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Past its Use(net)-by date?

15 April 2008

Usenet newsgroups used to be one of the cornerstone parts of the internet.

What started out as a relatively small collection of NNTP-based message exchange groups quickly grew into a massive list numbering over 100,000 separate areas of special interest.

Although most of the action was originally in a few branches of the usenet tree such as comp.* and sci.* the concept of being able to post your question or opinion to what was effectively a global bulletin board soon produced a raft of other topics.

Back in the early to mid 1990s, when usenet was at its peak, I used to spend at least an hour a day trawling through my favourite newsgroups discussing things such as guns, engineering, science and other subjects.

Indeed, I made many very long-lasting friendships through usenet and the information I gathered there was invaluable.

But I've been awfully busy for the last few years and hadn't really spent any time in the newsgroups until last week when I decided to revisit my old haunts.

What a horrible shock I got.

Gone is the wealth of friendly discussion, gone are many of the old faces, gone is the useful information that used to proliferate.

All of this wonderful stuff seems to have been totally eclipsed by an incredible tide of spam. So much spam in fact, that I doubt I'll ever use usenet again.

Take one of my very favourite groups for example, rec.crafts.metalworking.

There was a time when I learned and shared a massive amount of knowledge through this newsgroup but now, over half the posts there are simply pitches for viagra, knock-off watches, porn and other stuff that I'm not at all interested in.

What has happened to my beloved usenet?

How can it have become so utterly destroyed by these obscene levels of spam?

It used to be that anyone posting spam to a usenet newsgroup would immediately be pounced on by system admins and dealt with in a very short space of time.

Now it appears as if nobody really cares.

Usenet looks to have become a ghost-town.

The occasional on-topic post appears, like a ball of tumbleweed rolling through a sea of decaying infrastructure and snake-oil salesmen.

Where have all the old usenet regulars gone?

It would appear that they've been driven out by the spammers -- which kind of makes the spam itself rather pointless -- since I suspect that there's no longer anyone bothering to visit the groups which are most affected anyway.

Have all the smart people found web-based forums instead?

I suspect they have -- but therein lies another problem.

One of the biggest strengths of usenet was that it brought everyone together in one place and the synergy was tremendous. Now I suspect most of those people have been scattered to the four winds and spread across a mass of smaller, less well patronised web-based forums.

I wonder if there are any websites that specialise in categorising web-based forums by topic?

If I want to hunt down all the old rec.crafts.metalworking users, how do I find them and the web-forums they're now using?

And does this mean I have to create dozens of extra PhPBBS logins just to do what used to be easy with a single usenet login?

Alas, I fear usenet is dead and should be renamed "spamnet".

Ah well, it was great while it lasted.

How many old usenet users are there within the ranks of Aardvark readers?

Were you driven out by the rising tide of spam?

Were Google Groups partly to blame for bringing usenet to the attention of spammers?

Is usenet now only useful as an archive of those days when it actually contained valuable information?

Are you now forced to use web-based forums instead?

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