Thursday, January 5, 2012

(empo-tymshft) May 20, 2010 - one possible date for the end of Usenet

I've written in this blog about how Usenet started. When did Usenet end - if it has ended yet? While some people maintain that Usenet ended in 1987, at the time of the Great Renaming, and others maintain that Usenet ended whenever the latest court case shuts down a torrent site, one can make a case that Usenet ended on May 20, 2010. See this May 17 press release from Duke University:

This week marks the end of an era for one of the earliest pieces of Internet history, which got its start at Duke more than 30 years ago.

On May 20, Duke will shut down its Usenet server, which provides access to a worldwide electronic discussion network of newsgroups started in 1979 by two Duke graduate students, Tom Truscott and Jim Ellis.

Working with a graduate student at UNC-Chapel Hill, they came up with a simple program to exchange messages and files between computers at Duke and UNC using telephone modems.

The "Users Network," Usenet for short, grew into an international electronic discussion forum with more than 120,000 newsgroups dedicated to various topics, from local dining to computer programming languages. Each group had a distinctive name such as soc.history or sci.math.

Usenet also played an integral role in the growth of the popularity of the Internet, said Dietolf Ramm, professor emeritus of computer science. At the time, a connection to the Internet was not only expensive but required a research contract with the federal Advanced Research Projects Agency.

"ARPA had funded a few schools to begin the early stages of Internet, but most schools didn't have that," said Ramm, who worked with the students who developed Usenet. "Usenet was a pioneering effort because it allowed anybody to connect and participate in communications."

Many social aspects of online communication -- from emoticons and slang acronyms such as LOL to flame wars -- originated or were popularized on Usenet.

Although e-mail and other forms of online communication have largely supplanted Usenet, it is still in use, with tens of thousands of discussion groups.

Indeed, Truscott -- now a software developer at SAS Institute in Cary -- said he still checks Usenet daily. "In those days, there were very few computers at Duke," he said. "Now Usenet is just one of many choices."

New tools -- from blogs and RSS feeds to Facebook and Twitter -- have made online communication more user-friendly since the days of Usenet, said Lenore Ramm, Dietolf Ramm's daughter, who now works as an IT analyst with Duke's Office of Information Technology (OIT).

"Applications like Twitter have made communicating easier, but the challenges are still the same: trying to keep up with the information flow, sorting through it all and prioritizing what information to take in," she said.

Like an increasing number of Internet service providers who have shut down their newsgroup servers, Duke decided to retire its aging Usenet server based on low usage and rising costs.

The decision prompted a handful of calls to the OIT Service Desk and even some chatter in the blogosphere. Duke users can still access Usenet archives -- the largest collection of posted online messages -- through Google Groups.

Anyone with questions about the shutdown should contact the OIT Service Desk.

Goodbye, !duke!.
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