back to article USENET, the OG social network, rises again like a text-only phoenix

The USENET management committee has reconvened and there are green shoots of growth in the original, pre-World Wide Web social network. USENET, or NetNews, is a text-only social discussions forum, or rather a set of a great many forums, called "newsgroups," carried by multiple servers around the world. Although the original …

  1. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    It never went away!

    I've been using it since I first heard about it in the early 1990s, although the number of groups I'm on has dwinded somewhat.

    1. smudge
      Windows

      Re: It never went away!

      Yup. I still occasionally look at groups like uk.railway and uk.telecom.broadband.

      I was going to say something about starting a gopher revival, but I see that it never went away either! OK then, Winsock API anyone?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: It never went away!

        I read uk.railway for years, but left when it degenerated to one sad old man with obvious Alzheimer's, one nutty Christian who boasted about beating the devil out of his toddler with spoons and a few normal people who didn't say much. Anyone else remember Hoppy and Ditchpig?

      2. Blackjack Silver badge

        Re: It never went away!

        I prefer the Gemini protocol over Gopher but yeah it is neat it still exists.

      3. captain veg Silver badge

        Re: It never went away!

        > Winsock API anyone?

        Still there, just built into Windows. So no more Trumpet required.

        -A.

        1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          Re: It never went away!

          Still blows like a trumpet, though.

    2. MRMax

      Re: It never went away!

      Indeed.

      I'm still reading a handful of Usenet groups using Ameol via CIX. Seems that anyone can sign up for a free CIX Basic account via CIX Forums and get access to Usenet using Ameol.

  2. pavsmith

    A great way to waste morning tea time!

    1984? Something like that. Type in 'rn' and then read every single new article from the world before your tea got cold!

    As for media, the first one I remember was called "dirty.uue" and used a lot of cursor positioning commands for vt100 terminals and involved some text guy interfering with a lot of text animals. Ah, internet pron ain't what it used to be!

    1. Vometia has insomnia. Again. Silver badge

      Re: A great way to waste morning tea time!

      trn was the best. Still much better at organising and browsing discussions than nearly all web-based software I've seen in the years since.

      1. Dave559

        Re: A great way to waste morning tea time!

        Nah, slrn is the best. Its scorefile system lets you do much more fine grained tuning of subjects/people/etc of (dis)interest than a basic killfile does.

        And that, sadly, is usenet's main problem nowadays: the need to configure your client even to get started and then keep editing your killfile to hide spam and other unpleasantness is just too much for the average non-techie person, sadly.

        By the time that broadband was widely available it was clear that decreasingly few new people were joining, that the march of time was having its inevitable effect on existing group members, and that spam was just getting worse and worse, and so, eventually, I sadly bowed out and gradually moved over to web forums instead. But usenet's combination of 'everything in one place' but also being distributed and so avoiding a single point of failure was and is absolutely ingenious.

      2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: A great way to waste morning tea time!

        I had a lightly-customized build of xrn as my reader for many years. Basically trn as an X11 client, which let it do a few things that were awkward to do in an xterm. Despite being an X11 application it was pure text.

  3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    You may find that your ISP provides a newsgroup feed as part of your subscription, probably linking to Giganews.

    I think the September bit of Eternal September came from annual influx of newbies who'd just arrived at college in the US and got their first internet connection. They would quickly absorb netiquette and things would quieten down till the next September. Then AOL arrived.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "You may find that your ISP provides a newsgroup feed as part of your subscription, probably linking to Giganews."

      *may* being the operative word. Few ISPs offer much beyond the connection these days. "Free" web-space was the first of the "value add" casualties, followed by Usenet and quite few don't even offer email now. I heard recently that even VM, one of the bigger UK ISPs no longer offers email accounts to new subscribers, email being classed and run as a legacy service. The smaller, more specialised ISPs may well still offer "value add" services, but they are getting more rare nowadays due to buy outs etc.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        PlusNet offers Usenet. I know because I use it. I don't know off-hand whether parent BT does.

        They also still offer email as far as I know. Dropping that would be a silly move because it locks in users - which is why I haven' used an ISP provided email for years.

        1. parlei

          The email lock in effect is why I registered my personal domain: seeing other graduate students in the 90's trying to figure out what to do when their uni address would evaporate after they graduated.

          1. Grunchy Silver badge

            seeing other graduate students in the 90's trying to figure out what to do when their uni address would evaporate after they graduated…

            For awhile, anyway, University of Calgary let you set up a free lifetime “alumni.ucalgary.ca” email forwarding account (got mine). It’s great, actually. It’s surprising how many software packages recognize that address as good enough to qualify for the lower cost “educational” version.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              A staff email address at a UK university ending .ac.uk is also a good way of getting "student" benefits from sites that just check against email addresses.

      2. Xalran

        here in France, Orange ( Former Wanadoo/France Telecom ) initially offered Usenet, 1Gb webspace and a few more things almost nobody cared about...

