Hacker News new | comments | show | ask | jobs | submit login
2013, the year of Usenet (therandymon.com)
65 points by zafiro17 on Dec 4, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 73 comments

That bit about total anonymity is just not true. Usually you would use your organization's news server (because every ISP/university had one), so you could be easily located. Plus, it was part of the netiquette to post using your real name / well known identity.

Thinking of the 90s internet makes me all sentimental.

Things were better, then.

Yeah we had to contend with flash sites and low bandwidth, and didn't have slick css3 and backnode.js but the web was more fun in those days.

That's funny because "Eternal September" was coined in 1994 (i.e. people were exclaiming "things were better then" in reference to the time before September 1993).

It reminds me of "I Used to Love H.E.R." a song released in 1994 about how great rap used to be. http://rapgenius.com/Common-i-used-to-love-her-lyrics

I've known about the Eternal September for quite some time, but I'm not sure why it's funny.

Eternal September is/was a usenet meme, not really having much relation to the world wide web.

Sure, you're probably more knowledgeable about it than me. I was only observing that "things used to be better" is a constant theme and when one has nostalgia for a certain time, it's worth noting that people active then were reminiscing about an even earlier time.

Well sure, but all that seems to indicate to me is that things are always getting worse.

How about it's just an indicator that people always think things are getting worse.

Every generation is always nostalgic for the time just before the current generation...

What's changed more over time -- "things" or your perception of them?

Flash sites? If the content didn't load in lynx it wasn't worth viewing.

I still think this sometimes.

I fall back on text-mode readers (usually w3m) for sites which are too broken in GUI browsers. It works rather more often than you'd expect (in large part because web crawlers need text).


I used Lynx once.

The article isn't loading for me, but there was the anon.penet.fi anonymizer, at least until it got shut down by, IIRC, the scientologists.

Don't get me going about FidoNet[0] either... there are still good usenet servers out there[1].

Update added a link for those who are unfamiliar with FidoNet

[0] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FidoNet

[1] http://www.eternal-september.org/

I've been on easynews on and off for quite some time. It's got some good web tools.


greyone, they also have an android app. You can browse and download directly to your tablet or phone.

As a fun project, I have created web interface to Usenet with standard 3 panes like Thunderbird. It is free and without ads, has around 15,000 newsgroups, can be used without creating an account.


This is my search engine for Usenet, currently only for the 1980s but I hope to have 2003 onwards searchable soon. I have about 2TB of news from 2003 which just needs indexing and uploading.


My goal is to give people an alternative to 'Google Groups'.

It's built on PHP and MySQL.

For his query: http://www.dejadejadeja.com/10years/query.php?body=Star+Wars...

The top post is this: http://www.dejadejadeja.com/10years/getmsg.php?whichmsg=ixlp...

It has a post date of: Wed Dec 15 10:30:01 1982, but is given as 1970-01-01 in the search results.

I'm seeing lots of 1970-01-01 results. A bug, perhaps?

Yes, it can't handle all date formats, so it defaults to 0 which is Jan 1st 1970.

It's easily fixable but I haven't got around to it yet.

I take it you're missing the 90s? (Alas, most of my Usenet usage was between 1994 and 2003.)

It's not possible to get Usenet from the 90s, as it simply isn't archived. 80s is archived via Internet Archive and you can get 10 years worth from 2003 via Usenet king GigaNews.

Google Groups has the 90s, but it's locked behind a 'Googlewall'.

> Google Groups has the 90s, but it's locked behind a 'Googlewall'.

And I believe that is a crime against humanity.

Don't know if I'm being silly here, but is it worth just asking them for it? I'm sure there is some sentimental types in Google that would be cool with what you're doing.

Where are you getting the newer Usenet archive from?

Thanks for turning me on to the Archive.org's 'UTZoo archive', sadly it is only 1981-1991 and incomplete. What a shame. :(

I get the news from 2003 to present from GigaNews. I have about 2TB of it. That period is not indexed, so you can only search 1981-1991.

When I get a 4TB drive (soon I hope) I'll make the 2003 stuff searchable.

Once you've got this a bit more solid, I'd strongly urge you to submit this to HN.

I submitted it 2 days ago but it just dropped off the 'New' page...

I'm not sure what the re-sub policy is, but do keep trying.

I like this.

Cool. But those are some damn ugly fonts.

> It's built on PHP and MySQL.

And Comic Sans... :P

Thanks for this. It looks awesome!!!

>brief resurgence distributing binaries - images, video, warez - but even that era faded

The author is clearly not sufficiently connected. Binaries are going stronger than ever.

This is all I thought Usenet was used for at this point.

People still discuss stuff... :)

Most people these days know of Usenet as a source for pirated content, but people still do talk there...


