back to article First Forth, C and Python, now comp.lang.tcl latest Usenet programming forum nuked by Google Groups

The Usenet group comp.lang.tcl vanished from Google Groups for several hours before being restored on Tuesday. The reason, according to Arjen Markus, an engineer based in the Netherlands and Tcl programmer, is that a spammer posted abusive content to the group. "We have seen a single obnoxious poster who posts long Italian …

  1. John Gamble

    Because of sheer incompetence

    Google's mishandling of the USENET groups goes back over a decade. Looking up iconic articles became more and more difficult, until there was no point to logging on to it at all.

    It would not surprise me to find that some of the "missing" groups have just been lost, and not backed up.

  2. Dan 55 Silver badge

    Amazing how bad publicity works wonders

    comp.lang.c and comp.lang.python are back.

    As is the spam so we'll see how long they last.

    1. Blackjack Silver badge

      Re: Amazing how bad publicity works wonders

      The spammer does so with their gmail account, why not just ban the spammer?

  3. Anonymous Coward

    A sign of things to come

    The group was automatically removed by an algorithm. Thankfully, there were enough people affected that the shouting was loud enough to force Google to wake up a human to investigate and the group was quickly reinstated.

    If you are just one person and your post/video/blog gets removed by an algorithm, nobody will hear you shouting and your chances of doing anything about it are very close to zero.

    With the EU's digital copyright directive now being implemented in EU countries, combined with the other censorship directives which are just around the corner, expect to see your posts, videos and other content subjected to arbitrary automated censorship. There will be no appeal. Your content will simply vanish and you will have no idea why and no recourse.

    For any hosting company smaller than the current giants, the cost of buying and running the mandatory automated censorship systems will force you to close your business. This will further cement the domination of the Internet by a handful of mega-rich Internet companies and copyright troll organisations. Before the end of the decade, the Internet at large will have become something closely resembling the bland and stupefying television of today.

    Free speech will only exist in remote, encrypted corners of the Internet, only accessible if you can work around the inevitable provider-level blocks which will be mandated to prevent you accessing these havens. Succeeding in securing access to what is left of the free Internet will end up with you being put on a watch list and your career and social possibilities becoming more and more restricted.

    Welcome to the brave new world.

    1. martinusher Silver badge

      Re: A sign of things to come

      The term 'algorithm' might be a bit too flattering -- based on my experience its more like a relatively crude keyword search. (Yes, I know that this is technically an algorithm but you know what I mean...)

      I think there's a future for less glamorous methods of spreading information such as mail reflectors (and by extension, Usenet groups). The key to managing the flow is not allowing anyone to post and/or restricting the size of the post and requiring most posts to be in plain text or its equivalent. A lot of the pollution of the Internet comes from allowing people to send vast quantities of irrelevant filler material -- never post a text sentence when you can send the same text packaged in a megabyte or more of image -- and the problems that come from actively interpreting incoming data without the explicit permission of the user. I'm an old time user of the Internet and I've found that its been a downhill spiral for 20 years or more as 'enhance user experience' mob has cluttered my screen with irrelevant junk, overloaded my system's processors and memory and generally monopolized by working space all the while claiming that its 'new and improved'. Enough!

  4. Martin Gregorie

    Recall what Deja Vu was...

    Deja Vu was originally just an NNTP archive and search tool, and a well designed, easy to use one too. Until Google took it over. Personally, I thought it wasn't nearly as good a search tool as it had been after Google hacked it about and made it post as well: IMO they'd have done better to have left it alone and written their own newsreader to go with it since, at the time, the only really good newsreader was the excellent Forte Agent. Unfortunately, its Windows only. Like Mozilla Thunderbird, it handles both mail and newsgroups.

    Meanwhile, if you want a decent newsreader with easy-to-use tools for blocking obnoxious posters and threads and that isn't windows-only, try installing Mozilla Thunderbird, which handles both mail and newsgroups. Pan used to be the top of the pack until its developers lost interest: it now seems to be abandonware.

