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November 19th, 2004

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01:47 am - Last Post
Many happy returns of the day to beingjdc today and lnr tomorrow. Which, at the rate I write LJ posts, may well turn into "yesterday" and "today" respectively before long.

End of an era tonight, as I have cleared the last remaining newsgroups from my e-mail-and-news program. I regard myself as off USENET for good now, probably never to return. About a half of you may know to what I refer; let me take the other half of you back on a journey into what people used to do before LiveJournal.

I first encountered the Internet upon going to university in the autumn of 1994. At that time, the World Wide Web existed in an early and limited form, but the graphical browser of choice was "Mosaic", which has been regarded as an antiquity for at least five years. Soon afterwards we started to use Netscape Navigator, which was better because it didn't make you wait for the whole page to load before displaying any part of it. (I don't remember this personally - I'm cribbing from Wikipedia here.) People were excited about services, (almost?) completely now consigned to history, called Gopher and Archie. Getting information about the Internet, and about what was happening in the world over the Internet, was difficult. Search engines didn't really exist, though Yahoo! was a directory at that point - probably a hand-edited directory, at that.

Nevertheless, I had read in a very early book about the Internet about the existence of topic-based discussion forums called newsgroups, and I had written the names of some interesting-looking newsgroups and mailing lists down. (I was also very interested in MUDs - Multi-User Dungeons - but I never really took to them in practice, especially not in comparison to my best friend at the time, who eventually became a god on the Zebedee MUD, with which old mono readers may be familiar.)

Newsgroups were, and are, text-based one-to-many communication fora very similar in principle to today's LJ communities and web-based bulletin boards. They have existed since 1979, when originally the data was transferred electronically between Unix servers which would have had nothing to do at the time with the Internet, but they took off over the late 1980s up until the late 1990s, first in American universities and (eventually) through mainstream commercial use of the Internet. Newsgroups are defined by their name and associated charter, which will suggest which topics are appropriate for discussion in that one newsgroup. That said, anyone can post anything to that newsgroup in practice. Moderation procedures exist to disallow the propagation of off-topic posts and work variably well. It's possible to transmit data files (pictures, sounds, movies, software) but generally discouraged except through the clunky and unreliable route of specifically binaries-oriented groups.

There has long been a desire within the human nature to broadcast news or opinion to many people at once. It has been within easy reach of the man on the street for decades through the medium of printed postal fanzines, though duplication methods that are simple, reliable, clean and cheap are relatively recent. Newsgroups, like e-mail mailing lists, eliminated many of the barriers to participation. Of course they threw up plenty of their own, not least access to the technology, but many technically-minded geeks found them second nature. Accordingly, the conversations tended to be populated by technically-minded geeks - which is fine, or even advantageous, for discussions on technical and geeky things.

One reason why newsgroups were largely preferred to mailing lists is the existence of specific newsreader software, which let you very efficiently process a great deal of information in a little time. (Here "process" means "ignore 90% of" in practice: Sturgeon's Law - 90% of everything is crud - famously applies here. (Thank you, spaf.) Even old newsreaders are considerably better-suited to their task, though significantly less attractive-looking, than almost(?) all web-based fora I've seen. News is essentially ephemeral and so doesn't need to be treated with the same gravity and storage that e-mail requires.

The question which then presents itself is why I have shifted my attention from newsgroups to LiveJournal. I liken the space formed by textual content, such as opinion, to a 3-D grid. Consider time to be the axis of depth, subject to be the axis of height and the identity of the poster to be the axis of width. Then whenever you express an opinion, be it through LJ or a newsgroup, you are making your mark in this space - a mark that will be left behind as the axis of time progresses at its steady rate. If you want to observe some opinions, you can either look at a wide slice, where you see everything that has been posted on a particular subject (over the most recent unit of time), or a tall slice, where you see everything that has been posted by a particular poster (over the same unit of time).

They both have their uses; people still want to look for information and discussions on a particular topic, but find that they can get more meaningful, personal interaction with a poster by seeing what they have to say on many different subjects. In short, I am usually more likely to be interested in what someone I respect - i.e., a Friend - has to say on a topic with which I am unfamiliar, than I am to be in someone unfamiliar writing on a topic I like. I say "more likely" because there's certainly a continuum between the two and neither is inherently superior to the other.