I always felt like Usenet was slow, and the idea that you'd have to ask the server for new changes (like email) rather than getting them pushed down to you is what I believe "killed" the platform. Plus, Usenet was distributed so you had to wait until a message propagated to the server you connected on. Discussion platforms built on the Web are (were?) far less difficult to keep together than Usenet, because a company can pay a staff of people to keep the content up and there's only one place to get the content.

Say what you will about anonymity and secure communication, but Usenet died because it was hard to use...not because it was a bad idea.

I never spent any time there, but it warms my heart to hear that alt.callahans is still alive.

My impression of Usenet's death is closely related to your "hard to use" summary: it required people to install and configure a separate client, in an era when many forums were becoming available through the web browser folks already had. (Standalone email clients are far less popular today than they used to be, too. But Usenet didn't remain essential until web interfaces became usable the way that email did.)

Yes agreed.

Binary downloading seems to be increasing due to both the higher speeds and the anonymity USENET can provide in comparison to filesharing system like torrents.

Now yes, perhaps discussion groups are on the decline and being replaced by individual websites and their forums but I feel that USENET still offers a great advantage in the case of say medical conditions - were you want to be anonymous but still want to participate in a discussion.

Granted if you are uploading copyrighted content in your home country you can be tracked but otherwise USENET is anonymous

Also sites like http://usenetreviewz.com/ are advertising Black Friday specials and keep up to date news articles on their so yes, USENET may be now well known but I think USENET will be around for a long time

The TV networks, MPAA, RIAA started issuing automated DMCA notices in early 2013, making it more or less useless for content. Have things changed?

Some uploads just use a random file name now making it impossible for MPAA, RIAA, etc. to just simply search usenet posts for their content. If you don't have the NZB then it's unlikely you'll find it. Also if you use the european usenet providers they typically don't comply with DMCA notices and have more complex take down procedures.

They were already doing random names in early 2013 too ... but it seemed like the enforcement groups were grabbing NZBs and issuing DMCAs rather quickly, even for those. shrug

Sickbeard is faster than the takedowns by a solid 20+ hours if your computer runs 24/7. As I said its very much dependent on how connected you are - access to high grade nzb aggregator sites in particular.

it has changed, but not nearly as much as "content providers" want it to. namely, it used to provide a wonderful archive for just about any kind of copyrighted material you can think of. usenet providers have been increasing their retention (e.g. 1900+ days of binary retention). so now with the take downs, a lot of copyrighted material is gone within a day or two.

i'm a little bit unsure if this is true, but it definitely seems to be. a usenet provider has "complied" with the DMCA request when they have removed enough of the yEncoded posts to break the file on their servers, including parity repair. different providers remove different posts.

thus the emergence of "block accounts," which are usenet providers that resell amounts of data with no time limit, as opposed to your main usenet provider who chargers monthly. then nzb downloaders (e.g. SABnzbd+, NzbVortex) look to your block server for articles that are missing. well really servers, it's not uncommon to have multiple. the key is to have your block accounts all from different top-level resellers.


Usenet, or something very much like it, with a markup language (to allow for rich content), a paired messaging protocol (to allow for directly contacting individuals in chat / private message mode), and associated content distribution (images, video) could, I've felt for years, displace virtually all of existing social media.

The primary missing elements are filtering (as noted) and a distributed search capability.

That paired messaging protocol we used was called email. Filtering was pretty sophisticated using scorefiles and killfiles. You didn't have rich media because the Usenet was about exchange of thoughts and knowledge, but people were pretty opinionated about formatting to make reading your posts pleasant for everyone.

Oh, I was there, and I'm aware of this.

The rich media thing: it's useful. A minimal markup (such as markdown) would likely be sufficient. The ability to be able to emphasize and strongly emphasize text, create bullets and numbered lists, indicate (multiple levels) of quotes, hyperlinks. There's not much that Markdown itself doesn't provide.

A small amount of chrome for the masses would be nice. For the most part my feeling is that existing HTML markup goes too far, generally in the direction of unusability for far too many websites.

Another feature which is quite useful is indicating followups and actions. Here I find Reddit has one of the best models around, though the UI/UX lightweight nature of G+'s Notifications widget is also nice (the absolute uselessness of most of the actual notifications, and the inability to filter / set precedence / classify types of notifications is a major failure of the site). G+ also suffers from one of the largest DOMs I've seen in any major website -- I've backed off using it pretty much at all, and find my browser memory footprint is vastly more bearable.

haven't newsreaders supported highlights of stuff like _underline_ /italics/, bold, multiple level of quoted stuff, bullet points etc since about forever?

I remember forté agent and thunderbird doing it about ten years ago, and I recall being annoyed that markdown differed :)

There were conventions, and a lot of (graphical) newsreaders did support automatically presenting text according to those, but ... implementations varied.