        The few more things almost nobody cared about were the first to go more than a decade ago... then 7ish years ago Usenet was put on the chopping block, and now the 1GB web hosting will be a gonner on September 5. We still have the ability to have multiple email addresses ( up to 5 ) with the Internet access, and the Internet Access is nowadays a mandatory triple play box that you have to rent with a MAC address lock. ( so you need a router that can have MAC addresses configured if you want to try to get rid of the triple play box )

        1. Uncle Slacky Silver badge

          Should go with Free instead if you're in France - they still run a Usenet server (even with some newsgroups of their own for tech support etc.). The web hosting and email addresses sill work, though if you want more than 250 Mb for email storage they farm you out to a third party provider.

      3. TheMaskedMan Silver badge

        The free web space was never all that useful anyway, as I recall. You didn't get much space, no CGI scripts, were stuck with a subdomain and if your site became accidentally popular they tended to pull the plug.

        I haven't heard that VM have done away with free email, but it wouldn't surprise me. They have recently implemented an "app password" for pop mail clients, which confused the hell out of my one and only domestic client who still uses ISP email.

        I don't know if they still offer Usenet either, but I doubt it. And the thought of calling them to find out fills me with dread.

    2. Twilight

      Nope. I used USENET up until Comcast dropped it a long time ago (10+ years iirc). At the time, I did spend a little bit of time looking around for an alternative but couldn't find anything that didn't cost more than I thought it was worth.

    3. Mike Pellatt

      Any ISP considering running a news service would, hopefully, visit demon.service where again, hopefully, the history of news.demon.co.uk can still be found

      Probably the most "amusing" bit of it's disastrous early years was when the entire news spool got trashed thanks to a firmware bug on every drive in the RAID array, rendering it not at all R.

  4. elsergiovolador Silver badge

    IRC

    IRC killed Usenet. There I said it.

    1. Arthur the cat Silver badge

      Re: IRC

      IRC killed Usenet.

      That's a bit like saying the telephone network killed snail mail.

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: IRC

        Motorcycles killed boats. There I said it.

    2. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: IRC

      IRC and Usenet coexisted happily for quite some time. The use cases for each are broadly different, with IRC providing real-time but mostly ephemeral interactions across the Internet vs. the durable, asynchronous nature of Usenet. I think what crippled Usenet was that the gravity of Internet-based interaction gradually shifted to the Web. For most novice Internet users, the Web became a media-rich one-stop shop for interaction and content consumption, and my guess is that most people these days have never even heard of Usenet.

      1. HereIAmJH

        Re: IRC

        Crappy web boards killed text Usenet. Why read when you can post pictures in html. Instead of wading through all the noise in Usenet groups, search Google for a web board set up for your favorite topic. There are probably 10, if you don't like the first one. And life moved on to sites like Slashdot, Reddit, The Reg, and now Discord.

        Volume of mostly warez killed binaries. ISP didn't like all the volume, MPAA/RIAA and software publishers hated the warez and threatened ISPs, causing many to stop carrying binaries. Then everyone just moved on to Torrent.

        1. rcxb Silver badge

          Re: IRC

          Crappy web boards killed text Usenet.

          Like The Register's forum and comments section? Is that what you mean?

      2. cookieMonster Silver badge

        Re: IRC

        “….that most people these days have never even heard of Usene…..”

        And that is probably why it will be popular again, the waste and sludge of humanity wont be on it, only the usual sickos and the rest of us.

        1. Graham Dawson Silver badge

          Re: IRC

          Yes... Hahaha! Yes!

      3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: IRC

        "I think what crippled Usenet was that the gravity of Internet-based interaction gradually shifted to the Web. For most novice Internet users, the Web became a media-rich one-stop shop for interaction and content consumption, and my guess is that most people these days have never even heard of Usenet."

        That and a preponderance for newer Usenet clients to work "on line", and even if they had an offline mode, the offline mode would not be the default, so to a lot of newer users, it was just another online "forum". If posts were deleted from the server, the server went TITSUP or they changed the numbering system for any reason, the users "lost" all the old posts. And then there were the people that used MS Outlook for Usenet, the biggest offender of them all for doing things in it's own "special" way by trying to make Usenet look like email, doing quoting "wrong", not being able to strip sigs etc.

    3. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

      Re: IRC

      Google intentionally killed it.

      Google purchased Deja News and then hooked it up to a web UX called Google Groups. Security was non-existent and Google showed no interest in fixing outbound spam or vulnerable features. Chinese gangs flooded Usenet with more scam posts than many Usenet nodes could afford to process or filter. It was common to see each topic get 90 to 50000 spams per day, per tens of thousands of topics. Even if a node could handle it, many clients could not filter and thread topics at that scale.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: IRC

        "Google intentionally killed it."

        When? It was working last time I looked, about 10 seconds ago.