    Agent, Thunderbird (and Pan) all have good tools for blocking individual trolls and/or complete threads, and you can make a block permanent or just set it for a specified period.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Recall what Deja Vu was...

      "Pan used to be the top of the pack until its developers lost interest: it now seems to be abandonware."

      Pan is still being maintained, after a fairly major re-write a few years back. It still does what's needed. It's even useful for binary downloads these days and can even import NZB files if that's what floats your boat.

      1. Zippy´s Sausage Factory

        Re: Recall what Deja Vu was...

        Maybe it's time I got back on Usenet. Although generally all I ever do is post boring trivia about Pink Floyd, so I can probably do that on Facebook just as easily.

      2. Martin Gregorie

        Re: Recall what Deja Vu was...

        I'll take your word for that, sir.

        However, my ongoing experience with the Fedora version (0.146) shows a tendency to crash when shutting down and from time to time it looses contact with the current posting profile: a 'do nothing' profile update restores its ability to post - until the next time it happens.

        The only reason I'm still using it is that IMO its still the best of the bunch for those of us running Linux and it doesn't trip over these bugs very often.

        That said, if Forte Agent was ported to Linux, my hand would be in my wallet like a flash but maybe it will run under Wine: I haven't tried that.

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: Recall what Deja Vu was...

          I do not see that with Pan 0.146, but I run Slackware. Perhaps give slrn a shot?

          I'm with you on Forté's Agent. If they ever port it to Linux, I'll drop 'em a thousand bucks just because I can ... Even if I, personally, choose not to use it.

          Edit: I just had a thought ... If you, like a lot of people today, are not running a swapfile, try adding one to your system. Some old programs, especially those that slurp in a lot of text and manipulate it, expect one to exist. Try 100megs or so to start. Won't hurt, might help.

    2. jake Silver badge

      Re: Recall what Deja Vu was...

      That was DejaNews.

      And yes, the gookids have fscked it up. It would seem that the concept of an ASCII-only archive is alien to them.

    3. Whiskers


      Claws Mail can handle usenet quite well, and is cross-platform, more or less (essentially a Linux program, but there's a fairly usable Windows port). There are Android apps too, although they have limitations and can produce posts that annoy because of faulty formatting.

      Slrn and Gnus are probably the ones to go for if you use Linux and get serious about usenet.

      I seem to remember Mac users have always been rather poorly provided with newsreaders.

      1. WolfFan Silver badge

        Re: Newsreaders

        In days past there were a number of Mac news clients. The best were NewWatcher and its descendants, Yet Another NewsWatcher, Multi-Thread NewsWatcher (YANW also was multi-threaded, but wasn’t quite as good at it) and (ahem) Thoth. (Brian Clarke swore that Thoth had been built from the ground up using original code, nothing borrowed from NewsWatcher, but it sure looked like YANW, which he had also done…) The NewsWatchers had excellent filters, especially MTNW; I used MTNW for a long time. They were free (except for Thoth) and after a while went out of support. (Thoth went out of support because Clarke had another of his patented hissy fits and rage-quit after yet another person asked just how much free, open source, NewsWatcher code was in Thoth. Who, me? Surely not.) The NewsWatchers were built using Apple’s Open Transport network stack, and all (including Thoth, imagine that) died when Open Transport with, I think OS X 10.7 or 8. MacSoup held on for a while longer, and Unison and Hogwasher and a few more came and mostly went; Unison is unsupported, the Hog didn’t work with some versions of OS X for a few years but does now, and most of the rest are dead. Thunderbird still lives, but TBird is a truly terrible news agent. The Hog is probably the best Mac news agent still supported, and its filtering simply isn’t nearly as good as MTNW from 20 years ago.

