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Letters to the editor

The end of USENET

From:  Alan Hicks <>
Subject:  The end of USENET
Date:  Wed, 23 Nov 2005 11:52:07 -0500

On the grand scale, I'm a relative newcomer to the wonder of USENET.   
When I first started looking for a news feed, I heard the popular  
misconception that USENET is just a repository for spammers, useless  
for anything beyond binaries, and a breeding ground for trolls.  That  
didn't stop me from checking it out just the same, and what I found  
was rather pleasant.

To begin with, USENET has its share of spam.  No place online is free  
of it these days.  However, the presence of spam on USENET tells me  
one thing for certain: "People use USENET".  Spammers are by no means  
incompetent; they do not waste their time sending their messages  
places they aren't going to find many people.  Thus when you see spam  
on USENET, it is almost always in large binary newsgroups which may  
be visited by thousands if not millions of people each day.  Text- 
only newsgroups are remarkably devoid of spam.
I see perhaps one spam message in the half dozen newsgroups I  
regularly read every two or three weeks at worst.

As a medium for intelligent discussion, USENET still ranks head and  
shoulders above other popular discussion venues such as IRC and web  
forums, and is on par with mailing lists.  Unlike web forums and IRC  
channels, USENET discussions tend to be in greater depth on difficult  
issues.  A day spent on USENET typically reveals something you might  
not have considered before.  Besides the perpetual vi vs. emacs holy  
wars (go vi!), one can find discussions about setting up udev rules  
for specific hotplug USB devices, techniques for cross-compiling OSS  
for another architecture, or the minimum size of an LED (all  
discussions I've seen this week).  The depth and breadth of knowledge  
found on USENET simply can't be found anywhere else.

Many ISPs are dropping support for USENET because it's too expensive  
to maintain the push delivery system for so few people that use it,  
but that hardly equates to the death of USENET.  If a smaller market  
means death, IBM should have been dead years ago, Apple has one foot  
in the grave, Slackware is a zombie, and BSD is a ghost.  Of course  
all of these are successful with a smaller piece of their respective  
"markets" and USENET is really no different.  What you've seen is not  
the death of USENET, but the marginalization of it.  USENET is not a  
place the hoi poloi go to discuss the latest pop star's love affair  
with the latest movie star, and thank God it isn't!  USENET is moving  
away from a technology used by the masses to a technology used for  
the discussion of technical topics.

As a relative newcomer to USENET, I cannot say with any personal  
experience that early USENET was predominately dominated by technical  
discussion.  However, I do believe that is the direction it is  
moving.  This means the future for USENET is bright as a discussion  
medium for all sorts of intellectual pursuits.  Those people who want  
USENET can easily get it whether their ISP delivers it as a free  
service or not.  The success of paid NNTP offerings like (which only offers access text newsgroups) are  
proof positive that USENET will continue to flourish.

Additionally, USENET has become a medium for anonymous exchange of  
binaries due to the recent attacks on P2P software.  Most of these  
binaries are of course, copyrighted material that is being  
distributed illegally.  While I do not condone such actions, I also  
realize that enough people out there use them to keep USENET alive  
for a long time to come, even if only as a paid service.

Feel free to publish this in the "Letters to the Editor" page if you  
wish.  I felt like my thoughts were too large to put as a comment  
attached to the story.

It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise,
Than for a man to hear the song of fools.
Ecclesiastes 7:5

Comments (5 posted)

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