        1. Wayland

          Re: IRC

          I left when the spam became greater than the content. Others left too so there really was no reason to stay. With it being a bit technical for normies it could be good again. The Internet on the whole was good because normies had not figured it out. No point in spamming smart people.

      2. Ilgaz

        Re: IRC

        Chinese may have done it on purpose since the Usenet isn't really easy to censor like the centralised web.

      3. Camilla Smythe
        Unhappy

        Re: IRC

        "Google intentionally killed it.

        Google purchased Deja News and then hooked it up to a web UX called Google Groups."

        That's what I remember. I used to post on one of the 8 then one day it turned into Nike Drop Shop. Wasn't worth bothering for the new headers to load.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: IRC

      Video killed the radio star? Yet we still have radio and MTV is a retched hive of reality TV.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: IRC

        My wife suggested using MTV for some background music/noise a while back, so out of curiosity, I switched to MTV. WTF? Where's all the music? It seems like so many specialised cable channels, they start off with a descriptive name and over time re-brand to an initialism and eventually change the actual name to the initialism, dumping not just the original descriptive name, but the entire programme line-up. The M in MTV is just M, not shorthand for Music. Even The SciFi channel became SyFy and now it's more fantasy and horror than SF. Although the converse seems to be true of the Horror channel, which seem to carry a lot of SF :-)

        Anyway, getting back on topic, Pan for the win (best free Usenet client out there IMO!)

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: IRC

          I do remember using Usenet back in the day but I remember BBS more which as we know was not decentralise but if you got a good one you were in for good fun. I might have to have a play about with this again so many years later.

          Back off topic. Yeah the tv channels got weird. To be fair I rarely watch them now and never see any adverts except for when watching the sports. Also off topic I would have been happy to have some adverts on the internet but they messed that up in the early days so now my default is block block block so I see nothing.

          1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

            Re: IRC

            I used to get my comp.os.cpm feed through a BBS. :)

          2. TheMaskedMan Silver badge

            Re: IRC

            "I remember BBS more which as we know was not decentralise but if you got a good one you were in for good fun."

            Fidonet! I'd forgotten about that! I used to point off a local BBS for mail and groups. Goodness, that brings back memories:)

            1. gc23

              Re: BBS

              Fidonet's still around but has been moribund for many years. There's a lot of FTN-style "othernets" that are much more active. I'm still running a BBS I set up under OS/2 in 1996 available via telnet. All this talk about NNTP is making me think about gating NNTP to my board just because I can.

    5. MacroRodent

      Re: IRC

      It was spam that did it. There were efforts to combat it (anyone remember cancelmoose?) but an uphill battle.

      OTOH now that most people don't even know Usenet, it might again be usable. ....

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Telehack still has gopher and usenet

    If people are interested, Telehack, over at www.telehack.com, has gopher and usenet.

    1. Montreal Sean

      Re: Telehack still has gopher and usenet

      Just tried telehack, they don't accept new users unless they are referred by an existing user.

      Oh well, my time-travel back to the usenet days will need a new way.

  6. Baudwalk

    sudo apt install slrn

    Must admit it's been years since I last browsed USENET.

    Quite a nostalgia trip just listing the groups again. comp.lang.c, rec.arts.sf.tv,babylon5, alt.music.enya, ...

    Not as bereft of life as I expected, but not exactly about to nuzzle up to the bars, bend 'em apart with its beak, and VOOM.

    1. jonha
      Thumb Up

      Re: sudo apt install slrn

      > Not as bereft of life as I expected, but not exactly about to nuzzle up to the bars

      Depends. Some groups are still pretty active (say on average 50 messages/day), others half-sleeping and still others smell like a dead mouse.

      And in keeping with the ripe old age of USENET I still use it with a reader almost as old... the good ol' Forte Agent which runs beautifully in my Windows VM. (Agent is one of a smallish number of apps I still run in a VM as I've simply found nothing I like as much that'll run under Linux (or perhaps because I am too lazy to convert all the killfile rules). Others in that select group are foobar2k, Poptray and a couple of graphics programs.)

      1. Martin-73 Silver badge

        Re: sudo apt install slrn

        Ah glad to hear Agent is still alive ... I still have my code somewhere :)

      2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: sudo apt install slrn

        (Agent is one of a smallish number of apps I still run in a VM as I've simply found nothing I like as much that'll run under Linux (or perhaps because I am too lazy to convert all the killfile rules)

        I used to like Agent for similar reasons, but then they changed the interface too much. Almost as bad as the Gnome2/3 debacle! So I switched to Pan and haven't looked back since. But yeah, the rules. Pan has a good and if required, complex rules system to mark/move/kill posts, but it's a bit less intuitive than Agent used to be, for example, and in advanced mode, works almost identically to slrn rules.

    2. Tom Chiverton 1

      Re: sudo apt install slrn

      Ahh, rast.b5... Happy times and drinking ...