Formalizing a basic level such as markdown would be a big win.

> You didn't have rich media because the Usenet was about exchange of thoughts and knowledge

Also most (American, anyway...) clients couldn't support such large messages, since the choice of speed for most of us was 16.6, 28.8 and 56k modems at the time.

Also the only alternative for formatting content was HTML, which invited people to use weird fonts in funny sizes. I think something like markdown would have benefited the ecosystem.

I miss Usenet too, but let's not gloss over the fact that it was most definitely a technical constraint that prevented rich media; not being able to do anything much more than ASCII text did lead to a lot of useful convention, and a disputative, textual culture, but if we could've put GIFs of IRIX machines booting (and, inevitably, crashing) faster than our VMS clusters could negotiate quorum, believe me, we would've.

Reddit is more-or-less the Usenet of the masses, but without private messaging (and the fact that it's hosted on the World Wide Web).

I pretty much agree with you.

One of the failings of Reddit over G+ is that it doesn't have the equivalent of a personal "user subreddit" page.

I realized I could fix that: http://reddit.com/r/dredmorbius

(not that what's there will be of interest to most, but it's a neat convention / hack IMO).


Reddit doesn't have killfiles. For me, the killfile is Usenet's killer feature.

RES offers "hide user" feature (among many others).


That's effectively a killfile. Posts are suppressed, and you don't receive notifications.

The ability to tag users (you supply whatever text you want), or friend them (you can find their submissions more easily, but not their comments) are also pretty cool features.

reddit has private messaging.

Ah. Then my first statement stands, I guess.

Usenet isn't going to make a comeback, it's a relic of a different sort of internet than the one that exists today. Though something similar may end up existing in the future, it will likely have a lot of new features (like karma or trust networking or some such) that make the spam and trolling problems tractable.

For reference, I spent a lot of time on usenet back in the '90s, using "tin" as my newsreader. I even helped created a newsgroup in the "big 8" heirarchy. There were a lot of fantastic things about those days but I don't think we can ever get them back easily, too much was dependent on the community being small.

I kind of have to agree with you. But I also don't think this is a bad thing. I'm glad I was there to see it all happen and despite the groans I may receive I think reddit (as mentioned by other commenters) is a perfect evolution of what was. It encourages small communities to exist in the form of sub-reddits which has allowed it to survive the several massive growth phases in the last several years.

Part of the reason that places like reddit and HN are still working is because, I believe, they follow that same attitude from the usenet days. It's more about the discussions and cross-pollination of thoughts (whether you agree or not). Most importantly, it helps to break through that filter bubble that looms over us all.

While I feel privileged to have seen the world pre and post internet, I'm excited to see how we will be communicating in the next 20 years.

As I get older it seems harder to keep an open mind (yes, I can be very sentimental when it comes to old computer tech, BBS The Documentary is my ideal nerd porn) but I have to keep reminding myself that many great things aren't recognized as such until after the fact.

If I'm honest with myself, I think I've read and participated in some of the most thought provoking and hilarious on-line discussion from the early 2000's onwards.

I'll stop blabbering now.

Reddit and HN can be alright, but they are a shadow of what was normal back in usenet's glory days. Some sub-reddits can be quite good, especially with heavy moderation, but they have all of the problems of usenet except worse.

Most discussions on HN/reddit have a 48-hour time horizon, if that, whereas usenet could easily support threads lasting for weeks or months, with obvious effects on the quality of discussion. Also, web-based discussion makes it difficult to get rid of the clutter of read messages and manages threading poorly so discussions that were perfectly fine when everyone was using newsreaders would today be unwieldy.

I've always felt that Reddit is Usenet 2.0. Calling it "the frontpage of the Internet" is a way better slogan, though. (Alexis said Paul Graham used that term on the WTP book tour during his lecture.)

I would be curious to know if an IRC log from the 90s exist at all (major networks), even if it's only behind a "Google-wall"

I had no idea Usenet was like a community or something. I primarily use it to download stuff.

Oh, god, it was glorious. Or at least, a lot of parts of it were. I made good friends on the Tolkien newsgroups there, back when they were the place for discussions of his work (with multiple world-famous scholars taking part, and intense debates between many deeply knowledgeable people that could last for weeks). Nothing I've found today can compare. Heck, even the huge, high traffic groups like rec.humor had a real sense of community if you watched for a while and got to know the regulars. I still miss it (obviously).

Are you releasing the source to your NNTP web forum?

What's the first rule of usenet?

sigh.... The first rule of Usenet: You do not talk about usenet. Didn't he get the memo?

Don't talk about it, stop upvoting god dammnit

What is this usenet?


Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact