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alt.usenet.almost.dead

5 March 2007

As the Net grows and evolves, new bits are added (VOIP, P2P, etc) as old bits start breaking down and falling off (Archie, Telnet, etc).

It would appear that another of the Net's long-standing services is also about to go the way of the dodo, at least in New Zealand.

I'm talking about usenet (NNTP) of course.

The beginning of the end was when Xtra dumped its usenet news-server a while back, much to the outrage of a small group of regular users.

Those affected complained that this was a breach of Telecom's terms of service but the telco replied that this had always been a "free" and complimentary service so it was entirely within its rights to pull it.

And now it looks as if TelstraClear makes noises about dropping its own support for this useful, albeit declining arm of the net.

According to this Computerworld story, TelstraClear says it's considering dropping or at least significantly reducing its support for usenet.

No doubt another few hundred folks will be outraged at this prospect - but does it make sense for ISPs to bother with usenet any more?

For those who simply must have access to newsgroups targeting their own specific interests or professional areas, there's always Google Groups, although they don't carry the binaries.

If alt.sex.bestiality.hamster.ducttape is more your scene (why?) then you can still subscribe to any number of other news-servers that will provide this and tens of thousands of other groups.

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But even then, you'd have to wonder whether it's worth it.

Many of these groups are enveloped in waves of spam which, just like the spam in your inbox, is hawking everything from potions to enhance your dangly bits through to friendly "buy now" advice on trading in penny-stocks.

Yes, the signal to noise ratio is becoming pretty low in many of the previously useful groups -- to the point that I think usenet may soon collapse completely.

As more and more people turn away from usenet, the signal to noise ratio will deteriorate even further -- which will in turn drive more people away.

This death-spiral has already begun and will only get worse, despite Google's best attempts to sanitise and conveniently package this previously wonderful resource.

I suspect that even those sharing porn and commercial music through groups such as alt.binaries.erotica.* and alt.binaries.sounds.mp3.* will eventually give up on usenet.

As a vehicle for distributing large binary files it's slow and unreliable.

The fact that only ASCII characters can be handled means that it takes more than eight bits to encode a byte, thus inflating the size of any binary file.

What's more, because there are message-size limitations, large files (already bloated by having to encode 8-bit values) must be broken up into a number of smaller chunks. If any one of these chunks fails to make its way to the usenet server you're using, the entire file can be rendered useless -- although there are things such as PAR files that mitigate this problem to a small degree.

So it's old, it's slow, it's unreliable and it's almost dead.

Alas poor usenet, I knew you well and will shed a tear at your grave -- but time and technology moves on.

The "conversational" groups such as nz.general have been replaced with online forums. The file sharing groups such as alt.binaries.* have now been largely replaced in function by P2P.

Usenet past it's best-by date.

You bet.

So what were/are your favourite usenet newsgroups and why?

Will you miss it when it's gone?

Or are you one of the younger Net-users who've never used usenet at all?

Have your say on this...

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