      1. Michael Hoffmann Silver badge

        Re: sudo apt install slrn

        Pchaw! I remember exchanging direct messages/mail with JMS himself - on Compuserve!

        Man, I wish I'd kept those.

    3. IvyKing

      Re: sudo apt install slrn

      I remember when Rob Dickens showed up on alt.music.enya - maybe half of the folks replying thought he was an impostor. Other usenet memories included correcting Henry Spencer, an interchange with George M. Scithers (one time editor of Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine) and perusing through alt.destroy.microsoft.

  7. Jamie Jones Silver badge

    slrn for me

    Nice threaded newsreader for command line unix systems.

    Also, just about every mailing list is available via Usenet too, which is handy. (news.gmane.io)

  8. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge
    Windows

    Pine and ... Outlook Express?

    Pine was my favorite text-based newsgroup reader (basic, I know). Later, when I came to appreciate GUI clients, I used Gravity and then discovered that Outlook Express had a surprisingly capable newsgroup client built in, which made it good for downloading ... uh ... cat pictures from the alt.binaries groups.

    1. Martin-73 Silver badge

      Re: Pine and ... Outlook Express?

      Indeed, outhouse express did do a fairly good job also with email, once you patched the top posting bug

      1. chivo243 Silver badge
        Mushroom

        Re: Pine and ... Outlook Express?

        Outhouse express... LOL. We called it Outbreak express... it was the vector for many call outs where NUKE and PAVE were the prescription.

  9. anthonyhegedus Silver badge

    32 years ago!

    My first foray onto the internet was through Usenet in 1991 - possibly even 1990 - when we swapped our compuserve account at work for a Demon internet account. I can't remember what client I used but it was on a Sun Sparcstation. I ended up having many a topical discussion on uk.telecom.mobile and alt.tasteless. I remember when the telecom group started to get filled with newbies who started with the stupid questions.

    I recall one who asked how to attach a modem to a Mercury 121 Motorola phone to get onto the internet. How we made fun of such a silly concept! This was pre-GPRS and probably pre-circuit-switched data. Someone jokingly suggested that it was of course possible, and I continued the joke by advising that you can open up your phone and swap out a couple of capacitors and attach your modem internally to a couple of contacts. I went on to say that you could get speeds of up to a 100Kbits per second, faster than a regular modem! Nobody believed me because such speeds were fantastical.

    1. Pete Sdev Bronze badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: 32 years ago!

      It's interesting how tech has progressed.

      The first computer I ever had had 48Kb of memory. The phone in my pocket now has 6 Gigybyte.

      Sometimes when I'm cooking and listening to music which is streamed from the internet over wifi to my phone and then over bluetooth to the speaker, I think "fuck, we're living in the future". Something that if predicted in a speculative fiction novel in the 80s or 90s would have been seen as soft sci-fi.

      1. anthonyhegedus Silver badge

        Re: 32 years ago!

        Yes, I often think things like that to myself - as in "what would my 25-year-old self think of driving around listening to the radio streamed across the internet to a mobile phone in real time, then sent via another radio signal to my car radio, all digitally?" especially as the car radio is perfectly capable of picking up the FM transmission in the first place.

        My first computer had 1KB of memory and I was assured by the company that sold it to me that it was somehow equivalent to 4KB in a computer costing several times as much.

      2. Daniel Pfeiffer

        Re: 32 years ago!

        My 1st contact was in '85-86. Our Uni had a network, where neighbouring hosts were mounted in /.. and I didn't know if I was allowed to snoop around. On one of them I found the Usenet in lots of files that “automagically” got updated. I had no clue what it was and didn't dare ask, for fear of being reprimanded for even being there. (Later, last day before holidays, I gave root a scripted dummy-shell, which they turned on me, when I came back. Got me an oral exam exclusively on theory, as the prof grinned “we know you're good on the hands on side.”)

        I didn't know newsreaders – “cat” and, when I got smarter, “more” was my gateway to the world. :-) Later I discovered Emacs Gnus, killfiles and how to post. One of my favourite groups was soc.culture.esperanto, to insiders sce. Mi varmkore memoras ke mi multe aktivis tie.

    2. GioCiampa

      Re: 32 years ago!

      I just passed the 30 year mark here - can even locate that very first post (on alt.test, naturally)

      https://groups.google.com/g/alt.test/c/LApe5WgHZmg/m/hBCrAuei7QAJ

  10. Wily Veteran
    Thumb Up

    Older than the internet!

    "older than the web"

    No, it predates the internet. We used to use UUCP to distribute both NetNews and email in compressed packages which would be uncompressed and put into the necessary files on your own server/leaf node.

    You would negotiate a group list and a schedule with a nearby neighbor which could range from daily or even weekly to hourly. Good admins would do this on a fee-free basis with the proviso you would stick to the schedule and agree to service other admins who asked you for a feed. An entry in the newsgroup which told of your connection(s) and schedule which primarily provided info for email.