  5. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

    Ban Google

    I gave up on Usenet well over a decade ago. Google was a massive sewer pipe that operators never had the guts to disconnect. Many groups were getting 1000 to 10000 daily spams from Chinese criminals using Google. At that point client-side filtering of Google posts becomes hopelessly inefficient. My ISP started dropping the most heavily abused groups because the bandwidth was too high. They preferred that over dropping everything from Google.

    These spams were never visible in Google Groups even though they came from Google. It was clearly intended to harm other Usenet operators.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Ban Google

      So don't get your Usenet feed from the idiot gookids. There are still a few decent commercial News providers out there, some of which will provide read-only access to text-only groups for free ...and some Universities will also give you a text-only feed for free, if you ask nicely. Squeaky wheel and all that.

      The spam is trivially filtered, either by yourself or by your news provider, depending on how your personal sensibilities view a filtered vs non-filtered feed.

      1. Dave559 Silver badge

        Re: Ban Google

        C'mon jake, I'm sure you know as well as anyone that if some google luser manages to post spam into a newsgroup, it'll get distributed to any other usenet server that carries that group.

        Yes, anyone with a bit of technical nous (and that's a barrier to entry for some) can write a scorefile/killfile to score down or delete matching posts, but, as Kevin says, once the amount of spam gets too large, it becomes very difficult to try to keep up manually, short of perhaps just killing everything with a google header, which might perhaps have been a bit unfair to their legitimate users. I don't know if there ever was a SpamAssassin-like filter that usenet server admins could apply to their feed to try to make things better in that regard (I thought that in the usenet heydey their involvement was in general usually only for some providers just to not carry the dodgier groups, rather than per-post filtering)?

        1. Whiskers

          Re: Ban Google

          Some NNTP service providers do (or did) use filters to reduce spam, floods, and other nuisances - and they can of course remove the posting account of any of their users who generate enough complaints. Each admin of course has their own policies about such things.

        2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Ban Google

          "Yes, anyone with a bit of technical nous (and that's a barrier to entry for some) can write a scorefile/killfile to score down or delete matching posts,"

          It's not helped by some binary posters, in attempts to avoid take-down notices, using a posting programme which gives every post a randomised title and username (You need to be "in the know" and be able to get the NZBs to make use of those binaries). Pretty much every header you could filter on as offered by the server is randomised. One of these programmes, at least, seems to always use the same length article title with no spaces, so that's pretty safe to filter on. The others are almost impossible to filter.

        3. jake Silver badge

          Re: Ban Google

          "if some google luser manages to post spam into a newsgroup, it'll get distributed to any other usenet server that carries that group."

          That depends on how clued the downstream server's admin is. My system won't see it, because all of my upstreams filter out the obvious crap. Folks who get a feed from me likewise won't see it. Even when one of my upstreams manages to allow junk through, my own filters usually catch it (and drop a note to the upstream in question).

          Running an ancient copy of Cleanfeed here. It still works quite nicely. Ta, Mr. Nixon.

      2. WolfFan Silver badge

        Re: Ban Google

        After a while I just nuked anything coming from Google Groups. No doubt this killed some good posts, but it killed _all_ of the GG-based spam.

  6. ronspencer314

    Denial of service attacks?

    So, the modern internet provides an incredibly convenient and easy way to perform denial of service attacks on discussions. You would think companies in the social media space would have come up with better responses to this kind of thing by now.

    And back in the day, most Usenet groups were moderated. That would have stopped this kind of thing rather quickly with a lot less fuss. Algorithms are a long ways from being reasonable alternatives.

    1. Version 1.0 Silver badge

      Re: Denial of service attacks?

      The problem is that these days algorithms are tested to verify that they work and then used ... nobody tests them to see if they don't work - that pretty much explains what happened.

    2. jake Silver badge

      Re: Denial of service attacks?

      "So, the modern internet provides an incredibly convenient and easy way to perform denial of service attacks on discussions."

      In this example, only the alphagoo view into those discussions is affected. Usenet does not today, did not yesterday, and never will depend on anything that alphagoo does. Hell, Usenet doesn't even depend on the Internet to propagate.