The major social problem with reading the opinion-space is avoiding or ignoring content that is of no interest or value to you. Newsgroups did this moderately well with a system of kill-files to eliminate comments from posters you wished to ignore. Kill-files have a less well-known brother, accept-files, where you don't get to see any particular content in a newsgroup except that provided by specific posters of your choice. There were many newsgroups, in later days, where I would deliberately only "tune in" to a small number of posters who had made their reputations with me over a long period of time.

A very significant problem with newsgroups is that of spam - unsolicited bulk posts. Spamming started in 1994, commercial spamming later that year. People fought back against it, but it was a losing battle. Bulk junk on newsgroups predates e-mail spam. (We all know why spam is so named, right?) Spam, trolling and miscellaneous departure of respected, knowledgeable posters all contributed significantly to a fall in the mythical signal-to-noise ratio; when it got too low, or interest flagged, a good sign that it's time to drop the newsgroup. With the world of blogs, it's easy to - and, indeed, you are required to proactively - subscribe to those people whose signal-to-noise ratios you trust. Habitual graphical-meme-not-behind-a-LJ-cut posters? That's noise :-)

Weblogs in general, and LiveJournal in particular, do offer a number of other advantages over newsgroups: easy customisation of appearance, attractive appearance (dezzikitty's new layout is simple but gorgeous!), very easy interaction with the rest of the Web, integration with non-textual forms of data, polls, fun with icons, some sort of security, the list goes on. However, there have often been discussions of whether it might be a good thing to be able to read LJ in your newsreader. There's merit in the concept.

Anyway, the newsgroups I finally archived my saved data from and said goodbye to tonight were:

news.announce.important, uk.net.news.announce, demon.announce, news.announce.newsgroups: four announcement newsgroups. The first has had possibly three or four on-topic posts in the time I've been following it, but that's as expected. demon.announce relates to my ISP, whose dial-up I no longer use, the other two relate to the announcement of new newsgroups.

alt.tv.game-shows: my first, and longest-lasting, home on the Internet. Are any of you in a rare fandom and enjoyed a tremendous flourish of excitement when you weren't completely alone in that fandom? Well, that was me with game shows in 1994; I didn't know that there could be such things as game show fans. As newsgroups go, it was a very good newsgroup, full of entertaining and witty people. It was a thrill to visit the US mostly to go and visit them. A salute to all the a.t.g-s crowd in my Friends list - especially to lambertman, who gave me my invite code, back in the day, and who has had some sort of diary on the Internet for more years than I care to imagine. I don't think the good old RambL! On was quite as old as the Game Show Page, back in the days when there was a game show page singular, but it can't be much less old.

As an aside, not nearly enough fuss was made of the fact that lambertman's Game Show Page turned ten at the start of October. A web page that's been maintained for ten years, and pretty regularly updated for at least seven or eight of them... well, that's an outstanding achivement. Anyone can have a ten-year-old web page; why, I do (well, it must be nine and a quarter). Remember when I was talking about pages viewed with Mosaic? Mine was fairly typical and this strange rant of mine ("[...] You shouldn't need anything more than Lynx to access these pages...") rather dates it. Anyhow, mine is a bad web site that has survived the years, where Chri$'s is a fantastic web site that has survived the years and gone from strength to strength. Content, content, content.

People left alt.tv.game-shows pretty much en masse to a moderated web board simply because of the volume of crap. It's not the same, and we're starting to get more crap (though not nearly as bad crap, certainly) and senses of humour are getting uglier and, well, we're going to go round and round again. I'd rather stick with the people I know and trust, thank you, but there are tons of old a.t.g-sers who I miss and would dearly like to get back in contact with: Aaron Solomon, Stan Ryckman, Alan Mitsugi, Steve Leblang, Jim Ellwanger, David Hammett, Matt Ottinger, Brian Hamburg... (Chris Lemon has a blog, but I don't actually like his sense of humour, so I don't follow it. I'm sure he doesn't follow mine, either.) If Zach Horan had a LJ, I would probably read it. Seriously. (Googling for Zach Horan livejournal revealed this, which amused.)

There's more valediction of alt.tv.game-shows and its fine inhabitants to be done, Game Show Conventions to be relived, GSC-title grudges to be borne, dammit, but not today. I started writing this post four hours ago. (And got heavily, but happily, distracted along the way!)

uk.games.board, rec.games.board: groups about board games in the UK and worldwide. The board game newsgroup started off heavily talking about obscure old Avalon Hill games and board games that I have no interest in (Titan, Axis & Allies, Risk, and so on...) but became far more to my taste as tastes in board games spread across the US. I have fond memories of rec.games.board - far more literate and free from crap than most newsgroups, possibly still worthwhile even today.

rec.games.diplomacy: the classic seven-player board game Diplomacy. I played it twice and hated it, but I like Diplomacy players a great deal. Very good newsgroup, lots of respectworthy posters, high signal-to-noise ratio.

alt.sport.lasertag, alt.sport.lasertag.laserquest, alt.lasertag.zonegods, alt.sport.photon: I was really quite strongly into laser games in 1991-1992 and have maintained an interest in them ever since. alt.sport.lasertag was full of American mainstream smack talk sports culture, but there were some extremely funny, charismatic, downright cool posters in there. I read alt.sport.qzar (QZar, the US trading name for the laser game known in the UK as Quasar - and, oh, heck, there's another 4,000 words to be written there some other day) for a long time which was a giant, ugly morass about my favourite laser game and alt.sport.photon which had a far higher signal-to-noise ratio. Unfortunately the chance of me ever getting to play something even a little like Photon, one of the great granddaddies of laser gaming, is next to zero, but still technically just positive. Look, whole 'nother post.

rec.humor.oracle: exercise in co-operative humour. Had very high peaks. Might still be doing for all I know.

uk.sport.betting: betting on sport in the UK. Loads of adverts and crap, but some excellent analysis and good cameraderie.

uk.transport.air: almost certainly the last new newsgroup I subscribed to. Not very interesting.

demon.service, demon.service.isdn, demon.ip.support.turnpike: internal groups for the ISP I used to use for dial-up and still use for e-mail. demon.service is a bit of a grumpy old bearpit.

Those were the ones which survived to the end, but I wouldn't be giving full value if I didn't mention the long and (usually) happy times I spent with the UK TV newsgroups rec.arts.tv.uk, its successor rec.arts.tv.uk.misc and uk.media.tv.misc.

Heck, let's call this a two-parter and stop here for the night. In the sequel I will talk about the Oxford newsgroups, about the uk.* newsgroup management process, about famous newsgroups I didn't read, about DejaNews and Yahoo! Groups and about the future of communication. I say this so that at least some of the happy reminiscence to be had gets saved for later. Is it acceptable to stop a LJ post half-way through just because I want to go to bed? It's my LJ and I make the rules, so I say that it is, but I shall try not to make a habit of it.

Good night, everybody!
Current Mood: nostalgicnostalgic

(24 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:November 18th, 2004 06:13 pm (UTC)
*blushes* It's a pretty simple layout, hon. Same one I've had since this summer, just with different colors!

You *are* a geek...but you're my geek. *cuddles* I imagine I was a good part of the distraction during the creation of this post - sorry about that! :D

(BTW - this is the 4,000th comment that I've posted! Don't you feel special? :D On a more serious note...you *are* special. I'm a very, very lucky girl to have found you, and I don't mention that *nearly* enough. I love you. <3)
[User Picture]
Date:November 18th, 2004 06:51 pm (UTC)
Not again, guys. Get a room!!!! :-)
[User Picture]
Date:November 21st, 2004 08:40 am (UTC)

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em

Oh, this is a room. ;-)

Hey, you clicked on the "# comments" button!
[User Picture]
Date:November 21st, 2004 08:39 am (UTC)
Yeah, but what an attractively-chosen set of different colours! There has got to be scope to use the interior design knowledge you've picked up from Trading Spaces on blogs, and I think you've found it.

:-) You make me tremendously happy and you make all the difficulties worthwhile. I hope you're enjoying the food you've found (though, at a guess, food has long passed and you're grooming right now?) and I know that the interview will go well.

*snogs* *loves*
[User Picture]
Date:November 18th, 2004 06:27 pm (UTC)

Really, I can spell. :P

I'm just amazed you stuck with USENET this long. I gave up on it *thinks* 6 years ago? It had just deteriorated so much, and there were other places to find the same people/topics. I'll give you extra loyalty and stubbornness points, however. ;)
[User Picture]
Date:November 18th, 2004 06:41 pm (UTC)

Those were the days . . .

Yeah, the second thing I ever did online was look for transit-related newsgroups. From March 1996 until December 1999 I was hot and heavy on misc.transport.urban-transit, misc.transport.road, ba.transit, sac.general, misc.transport.rail, and one or two others. But my newsreader crashed due to Y2K on 01-01-00, and it never started working again.

But then, in September 2002, I discovered Livejournal, and that crushing hole in my heart was filled permanently by our current medium. I do admit to occasionally browsing my old USENET stomping grounds, but there's been a pretty much 100% turnover in all of them, so I don't know the new folks.

[User Picture]
Date:November 18th, 2004 08:28 pm (UTC)
Heck, let's call this a two-parter and stop here for the night. In the sequel I will talk about the Oxford newsgroups...

Ah, ox.test, such happy memories...even I succumbed eventually...*grin*

And, heck, I browsed with lynx until I left Oxford...
[User Picture]
Date:November 21st, 2004 08:51 am (UTC)
I don't actually remember many of the specifics of the mighty ox.test, but that may be for the best. It's more fun to try to back-create what they might have been!

I know one extremely bright young geek who started not long ago at Oxford (hello, foreverdirt!) of the type who would undoubtedly be an Invariant if it didn't clash with Scottish Country Dancing on a Tuesday evening. She may be able to let us know how geeks find each other in Oxford days other than through society connections. I fear that people just aren't finding the ox.* groups any more, and there isn't nearly as strong a way to connect the Oxford geeky dots any more. Or perhaps searching for "Oxford University" as an interest, and associated communities, does the trick - I'm not sure.
[User Picture]
Date:November 19th, 2004 12:39 am (UTC)

I dip into usenet now and again via Google Groups - for instance it's usually the fastest place to get consolidated figures for UK local government by-elections, because the Lib Dems post them to uk.politics.electoral

For a practical example of the transfer of a newsgroup en bloc to LJ, see alt.fan.momus and imomus...
[User Picture]
Date:November 19th, 2004 12:44 am (UTC)
I stopped using Usenet at the point at which I realised the truth behind that old saying "Usenet is a write-only medium". All too often, conversations took the form:

<completely wrong thing>
<pointer to previous discussion on same topic>
<flames directed at original poster>
<thread is now long enough that someone else posts the same completely wrong thing having not read the original>

Repeat until bored.

On LJ, I can write each entry not only assuming my readers have been following the plot thus far, but I can provide backlinks in case they haven't, delete flames, link images and web resources into the discussion and...

Why did anyone like Usenet again ?

Oh yes: threading. And there's the heart of the matter - for all but the most disciplined technical discussions, threading is a disadvantage. It just took some of us 5 years to realise this !

[PS. Hoping for some mention of ox.nomic in part 2 !]
[User Picture]
Date:November 19th, 2004 09:25 am (UTC)
Ah, ox.nomic. I was just looking through the archives of that recently; good times.

I have to generally disagree with your point about news; it was generally much easier to follow conversations and topics in news than any web-board I've seen. It's just a shame no-one uses them much anymore because of all the spam.

Comparing news to lj isn't really equivalent; they don't serve the same purpose.
[User Picture]
Date:November 21st, 2004 08:56 am (UTC)
And I looked through it again this morning. Good times indeed! Were I get the chance to play Nomic again, I suspect I might do so in a reasonably similar way; possibly a little more thoughtfully and a little less annoyingly emotionally, but probably only a little :-)
[User Picture]
Date:November 19th, 2004 01:22 pm (UTC)
That's ox.games.nomic, and sadly I don't have much of that archived (although what I do have tells me you were a lurker but not a player). I think it died before Oxford got its new news server, which goes to explain why that newsgroup's article numbers are still in double digits.

Oh yes: threading. And there's the heart of the matter - for all but the most disciplined technical discussions, threading is a disadvantage. It just took some of us 5 years to realise this !

Justify your answer (10 marks). There must be some reason why most newsreaders support threading. Even LiveJournal has threading.
[User Picture]
Date:November 19th, 2004 04:39 pm (UTC)
The OxNomic web site indicates that the game began in October 1996; the latest activity I see recorded on the web site was in May 1998. I don't remember hearing of a new news server arriving by then (and went down in summer 1998).

And it was that game which introduced me to the Invariant Society.
[User Picture]
Date:November 21st, 2004 09:19 am (UTC)
I suspect Nomic activity is cyclic; it's too interesting and too fundamental an idea ever to go out of fashion for good.

I'm a little worried that I can't find any mentions of James Mushin on the Internet since his university days, which seems worryingly unlikely. Is he well? Has he changed his name?

James, if this finds you on an ego-surf, please check in! I miss you and am sure that there are lots of others, not least the Invariants here.
[User Picture]
Date:November 21st, 2004 10:01 am (UTC)
I bumped into James on London Bridge a few years ago (I'd guess 2000, give or take a year): he was doing something actuarial, if memory serves me correctly.
[User Picture]
Date:November 21st, 2004 09:09 am (UTC)
I've worked out what my opening move would be if I were ever to play in another game of Nomic starting from the standard initial set of rules (which, I maintain, aren't ideal; instead, I still strongly prefer the spirit behind the set used in "You Don't Know). It would (probably) be to propose the change of rule 213 from

"If the rules are changed so that further play is impossible, or if the legality of a move cannot be determined with finality, or if by the Judge's best reasoning, not overruled, a move appears equally legal and illegal, then the first player unable to complete a turn is the winner."

to something which promotes the continuation of the game and encourages players to co-operate to keep the game going and growing and developing. (Some sort of clause declaring all the players to be equal losers in last place, regardless of point scores, would do.) My proposal may not pass - but, if it doesn't, then I will leave the game to those who enjoy that sort of thing for I certainly do not.

I note that OxNomic's 219 was slightly different, but similar in spirit.

I agree with you about threading, imc.
[User Picture]
Date:November 21st, 2004 09:17 am (UTC)
All considerable advantages indeed, which is a large part of the reason why I left USENET. The advantage of being able to provide backlinks is a very considerable one, often underestimated.

I enjoy articles about writing better weblogs (etc.), but there aren't many around. (Or, perhaps, I'm looking in the wrong place.) This one is probably most famous for its advice about "Be sexy" and "Make good enemies", but "Use your archives" is probably the most underestimated tip in there.
[User Picture]
Date:November 19th, 2004 04:50 am (UTC)
thank you. :)
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
Date:November 21st, 2004 09:28 am (UTC)

*salutes* Ooh, that's hardcore!

It's true that we are still in the early days of LiveJournal. My journal is #560,000 or so (well, early - in fact, #588,494) and now we're over #5,000,000. Two and a third years history isn't a lot, but already I'm in the earliest 15% or so. I do have a theory that many of my best ideas came at, or towards, the start, and weblogs don't generally tend to get better with time.

It'll be very interesting to see whether LiveJournal sticks around for the duration or not, whether LiveJournal attracts an increasing or decreasing share of the blogspace at large. If something overtakes LiveJournal, and does so for genuine reasons of technical capability rather than fashion, then it seems likely that many of us will jump to the new system, whatever it is. I would really like it to be able to back-incorporate these 2+ LiveJournal years.

(On the other hand, I haven't felt the need to start typing my old diary entries into LiveJournal and saving them as private entries - but if I had a billion dollars then I'd hire someone to do so. Probably someone with excellent discretion and who didn't speak English but was merely very accurate at copy-typing.)

