of time on Dragon Mount discussing Wheel of Time, or Lakers Ground talking about the LA Lakers. Physics Forums has always pretty good for any kind of academic discussion, not just physics.

The problem is discoverability. How would I find these places today if I hadn't already found them in 2001? I have no idea.

Unfortunately, the solution is also discoverability. Likely the biggest reason I still find these places satisfying is they're niche sites full of long-time contributors who know each other that have never become popular and never had eternal September happen because they're hard to find.

Discord is terrible and wish there wasn't this stupid push to put everything into them. Sure you get initial 'ooh I'm part of something going on here' feeling but it's just a giant unindexed chat that is ephemeral and fleeting. It's a realtime chat -- with channels! Big deal. No one tried to use IRC back in the day as a forum. Chaotic if need to catch up god forbid you miss something from a day ago. It's just so bad and nowhere like forums. A symptom of a generation that can only deal with their immediate present and has no sense of history and just goes through life like that.

Reddit is like that too. You can't "bump" old threads to continue discussions.

Ephemeral is a perfect term to describe the new internet.

I think a lot of people feel the same way however you need a critical mass of users. I'm just presuming I'm younger than you however I miss the old days of discussion forums, you'd have some for web comics, anime, TV shows all with their set of screen names that you learned and inside jokes that lived on. Along with this is my love of IRC (which I'm still idling in)

Now with the internet feeling like it's just Reddit, Facebook, Google, Discord, LinkedIn, and Pintrest a lot of the fun inside jokes have gone to die, and the groups are so large that no-one even looks at a username.

> Now with the internet feeling like it's just Reddit, Facebook, Google, Discord, LinkedIn, and Pintrest a lot of the fun inside jokes have gone to die, and the groups are so large that no-one even looks at a username.

I've found that niche subreddits are the exception to this rule.

> generally quite professional

It most certainly was not.

The thing I miss about Usenet is maintaining article and comment scoring in trn (based on the subject, keywords and/or author)

With this I could easily surface interesting articles or replies by insightful people, while avoiding subjects and authors in which I had no interest.

This worked at a thread level, so I could quickly see any new threads, and new replies added to threads I was following, skipping over everything I had already marked as read.

For me this was more effective than the communal post scoring that took over on web forums, reddit, hn etc.

This may help to quench your nostalgia https://github.com/mrusme/superhighway84

For the last couple years I've wondered if people would like something that combined the sleek, text-focused front end of HN with the ability to make subreddit-like moderated communities.

The "boringness" of the front end would keep the riff-raff out - why would they bother when Reddit et al give them a much bigger and more meme-addled audience - and it'd be more like the second coming of old-school Usenet that so many older techies seem to long for.

If only I were a software engineer rather than a data scientist.

I miss the local BBS's more. But in Chicago there were chi.* Usenet groups which where interesting as well. (They're still active... barely) Reddit has /r/chicago but it's not the same feel.

NextDoor sounds like something I don't want to check out (What happened to EveryBlock?) I'm not on Facebook, maybe there's some good local conversation happening there. . .? I'm surprised nothing has come close to BBS's yet in terms of meeting locals.

https://sqwok.im has old school forum feel mixed with new age chat, with both tech and non-tech ppl.

Are there any plans to federate using ActivityPub or XMPP or some other internet standard?

Matrix is literally intended to be a successor to USENET (although we haven't got the long-form async messaging sorted yet - https://matrix.org/blog/2020/12/18/introducing-cerulean/ gives a hint of how it could work though)

You're welcome to have a virtual drink on https://midnight.pub :)

I really miss having a NATIVE app to access content from different communities in a standard format.

Along with the IRC Comic Chat in Windows 98 :’)

Would Tapatalk fulfill that at all?

I’ll look at it!

The OP resonates with me, and I feel like firing up M-x gnus again to browse the likes of comp.ai.nat-lang, comp.compilers, comp.std.c and alt.fan.montypython.

Perhaps it's time for a new USENET group, comp.misc.hn? I'd much prefer to read HN in a TUI with keyboard navigation than from a Web browser.

The best Usenet providers:


I haven't test any of them but it SEEMS like Usenet is alive and kicking...

I think you can find the same vibe in Reddit, some forums and some mailing lists.

Also, HN not being subject focused works for me because I am interested in more than one subject.

One idea is if HN would introduce some tags, or categories so someone can filter if he's only interested in one subject.

DZone is like this, with different Zones and then with tags that get pretty specific. https://dzone.com/cloud-computing-tutorials-tools-news

I've been thinking about this myself. I made some real-world friends from usenet. Not extremely close ones obviously, but I hung out mostly in a ng dedicated to a band (Ween) and when I travelled to see shows, I always had folks to hang out with even if I went alone.

During the high days of that group, there were a number of websites dedicated to the band, but usenet was the home (members of the band even showed up now and then). Then one day someone created the first web forum dedicated to it, and it quickly racked up far more users than the newsgroup. The writing was on the wall.

I went and created an account but I could not STAND the web forum interfaces at the time - compared to Free Agent with its conversation threading, the web's early discussion forums were a bad, mean joke. But ignorant people for whom internet=www spoke in their legions and it was only a couple years before nobody came to the usenet forum anymore.

I briefly got into Delphi Forums at the behest of my first gf and there was one decent place I hung out in for a few years, but looking back, the evolution of right wing ratfucking on the internet was in full swing and the people I had lively debates with in there eventually became (in many cases) Facebook "friends" as we all onboarded there.

And there I lingered till 2016. Reddit is circling the drain at this point, even the subs that are dedicated to my own politics have become appalling lowest common denominator echo chambers.

I would love to go back to Usenet, much like NYC disco scenesters of the 70s would love to go back to Studio 54, but in both cases, it was a special place and a special time, and now we live here. I wish I had a better answer, but I'm pretty sure that's the answer.

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