      "most Usenet groups were moderated."

      No. They were not.

      1. Dave559 Silver badge

        Re: Denial of service attacks?

        "Hell, Usenet doesn't even depend on the Internet to propagate."

        That's very true! My first home usenet feed was provided via the (excellent) Spuddy BBS, which literally used sneakernet to transfer tapes with its usenet feed from and to its upstream provider every day!

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: Denial of service attacks?

          Many large Usenet systems move News around internally (and sometimes externally) with UUCP, even today.

    3. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Denial of service attacks?

      You would think companies in the social media space would have come up with better responses to this kind of thing by now.

      Given the extreme repetitiveness of the Italian(-language) spam that seems to be causing the trouble, I can only assume that no-one at the very mighty and wonderful google is paying attention and it's all running on some system they forgot to turn off ten years ago. That, or google, who never were quite as clever as they thought they were, have now rotted down to submediocrity. Or both.

      And back in the day, most Usenet groups were moderated.

      Yeah, no they weren't.

    4. WolfFan Silver badge

      Re: Denial of service attacks?

      Ah… no, most newsgroups were not, and still are not, moderated. I waste time on multiple news groups, just one of which is moderated, and that’s moderated by a bot to kill cross-posts and a few other things. (No cross-posts to more than four groups, total; no cross-posts to more than two groups, total, if one includes certain specific groups; no cross-posts, period, to certain groups. This was aimed at a certain specific troll who got very upset when he couldn’t try to ignite flame wars with denizens of certain groups. He tried for years to get around the bot, but failed.)

  7. Dave559 Silver badge

    Upside down

    The perspective of this article is all topsy-turvy. It makes it sound as though these groups are something owned, or at least "managed", by Google, which also "happen" to be available by other means, when the reality is of course that these are usenet newsgroups, well older than Google, older than the web, and available from any usenet server (such as, for example, the appropriately named Eternal September, or you could even set up your own).

    It just so happens that, once upon a time, a company called DejaNews decided to start permanently archiving usenet (which, up until that point, had generally been ephemeral, with usenet servers generally only storing the posts from perhaps the past few weeks, or perhaps months, before deleting older ones), and eventually Google acquired DejaNews and the newsgroup archiving service. If Google are failing to manage their newsgroup archive properly (no surprise), people can still participate in newgroups using a newsreader program in the traditional way [1], as usenet is, of course, a distributed service. Maybe for a historic archive of usenet, those who are interested should perhaps get together and set up an alternative archiving service, as Google don't seem to have sufficient interest to do it properly. I would have thought that it would be the sort of thing that the Internet Archive, or a similar organisation, might perhaps be interested in.

    [1] although, to be honest, with the relentlessly increasing spam levels, the sharp drop-off in new usenauts since about 2000 or thereabouts, and the minor and moderate technical hurdles of having to know how to set up your newsreader and manage your scorefile/killfile effectively (slrn FTW!), respectively, it is (sadly) definitely a dying medium. But it always surprises me when I pop in occasionally that some groups somehow do still manage to maintain a good core of posters and sensible and interesting discussion, even nowadays.

    1. Dave559 Silver badge

      Re: Upside down

      Well, I just blew the dust off my newsreader and cranked it up to see what the state of affairs is…

      Surprisingly, but rather pleasingly, about half of the groups that I used to read that were still quite busy with intelligent discussion the last time I looked are even now still quite busy with intelligent discussion (and I even recognise some of the same posters' names).

      But, oh dear, some more local groups that, perhaps 5 - 10 years ago, had had a moderate number of users are now just despoiled wastelands, polluted with what appears to be endless spam posts offering drugs (semi-legal or otherwise) and nothing else. Automated spam machines, endlessly churning out grey goo that (surely) no human being will ever actually read, what a waste of a once-useful technology…

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Upside down

        Git yer feed from a clued admin, or find yourself an ancient copy of Cleanfeed and learn to configure it (DDG for tutorials, it's not all that difficult). Either option can remove the noise with no loss of signal.