On the other hand, far less of LJ's direction seems to be to do with adding fun new features than it used to be, I perceive, simply because LJ has got to a size where the scalability issues (both technical and social) are taking up all the staff's time. This is a shame and does give the place less of an air of vitality.
[User Picture]
Date:November 19th, 2004 01:50 pm (UTC)
So much flamebait, so little time!

I still read half a dozen newsgroups outside ox.* more-or-less in their entirety (with the exception that in one of them I kill any article cross-posted to more than two newsgroups) and dip into one or two more. None of those has a spam problem, to the extent that I still find it unusual if I spot one in any one newsgroup on a particular day. This is largely due to the efforts of those selfless souls in the net-abuse newsgroups who go about cancelling mass posts, so it's conceivable that you could be seeing more spam if you use a news server which doesn't respect cancels or NoCem posts. Or maybe you just inhabit the wrong newsgroups. :-)

Weblogs in general, and LiveJournal in particular, do offer a number of other advantages over newsgroups:

And some disadvantages too…

easy customisation of appearance, attractive appearance

A triumph of style over content, in some cases. Most of the heavily customised journals I've seen have either been ghastly or much harder to read than the default style — or both (which is why I read pretty much everything in my own style these days). I am happy to say that dezzikitty's is not one of these.

very easy interaction with the rest of the Web, integration with non-textual forms of data

I find that somewhat irrelevant; in any case it's often trivial to follow a URL from a news post (unless it's a long URL which has been mangled by a bad user-agent, mentioning no Outlooks), and web browsers can be integrated with newsreaders these days for the opposite direction. Not to mention Google Groups and other news-on-the-web portals.

polls, fun with icons

Admittedly this is something that isn't common on Usenet, though you could always set the poll up on a public poll site and post the link to it.

some sort of security

And that is of course where the media are quite different.
*   *   *

The chief disadvantage of LJ over Usenet is that it's quite hard to keep track of a discussion. And once you have more than about 50 comments on a journal entry it becomes well-nigh impossible to keep track, owing to LJ's "helpful" tactic of collapsing the threads. With most newsreaders it's trivial to discover whether there are any new posts, and to go straight to them without having to skip over the ones you have already read.
[User Picture]
Date:November 21st, 2004 09:43 am (UTC)
Hmm. I hope I made it clear that I was noting the passing of my involvement with USENET rather than the passing of USENET itself, at the cost of making the article probably quite tedious (unless you're a very soft target!) in the extent to which it is self-centred. I'm glad that there are still large parts of it which are working well for you.

Or maybe you just inhabit the wrong newsgroups. :-)

Or perhaps my criteria for determining the identity of the "right" newsgroups are wrong!

Styles: mmm, I take your point, but when you see gorgeous ones (and, for instance, mortari has uncommonly many of them) then it goes some way to redressing the balance for me.

Wasn't trivial for me to follow a URL from a news post, but wasn't a large enough point to outweigh the reasons why I chose the software I did.

Very good point about the chief disadvantage of LJ and one that other people have raised in the past. It must be the case that either (a) someone will solve this some day or (b) the LJ architechture is set up so that nobody can solve it. If it's case (b), then uh-oh. :-) (Perhaps there is a client that does the job already, though, that just isn't as famous as it deserves to be.)
Date:November 21st, 2004 04:51 pm (UTC)
Wow, you took part in all this internet group stuff way back! In answer to your question about finding an internet group that was into what you're into... Yeah, when I first discovered HPfandom three years ago, that was the highlight of my life. :) And so was the whole LJ community thing.

Guess it was time for you to move on (in reference to the newsgroups)?
[User Picture]
Date:November 26th, 2004 05:12 am (UTC)
The concept of opinionspace is nice: another way to picture scatter or focus in topics.

You introduced me to teh Internet in the autumn of 1994, when all that was available in Catz computer room was telnet and gopher (start at src.doc.ic.ac.uk). Thanks! Some people would have kept such a toy to themselves, but you've always wanted to share.

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