    I ran a leaf node (didn't service other systems) at home with my ATT 7300/3B1 UNIX-PC and things wer groovy.

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: Older than the internet!

      Precedes the TCP/IP Internet, anyway. Usenet launched in 1980 and Flag Day was 1983-01-01. NCP ARPANET went live in 1971, so whether UUCP Usenet is older than "the Internet" depends on what definition you're using for the latter.

      I don't think I ever personally used Usenet via UUCP, but I did use UUCP for file transfers right up into the early 1990s. Had a pair of Trailblazers with g-spoofing. I also used them for a SLIP TCP/IP point-to-point link, for Telnet and such, but if I just needed to transfer files UUCP was faster.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Older than the internet!

        I was using UUCP for both news and mail into various Pacific islands well into the late 1990s. First by modem and then over TCP

        Mine was one of the top500 news servers for a number of years - It wasn't so much the spam that killed it as the sheer volume of binaries and warez postings eating all available bandwidth. It just got too expensive to run it compared to the administrative load and user income

  11. Mike 16

    _Bottom_ posted?

    IIRC (left UseNet in 2000), most substantial conversations (as opposed to quick shots of "first" or "plonk"),

    were Interspersed. Not having to start a major research project to figure out the context of a "yes" is

    one of my favorite memories of the days. Compare and contrast to the "modern" mailing list which

    relies on "nesting" every email in a thread in a "reverse chronological" order. At least so far they

    have kept the order of the letters of each quoted copy reading left to right.

    BTW: Green Card Lottery was not the first SPAM I encountered on UseNet, but it was certainly the

    first to (seemingly) _intend_ to annoy pretty much everybody on UseNet.

    I'm torn about "re-upping". I got so much free time back in exchange for the groups I had read.

    I certainly could not get my old "name" back, as it was a bang-path. A while back IIRC bang-paths

    were still part of the email RFCs. They are/were not handled by the likes of Google and Comcast.

    Good times. Now if only I could get things done _and_ graze my groups (mostly comp.*)

    1. Munchausen's proxy
      Pint

      Re: _Bottom_ posted?

      "BTW: Green Card Lottery was not the first SPAM I encountered on UseNet, "

      Dave Rhodes -- 'Bizman Dave, the modem slave' -- predated C & S by a considerable amount, in my fallible memory. I vaguely think that Rhodes may have started out on Fidonet, but I'm certain he was shitting on Usenet before the lawyers.

      1. Ian 55

        Re: _Bottom_ posted?

        On every newsgroup, though?

        Either he didn't or I had really good filters back then.

        1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          Re: _Bottom_ posted?

          Yes, I think C&S are often cited as early spammers because they were so egregious. But the "spam" term was widely applied long before them. The Wikipedia article on spam has a bunch of citations.

  12. steelpillow Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    H'mm - federated messaging - now where have I heard that before?

    Dare one suggest that maybe usenet and ActivityPub might have a few things to learn from each other? Maybe even a searchability tip or two from those middle-aged web-based forum things.

    I mean, you get yourself a web/browser based Usenet client and you're half way to dot-com-free social media. "Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose" as the French say.

    But hey, what does a grumpy old netizen like me know?

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: H'mm - federated messaging - now where have I heard that before?

      Searching Usenet? Simple. Subscribe to group, download ALL messages, possibly going back decades then use your client or command line favourite search technique. :-)

      (Or just use Google. I think they still have groups.google.com kept up to date)

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: H'mm - federated messaging - now where have I heard that before?

        Most Usenet servers only kept 7-14 days of messages, even before alt.binaries.pictures.erotica.female.news.admin

    2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: H'mm - federated messaging - now where have I heard that before?

      Usenet is decentralized, so "searching everything" isn't meaningful unless you have a server that's aggregating everything it can get from its feeds. And for that, there's Google.

      The point of Usenet was never to provide a searchable collection of all human knowledge; it was for discussions. You see something interesting, you save it offline for future reference.

  13. Fred Daggy Silver badge
    Boffin

    What killed USENET was ...

    Microsoft. And I am not even sure it was done intentionally.

    Outlook Express. (Searches both remaining brain cells) About 98? I think around about 1998, which was probably prime time for Windows 98, MS releases Outlook Express.

    It started with a trickle, then a torrent, then a flood. But HTML posts everywhere. HTML was the default for composing and sending. Both email and newsgroups. Every other news client posted in plain old ASCII. You could turn Outlook Express to plan text in the configuration, but 1 user in a million did that. I think I was using tin and Forte Agent. But the groups became just about unusable. Also, Spam picked up in a big way.

    The web might have loaded the barrel, spam shot it, but it took a Microsoft product to deliver the coup de grace.

