25 June 2008

Deathwatch: Usenet newsgroups

Usenet seems to be going into a terminal decline.

Several people on newgroups I read regularly have reported that their ISPs are dropping or severely curtailing newgroup service. Perhaps this should be called VSS - Value Subtracted Service. Maybe before it dies altogether someone could suggest an appropriate newsgroup for reporting on and rating ISPs and noting whether they are VSS or not.

Apparently the alt. newsgroups are particularly under threat, yet some of the ones I find most valuable are in the alt. hierarchy -- alt.usage.english and alt.obituaries, for example.

While my ISP (Telkom SA) hasn't made a definite announcement, Telkom's news server SAIX has deteriorated lately, and error messages like the following are common:

2008-06-24 11:40:52 PM Error reported by winsock driver: No response from server (timeout) (Error 10060): Connecting to news.saix.net.
2008-06-24 11:41:23 PM Error reported by winsock driver: No response from server (timeout) (Error 10060): Connecting to news.saix.net.

Failed connects are more common than successful ones, and it sometimes takes me two days to download headers, another two days to collect the marked bodies, and another two to post replies, so the replies can sometimes take up to a week (and sometimes more) to be posted on the net. Some newgroups, like soc.culture.south-africa, remain inaccessible to me, and have been for more than a year. I can post there, but I cannot read any posts unless they are crossposted to other newsgroups (za.misc still works).

As a result of this I, like many others, have taken to blogging if I have something serious to say. Blogging seems to be faster and more reliable, but in many ways it is less satisfactory. Even more than News, blogging is an inherently one-to-many (and therefore self-centred) medium. People can comment, but comments are directred to the original post, and there is not the same interaction among commenters.

Sometimes I long for the good old days of Fidonet and other Fido Technology Networks (FTNs). FTN echo conferences were a true many-to-many medium, better even than newsgroups.

But it seems that we are about to lose even newsgroups, and for all our technology that should make communication easier, genuine conversation will be taken from us, and we will be reduced to soap-box oratory and heckling, which is basically what blog comments are.

Yes, I know it is possible to access newsgroups through the clunky web interface at Google Groups, but it really is clunky and more hassle than it's worth. I'd rather switch to mailing lists if newsgroups are no longer available (even though mailing lists consume more bandwidth and net resources).

Written at 12:10 am on 25 June 2008, South African time, though when it will actually be posted on Usenet is anyone's guess.

And I'll post it on my blog too!

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Richard Catto said...

I gave up on TelkomSA's usenet server more than over a year ago already, when it started becoming unreliable.

I switched to Google's groups which, although a bit of adjustment at first, actually has proven to be a more useful way of accessing Usenet.

Adam Gonnerman said...

usenet? I've been using the Internet since 1994 (when my first university got in during my freshman year) and have run across usenet before, but never used it. Ever. Now I'm thinking I must have missed something.

The young fogey said...

I've also been online since 1994 and used Usenet until about 2003. The groups seemed to silt up with junk postings (spam). Message boards replaced them in my online social life and these in turn were replaced by blogs. But yes, Google seems the way to try to use Usenet now.


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