Those of us from the Dark Ages remember Usenet with feelings of fondness tinged with sadness. Fondness because (certainly for me), in the earlier days of the net it was the ultimate discussion forum. A global discussion medium that was well structured, easy to browse, and wide-ranging. At it’s height, Usenet contained tends of thousands of newsgroups, a large majority of them global, organized into the standard hierarchies. Sadness, because the Usenet that once was is mostly gone.
In the early 90’s, Usenet began to fall apart. Spammers started posting vast quantities of mail to the groups, destroying their community feel. Email lists took over much of the discussion load for specific targeted groups, and of course, the World Wide Web emerged as the defacto information source.
Today, Usenet is a shadow of its former self. There are active groups, but the ‘global community’ that it once was is mostly gone.
What is left over, however, is a structure for organized discussion groups. A fixed protocol for uploading, downloading, and forwarding messages, as well as one of the largest libraries of tools. Readers, analyzers, browsers, interfaces, etc. Some of the best coding came from people writing newsreaders that allowed fast browsing of huge quantities of messages.
Today’s Internet society, in my mind, knows little about these tools. They see blogs and web forums as the normal ‘community’ discussion medium. Personally I find most web forums impossible to read, browse, and carry on discussions on. The blogger community is perpetuating this chaotic structure, making it difficult to carry on well thought out discussions. The threads tend to pontification and fragmentation, rather than reasoned discussion. For examples, look how discussion happens on email lists. Threaded mail readers allow conversational threads to be easily manipulated, and thoughts and comments are carried forward and discussed.
I’m super-pleased to see someone coming up with a GREAT idea. Bloggers have been using the RSS feed specification to exchange information for a while, and aggregator programs collect feeds from multiple source sites and present them in a single form that can be browsed, updated, and sorted.
Folks have come up with nntp//rss, an NNTP / RSS bridge that lets you browse, read, and organize RSS feeds, just like an aggregator. Except instead of re-inventing the wheel, they’ve simply offered the aggregated feeds via an NNTP service. This lets you use the vast library of news clients (the screenshot above is ‘knode’, an outstanding news client included with KDE) to read your blogs.
I’ve set this up inside Homeport, if anyone who has a homeport account wants to check it out, let me know, I’ll give you the information.
Now, there are problems that I’d love to fix. If these things are implemented, I could -easily- see Usenet reinvented this way. Someone in RSS land maybe knows the answers:
- Is there a standard protocol for comments structures? If so, the RSS feeds for sites should set up a ‘followups’ feed, and that could be integrated into the NNTP gateway, so comments would show up as new articles.
- Posting should work remotely – I should be able to hit [F]ollowup in my news client, and the NNTP server will take my local auth information and post an article using it. (Right now NNTP/RSS will allow postings, but using a ‘global’ authorization – and I’m not even sure if the postings will work in the forums.
- NNTP/RSS needs a way to organize sub-groups, similar to Usenet hierarchies. Right now it’s a flat listing.
Fun times ahead, I think 🙂