    So many newsgroups had such good info. The MS newsgroups around NT4 and Windows 2000 beat any modern Web Forum. Once in a blue moon i use google to look at some groups i used to frequent, now, not a single useful post in years.

    1. parlei

      Re: What killed USENET was ...

      Just "add" -5 or so to your scorefile if the post is in HTM, and all the silliness would go away.

      1. Fred Daggy Silver badge
        Unhappy

        Re: What killed USENET was ...

        Agreed. But it just took one HTML post to kill a thread. :-(

    2. Wayland

      Re: What killed USENET was ...

      Outlook Express took quite an arbitrary decision. They could easily have set it so usenet was in text format by default.

  14. Ian 55

    Is there anywhere giving free access to the alt.binary newsgroups

    Asking for a friend, just in case they still have good stuff.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Is there anywhere giving free access to the alt.binary newsgroups

      No, and they don't, at least not without using an NZB web based search. Many if not most of the binaries these days are posted using encrypted or obfuscated titles, sometimes scatter gunned across multiple groups such that you need to get an NZB file to automate finding and re-assembling them. Some free NZB search engines will decode and name the posts properly, but mainly you need a paid for one or an invite from someone on an "invite only" search engine. Or so a friend tells me :-)

      1. ShortLegs

        Re: Is there anywhere giving free access to the alt.binary newsgroups

        That depends on your definition of "good", and I rather suspect that yours and the OPs differ.. and the answer is "yes" :-)

        Nzbplanet if you want nzb files.

        Newshosting "browser" if you need a client for bianries

        Forte Agent for a reader

        Oh how I miss Ameol and CIX

    2. TheMaskedMan Silver badge

      Re: Is there anywhere giving free access to the alt.binary newsgroups

      Ahhh yes, the alt.binary groups, source of many an entertaining wallpaper image in days of yore. I recall being asked to write a tiny little windows program to pick a random wallpaper on startup, long before windows could do that itself. The source of all the images were alt.binaries groups, of course.

      1. parlei

        Re: Is there anywhere giving free access to the alt.binary newsgroups

        I had anna kournikova as a wallpaper for awhile. Not the pin-up picture, but the first part of the virus as text.

        Yes of course I'm normal. See, forms a normal line relative to the floor when I stand up. Ok, not perfectly normal, but close enough.

  15. Dick Kennedy

    I'd be interested to know what retrocomputing channels you've found.

    1. Liam Proven (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      [Author here]

      > I'd be interested to know what retrocomputing channels you've found.

      I occasionally dabble with Risc OS, my favourite old-time OS that's still being maintained and developed.

      The comp.sys.acorn.* hierarchy still gets some conversations.

      I also keep meaning to try to get back into programming for fun, and I found comp.lang.fortran to be lively and helpful.

  16. Christopher F Clark (intel_chris)

    comp.complers

    Is definitely quieter than it was in the 90s, but there are almost always a few messages each month, and some topics generate flurries of activity. I get it as an RSS feed these days (which is also how I get the Register)

  17. JimmyPage Silver badge

    Let's keep it secret shall we ?

    I've been on usenet since 1987 when I uploaded a KERMIT for Sperry.

    I've watched with wry amusement as the hysteria over encryption and censorship has raged totally missing the most powerful tool of all if you want to be anonymous and uncensored.

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Let's keep it secret shall we ?

      Usenet was widely believed to be heavily used by three letter agencies as a way of passing messages and I'm pretty sure they still keep tabs on "posters of interest"

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Bork! Bork! Bork!

    I really miss two groups, but maybe they are still lurking out there.....somewhere......

    (1) alt.swedish.chef.bork.bork.bork

    (2) alt.destroy.microsoft

    ....and John Hagerman’s original Encheferizer is still around out there....written in lex!

    1. Uncle Slacky Silver badge
      Windows

      Re: Bork! Bork! Bork!

      Not to mention alt.great.ass.wheaton and alt.sexy.bald.captains...

      Personally I hung out at talk.bizarre and alt.slack.

      1. ravenviz Silver badge

        Re: Bork! Bork! Bork!

        alt.stupidity FTW!

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Bork! Bork! Bork!

      (1) alt.swedish.chef.bork.bork.bork

      (2) alt.destroy.microsoft

      Both still exist :-)

      And you can still create new groups in the alt. hierarchy

    3. Ace2 Silver badge

      Re: Bork! Bork! Bork!

      I still cite alt.possessive.its.has.no.apostrophe, even to people who’ve never heard of usenet.

      There was something like alt.sex.bestiality.jay.denebeim.baa.baa.baa.moo. There was probably a funny story there but I’ve no idea what it would be, or if Jay was in on the joke.

    4. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: Bork! Bork! Bork!

      alt.folklore.urban was another infamous playground of in-joke madness. It spawned some legendary threads, like David "snopes" Mikkelson's "you can't cast a shadow in a vacuum" x-posted trolling of the Star Trek group (the exact name of which I've forgotten).

