Back in 1995/1996, when there was only one web browser (and it wasn’t IE), and the web hardly had anything on it, my main activity online was to read and contribute in various newsgroups. I went back and read some of my old posts in a bored moment today, and got all nostalgic. Hence this post.
These days a large percentage of internet users don’t even know what a newsgroup is. If you are one of those people, here’s a brief primer:
Back before the World Wide Web, before things got pretty with graphics and video and sound and blinky flashy moving things, before we were bombarded with advertising, spam and commercialization, things were a lot quieter online. Most people who went online just wanted to talk to other people. More specifically they wanted to talk to other people with similar interests. Out of that desire, Usenet was born. Usenet is a collection of communities, each community having a different interest. Each community was called a newsgroup, and all the newsgroups were held together in a big hierarchical tree of newsgroups. That was Usenet. It was text based. The closest it got to pretty graphics was the ubiquitous smiley.
Usenet is still around. There are literally thousands of newsgroups out there. Think of any topic, anything at all, and there is probably a newsgroup for it. If by some bizarre fluke there isn’t, you can go ahead and create one. But Usenet is slowly dying.
First came the spam. Once upon a time, Usenet was spam free. The whole internet was spam free. Then someone noticed. Soon Usenet started filling with spam. A war erupted between the spammers and the spammed. An arms race began with each side inventing new and creative techniques to outwit their enemy. That fight still goes on, but the spam never stops. Sometimes the flow is slowed, but it never stops.
The second nail in the Usenet coffin was web based bulletin board systems. These lacked the inter-connectedness of Usenet, but they had the advantage of being web based, and the web browser was fast becoming the tool of choice for all online activity. Dejanews helped a bit with their web based Usenet archival service, which now belongs to Google but still people flocked to the new web based forums, boards and chatrooms.
Finally, along came blogs. Even less connected (at first) than bulletin boards, but everyone could have one to call their own, and although some might dispute the fact, we are material beings, we want to own stuff. Where once we would go to our favourite newsgroup to vent or rant, now we could do it on our very own webpage, and receive comments back from like-minded people without worrying (so much) about spam, flames and the other dangers of Usenet living.
With tools like Technorati, Pingomatic and trackbacks, blogs are becoming more connected. Blog clubs are being formed for blogs with similar interests. Slowly the blogging world is taking on everything Usenet once was.
So has blogging killed Usenet? Well no, not yet. Usenet is still alive, the newsgroups still have content even if the signal to noise ratio has increased dramatically. It will probably survive, but it is a shadow of what it once was. It has become a backwater, part of the “internet underground”. Fewer and fewer people are aware of its existence.