Friday, January 30, 2004

Back in the day, if people on the Internet were talking about something, they were doing it on Usenet. OK, there were listservs. And IRC. But in general, if you wanted to find the Net's most knowledgeable people on any particular topic, from C to Urban Legends, you could be pretty sure that they'd be reading and posting on the newsgroup(s) devoted to said topic.

Then the imminent death of Usenet actually happened. Sure, it still exists. Sure, there are still some newsgroups (including all the ones linked from this posting) that still serve their original function. But for many other topics, such as programming in any language newer than C, or music, or gaming (etc), the "community" is spread over so many different little mailing lists, Slashdot-like forum sites, blogs (yes, I am aware of the irony), etc.. that there is simply no single point of success for finding people who can answer your questions.

The forums, especially, are like going back to the world of the non-networked BBS. Think about it. Every one of them requires you to re-establish your identity in order to participate (or else post as an AC, assuming they allow it). They use a variety of different software, each type of which has slightly different options and a slightly different interface; and (most importantly) the choice of software and most of the options is up to the Sysop rather than the users. Nobody on any one forum neccessarily knows when the same topic might be discussed on some other forum, unless one person happens to be reading both and posts links. (ok, Usenet has this problem too, but it's worse with forums because their interfaces have no way for a thread to span multiple websites the way a Usenet thread can span newsgroups. Of course, that isn't always a good thing either..).

Perhaps the only advantage that forums have over the BBS of old is that like any other website they are mostly searchable by Google (forums run by proprietary companies who lock out the robots by requiring sign-in to even read the posts are so far below contempt that I won't bother talking about them). This is of course a monumental world-changing advantage over the BBS days, and even over the pre-Deja Usenet. But in these days of Google Groups, Usenet is arguably more searchable than the web. But of course its too late.