  19. petef

    I recall the advent of spam on USENET in the 90s. Early on I found that my list of 40 odd domains sufficed to filter it out. Happy days.

    I'm still a regular user, Gnus/emacs to Eternal September and gmane since you ask.

  20. Michael Hoffmann Silver badge

    Was our little cabal the only one who used UUCP to exchange feeds? Every night at 11pm, I'd hear the clickety-click of my modem dialing and polling my peer upstream (rotary phones in Germany back then, still).

    That led to my first O'Reilly purchase, as Managing UUCP and Usenet was invaluable. Before they became this mega-conglomerate.

    Where the hell did time go?!

    1. Mike Pellatt

      Nope, you weren't. 1984, negotiated a feed from IST (Imperial Software Technology). ukc was the main Janet hub. v22 modem, contemplated "midnight line" - a BT thing where you paid a massive line rental but calls were not charged from midnight to 6am, but given it was a local call it didn't make sense. The feed we got fitted on a 60MB drive on the 3b2.

      I learnt so much from comp.arch.

  21. Ace2 Silver badge

    Ok, clue me in: is OG Original Gangster or Ol’ Grandad?

  22. Grunchy Silver badge

    Multics and Pine and Emacs

    I got in hot water with Sysadmin at Uni for wasting minutes on Pine and IRC (funny thing: I had just returned from my internship at Alberta Research Council which in 1993 provided internet access to ALL of Alberta — including UCalgary and UEdmonton, and ULethbridge — and which I participated in the setup of). So in response I required Sysadmin to delete the /usr/games folder “in case somebody wastes minutes of their Multics session.”

    The jerks actually deleted /usr/games!!

    What a bunch of maroons.

    1. Uncle Slacky Silver badge

      Re: Multics and Pine and Emacs

      Reminds me of the message I used to get when posting to Usenet (probably from rn):

      "Your message will cost the net hundreds if not thousands of dollars to send. Please be sure you know what you are doing."

  23. Screwed

    There were some very information and helpful health-related usenet forums. And one I used a lot is still in existence with one chap valiantly still posting regularly.

    Two things made it progressively less and less pleasant to use: spam and belligerent posting. But all the binary posting - requiring much greater server capacity and bandwidth - didn't help. And we saw several ISPs drop out.

    I used to pay for access through "the Berlin server" - which was pretty damned good.

    Occasionally I use Google groups to see what is happening (not much!).

    Anyone know of a reasonable client for use on an M1 macOS machine? The one I liked best was xnews.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Thunderbird? Mail, RSS and Usenet all in one place.

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Thunderbird is ... OK. Quoting can be a little flaky as you trim the source and try to get it to re-wrap overly-long lines.

        The nice thing about the readnews / rn / nn family was that they'd use your preferred editor. Maybe I'll have a stab at building xrn under Cygwin.

  24. Ian Johnston Silver badge

    The best newsreader/mail client combo I ever used was "ANU News" (Australian National University) on VAX/VMS. Perfect integration between the two, intuitive interface, Just Worked.

  25. Huw L-D

    Loved scary devil monastery (alt.sysadmin.recovery)

    1. Dave559

      scary devil monastery

      I thought that The Register's forums mostly provided that sort of necessary outlet nowadays? ;-)

      Certainly there are enough regulars here who have been around long enough. Tech evolves, and so do we!

      (Just looked into asr and it certainly seems very much like a monastery of a nearly-silent order now…)

      1. Huw L-D

        Re: scary devil monastery

        Back in the day, that was where many friendships were spawned and people actually knew technical stuff.

        Plus, TINC.

      2. This post has been deleted by its author

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    When the world was wittier

    In the far-off times, before the Internet became a dark and dangerous place, a kindly soul in our organisation ran a usenet server, which carried both internet and internal-only groups. The internal ones didn't propogate outside the Wall, but inadvertent cross-posting to both could cause some giggles - people would probably get sacked for that today.

    Anyway, I recall one internal post asking where the old company office chairs went when their time came. The answers went something like:

    >> "Perhaps they go to Furniture Heaven, where there are no naked flames or fat people"

    > "Or alt.sex.obesity, where there are flames from naked fat people"

  27. cpage

    Latest Thunderbird has wrecked access to Usenet News

    I mistakenly downloaded the latest Thunderbird when I got a new computer, but had to remove it and go back to version 101.14.0 instead. Be warned.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Latest Thunderbird has wrecked access to Usenet News

      Thank you! I am staying put at 100.

    2. Mike_R

      Re: Latest Thunderbird has wrecked access to Usenet News

      Dunno 'bout that; just checked TB 115 to read risks.comp, worked fine.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Consider donating to Eternal-September

    If you are using it, give something back.

