Why was Usenet replaced by Web Forums?

October 9, 2012 at 8:47 pm (computers, internet) (, , , , , , , )

I’ve never really liked web forums – the idea of having to go back to visit a web site to see what is new, etc always seemed a backwards step to me compared to what came before.  I like the information to come to me, not me having to remember to go and check.  RSS came in and made it a bit more tolerable, at least I could subscribe to information again, but you still have to find the appropriate feed in the first place and add it.  I used to like browsing newsgroups on Usenet – ok, it was usually a different reader required, but it just, well, worked.

And for some reason I’ve only just realised why I really preferred Usenet to web forums.  And that is that all the newsgroups were in a single hierarchy.  I’ve had cause recently to start looking up a few technical issues and do the usual ‘resort to Google’ to sort them out.  But the kinds of things I’ve been looking at have involved a range of different forums.  There is avforums for TV and video issues, forums for Raspberry Pi use, forums for virtual worlds, forums for my cheap Android tablet, and so on.

And now if you want to create a space for discussion there are so many different options for ‘one offs’ too – Google and Yahoo! both do groups, Facebook, your own web forum hosting, etc, etc.

But how is one really expected to know about all this?  Back in Usenet days, you start at the top and work down the hierarchy – comp.something for computer related things, alt.something, news.something, etc.  In fact, its been so long since I thought about usenet, I can’t even remember which newsgroups I used to follow and what the full hierarchy actually looks like.  For a fascinating diversion – read about the Great Renaming – back in a time, i.e. 1987, when it was still possible for a community to contemplate a major change to a worldwide facility used by millions.

My ISP does still provide usenet access, but again I haven’t used it for years.

So we’ve ended up with a whole range of walled gardens – different silos of information buried in forums – and in some cases topics spread over many different forums, and so we resort to Google to find anything.  And we have to join a whole range of different forums before we can ask a question.

I really don’t quite see why web forums supplanted newsgroups. Well I guess I do – people got fed up with the flames and unmoderated spaces.  Usenet tended to be very Western in use – foreign language wasn’t easy.  Almost everything else has moved to the Universal Firewall Traversal Protocol (i.e. port 80).  And of course, Usenet didn’t suffer new users very well.  It tended to consist of very well established communities and I suppose the strong influx of a non-techie audience found that joining newer web forums satisfied their needs in a much more friendlier way (and had less intolerance and trolling).  Either way, the decline has been given a name – the Eternal September:

“Eternal September (also September that never ended) is the period beginning September 1993, a date from which it is believed by some that an endless influx of new users (newbies) has degraded standards of discourse and behavior on Usenet and the wider Internet.”

Many mailing lists have kind of gone the same way, being replaced with Facebook groups and web forums.  So now everything is distributed across the entire Internet.

Another view on the decline of Usenet:

“Segan said that the “eye candy” on the World Wide Web and the marketing funds spent by owners of websites convinced Internet users to use profit-making websites instead of Usenet servers. In addition, DejaNews and Google Groups made conversations searchable, and Segan said that this removed the obscurity of previously obscure Internet groups on Usenet.”

So – blame the marketing departments?  Probably actually, most likely driving traffic to forums to get earnings from online advertising revenue derived from ads in web forums I guess.

Still there is something about Usenet I miss.  But I’m not sure why I don’t subscribe to any newsgroups any more – I still could …



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