  8. TimMaher Silver badge

    Bob... BOB!

    @bombastic bob, do you speak Italian?

    1. Santa from Exeter

      Re: Bob... BOB!

      Well, he's fluent in Bullshit, so he might be Trilingual.

  9. Whiskers

    Usenet Improvement Project

    <> Founded by the late Blinky The Shark and preserved in his memory. There may now be some broken links.

  10. heyrick Silver badge

    If Google is going to create an algorithm with zero tolerance to crap...

    ...can it please point it at GMail first?

  11. adam 40 Silver badge
    Paris Hilton


    I wonder if that's still going... ahh the good old days when I could read THE INTERNET in a morning.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: ABPE

      It's funny to think that I know someone who is ~ my age who, when trying to avoid doing work on his PhD, used to read the news. All of the news, as it sounds like you did. This must have been mid-late 1980s I think. By the time I had access to it other than by archives of messages in 1989 that was ludicrously impossible.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: ABPE

        I stopped reading all of Usenet during xmas break in '84, it was getting ridiculous with sometimes 250 posts per day! I stopped scanning all the headers in early 1986 when the number hit 600 posts/day occasionally. I stopped subscribing to all groups when it hit 250 groups and 1000 posts/day in '87 ... but by then I was running my own news server, so it hardly mattered.

        And of course, later all y'all subscribed to a.b.p.e for the articles, right?

  12. petef

    Eternal September

    The signal to noise of Google originated USENET content has been really low for years. So I am not sorry to lose their traffic.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Eternal September

      The Eternal September started in September of 1993.

      Google didn't even exist until 5 years later.

      Are any of all y'all feeling old yet? I am. This round's on me.

  13. bigtreeman

    Go Forth young man ....

    Dunno, Forth's back up,

    first time I've looked at comp.lang.forth since pre-internet

    good to see it's still active

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Go Forth young man ....

      "Dunno, Forth's back up,"

      It was never down, at least not on any Newsfeed that I pay attention to.

      "first time I've looked at comp.lang.forth since pre-internet"

      Seeing as the comp.* hierarchy became operational in the Great Renaming in 1987, about 17 years[0] after TehIntraWebTubes started passing bytes, I highly doubt this statement.

      [0] Or 4 years after Flag day, if you prefer the TCP/IP version.

      1. EnviableOne Silver badge

        Re: Go Forth young man ....

        may not have been pre-intrawebTudeyThings, but was definitely Pre WibillyWobleyWooleyShinyTableSpace as TBL et all only booted that out in 1990-91

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: Go Forth young man ....

          The new-fangled WWW subset is to The Internet at large as the monkey exhibit is to the entire city that the Zoo is situated in.

          One certainly doesn't need the massive overhead of a GUI and the WWW to read Usenet ... in the old days, we often telneted in to a news server with nothing more than a dumb terminal on a serial line (modem for remote use). Still can, with the proper permissions.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    comp.lang.c blocked again

    Google Groups have blocked comp.lang.c again.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: comp.lang.c blocked again

      It's not blocked by any feed I have access to. Never was, either.

      Stop using alphagoo for Usenet. It's badly b0rken, and probably always will be.

      Come to think of it, stop using alphagoo for anything, it's badly b0rken.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: comp.lang.c blocked again

        Oh, it's awful for posting. It's only use is for searching.

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: comp.lang.c blocked again

          It is not even useful for that. I know of many posts that I made decades ago that are missing. Worse, I know of many posts that were made by important people talking about important stuff (hardware and software internals and the like) that are missing. Before you ask, they existed at DejaNews, they only went missing after the gootwats bought the archive. Who knows what else is missing ... regardless, it's not trustworthy, providing an incomplete picture of the past with no way of knowing exactly what is missing and why.

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