  29. Grogan Silver badge

    I started out on usenet in the 90's. I used the Tin client on Unix shells at first... but later, at home, Netscape was a newsreader that automatically decoded and displayed jpg and gif binaries, but I recall it only decoding base64 when much of usenet was using uuencode. I got tired of saving messages and passing them through an external decoder so I discovered Free Agent, my favourite usenet client of all time. Right up there with Eudora for a graphical mail client.

    I took my name from hanging out in a group called alt.tasteless where I heard "grogan" a lot, in reference to turds. I think it was originally Australian, the term grogan. I've used it as a pseudonym since 1994.

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      This character had a lot to do with it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vnuf9-zgdyw

  30. Kev99 Silver badge

    The article on the first commercial spam message is almost identical to the ambulance chasers today saying they'll help Camp Lejuene victims or those claiming to help get the federal compensation relief funds. Both programs are free to access, free to apply, and free to monitor. The ambulance chasers want to get their 40% off the top for doing ten minutes of work.

  31. Joe 59

    Ahhh, rec.motorcycles, my old home on the net.

    Adny being a dick, but being British, just kind of half hearting the trolling

    Sensory Overload, drawing ASCII art in her .sig eventually coming together in the form of a hand cranked film camera filming a dog having sex

    the good old days. I still have my rec.motorcycles patch, and my membership number.

    1. elkster88
      Windows

      rec.motorcycles, AKA Reeky

      > I still have my rec.motorcycles patch, and my membership number.

      As do it.

      But do you have your Geeky (tm) pocket protector? I do.

      UKRM is still active. There's a couple of us refugees from reeky. Drop in and say hi. Reeky is dead, overcome with pharmaceutical spam.

      I remember having some offline discussions with Dr. W, much different "IRL" to his reeky persona.

      1. Smite the Unbeliever

        Re: rec.motorcycles, AKA Reeky

        And I'm DoD #4446, and even met Adny in the flesh (along with some others).

      2. Champ

        Re: rec.motorcycles, AKA Reeky

        Yep, UKRM is still moderately healthy, although a world a way from its 100-posts-a-day heyday.

        There's a few of us old regulars still on there. Aren't there, Eddie?

        1. HenryCrun

          Re: rec.motorcycles, AKA Reeky

          UKRM is moderately healthy, but I'm not sure some of us regulars are quite as healthy :-)

  32. venkatarangan

    Usenet can be the alternative to social media

    Thanks for this article and the pointers - I followed them and setup an account and checking out groups from thunderbird.

    Decades ago, I was a regular user of Usenets and I had completely forgotten about them till this article. For people looking to alternatives to social media and big tech, Usenet can be a viable alternative. Surprising, it is still alive yet they are not popular.

  33. Sanguma

    finally back on it

    but where is everybody? Reminds me of the time I jumped on usenet using knode, c. 2004, subscribed to a number of newsgroups, popped in to see what was doing on one, and woe and behold, the only action was a posting by someone cursing someone else in frankly not very interesting terms of unendearment ...

    There's a lot more newsgroups in existence than there are people on them. It's almost zenlike in its absences. The sound of one hand clapping is the sound of usenet ghosts reminiscing about their past histories ...

  34. Oh Homer
    Childcatcher

    Long form discourse

    I realise that having an actual conversation using complete sentences is a bit passé, although some people on Reddit have been accused of trying.

    Sadly, by the time I finally discovered Reddit, it had already degenerated into a shithole filled with incomprehensible degens and tin-pot dictator mods, the latter of whom take a perverse pleasure in enforcing entirely unwritten rules, or in other words just making up shit as they go. Which is, frankly, pretty much every social network platform these days.

    Just look at YouTube, for example. The latest case I heard about is a thirty-something YouTuber who is being constantly demonetised because, according to the divine algorithm, she's a child, and children hosting YouTube channels is verboten ... or something.

    A lot of Usenet is also moderated, of course, but from what I remember with significantly more sanity. However, personally I'd rather be the judge of what I do or don't get to read, and unlike every web-based social network out there, Usenet clients actually provide the tools necessary to do that ... properly.

  35. Fred Goldstein

    I used Usenet a lot in the 1980s; it was the main place for discussions on line, given that the Internet was still not open to the public but you could often still get to a UUCP server. Yes, it had some flame wars and spam, but there was still a lot of good content. The web killed it -- discussions moved to topical web sites. By the turn of the century I rarely visited. I still do sometimes look at a few groups via Eternal September using Thunderbird (which has a decent client), but mostly they're reposts from elsewhere. And some very disturbed people tying up some groups with maniacal strings of insults at each other, day in and day out.

    But I did become a member of the Big-8 Management Board in the 2010s. Its job was to vet new-group proposals. (The alt.-hierarchy was, of course, not vetted.) During that time we got, oh, approximately, uh, oh yeah, ZERO new group proposals. We just squabbled among ourselves over some petty issues. Eventually Tristan & Co. volunteered to take over and we happily let them.

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