I’m digging through old Usenet archives today, to see whether I can connect that early net publishing to blogs today, and honestly, we’ve been discussing the same stuff for twenty years. At 1985-02-22 08:57:16 PST a woman answered a question as to whether one can fall in love online thus:

I never fell for anybody I met over Usenet, but I have fallen for at least 3 people over Arpa. One did not work out, one we will see
about, and one is in negotiation.

Interesting that ARPANET gave better hunting than Usenet, don’t you think? And I wonder how the negotiation ended up. I’m thinking of comparing Usenet in the eighties to blogs today, tracing a line of inheritance, so the rest of this post will be links and ideas, mostly so I can keep track of this myself. I’ll add to this post as I go.

Books I’ll want to look at:

Online sources:

Salient facts:

  • “According to the New Hacker’s Dictionary, Usenet was “originally
    implemented in 1979-1980 by Steve Bellovin, Jim Ellis, Tom Truscott,
    and Steve Daniel at Duke University”. Usenet news was initially
    transmitted via UUCP to a few sites and so little was transmitted
    that you could easily read all the articles posted in one day.” (from alt.culture.usenet FAQ)
  • Until 1986/87 there were only two top levels, mod and net. With “The Great Renaming” the seven main hierarchies we still know today appeard: comp,misc,news,rec,sci,soc,talk. In addition there are lots of local hierarchies, such as no. for Norway, and ones that are for particular institutions and aren’t distributed everywhere. (source: Hardy’s History, he quotes Woodbury, G. Wolffe. (1992). Re: Famous flame wars, examples please? Usenet newsgroups: alt.folklore.computers, alt.culture.usenet, news.admin.misc, Nov. 30.)

Compare what?

  • Themes: Perhaps a women’s usenet group like net.women.only might be usefully compared to Blogsisters and networks and webrings of blogging women, since the topic matter and purpose would presumably be similar, but I’m not sure.
  • Norwegian: A possibly more practical alternative would be to look at Norwegian Usenet groups and BBSes, but the archives of the BBS I was on in the eighties are lost, the sysop says. There are others, of course.
  • I could compare the style, the kinds of self-representation, the persistency, the community and social network, I could think about how direct the line of descent is….
  • I’d like a fairly small case study, so a discussion about a single topic (or group of topics) in a single forum, perhaps with crossposts to another forum (which is rather like intersecting blog clusters)

Bloggish things about usenet:

  • The timestamp – fixes words in time, highlights both persistence (I can still read what a woman wrote at exactly 1985-02-22 08:57:16 PST) and evanescence (it’s gone, she may be dead, have changed her name, almost certainly her email address, she may live elsewhere, her opinions will have changed) This was the first time the timestamp became this precise, though it has been present in letters, always (?), and in letters it came with a place of writing, too. The woman writing in 1985 may have been writing on the Pacific coast of the USA, as her timezone indicates, but perhaps that was simply the timezone of the server to which she posted her words.
  • Boigy’s Law: The theory that there are certain topics in every newsgroup that are discussed cyclicly, such as every month. Often, the period of the cycle, and the length of the resulting discussion, can be accurately estimated by those who have been around long enough (alt.culture.usenet FAQ) [Mind you, this is probably the case in every community]

Books about letter-writing in years of yore that might yield something about timestamps

Search for articles when at Uni, home IP number not authorised.

13 thoughts on “usenet

  1. Elizabeth Lawley

    Oh, what good timing! For AoIR I’m attempting to take a paper that I wrote back in grad school about Usenet and repurpose it in the context of blogs.

    (the original is here: http://www.itcs.com/elawley/bourdieu.html)

  2. Jesper Juul

    As I recall, ARPANET was the precursor of the internet, so her statement is quite confusing since USENET runs on the arpanet/internet.

    Perhaps by ARPANET she means email?

  3. Jill

    Ah, I was wondering about that, Jesper. But how would she fall in love with someone using email alone? Mailing lists, I guess. Enough people call the web “internet” that I’m sure a 1985 user may have confused ARPANET and usenet and internet…

    Liz, I’m thrilled, we must talk! I think I’m going to go with the timestamp thing rather than a general usenet/blogs thing, but it’s interesting stuff!

  4. Francois Lachance

    The timestamp thing: it also serves to “link” a given missive to a sequence in an exchange. The temporal marker places the posting in a series of postings.

    Such temporal markers offer the writer a set of rhetorical moves that point to the construction of community in terms of both historical depth and contemporary breadth. One can point to the archive and invoke the what-went-before and mark a distance or a rapprochment with precursors. One can point to a cohort phenomenon when several posts in a given time period pick up the same thread.

    Some very clever posters were able to give the impression of being nighthawks (owls?) through the use of delay send mechanisms and as you’ve pointed out the use of accounts in different time zones.

    Good luck sifting your evidence to present the stories.

  5. Jill

    Francois, what an excellent point about the timestamps as marking places in threads, creating context, continuity… Thank you. People faked being nightowls? Good heavens. How strange.

  6. Alex

    My memory here is hazy, but since the date would put it before the “Great Renaming” there would have been three major hierarchies, fa.* would have referred to those newsgroups originating from ARPAnet, and would have been fairly “old school.” (At least to those who were more familiar with ARPAnet than with the other networks that would come to make up the Internet.)

    Usenet was not coterminous with ARPAnet in the early days. UUCP was a P2P protocol for exchanging news that often made it onto major nodes outside of ARPAnet. They became more tightly enmeshed with the establishment of NNTP in 1985/86. (I just looked up RFC 977, which established the NNTP protocol, and it is originally dated February of 1986.)

  7. des

    Threading is handled via message id’s and the “References” header in all threaded newsreaders that I know of – timestamps have a documentary purpose to the extent you believe the computer’s clock to have been set correctly. (Mine isn’t.)

    As a gradual student it was well known that my supervisor came into the office on Christmas day, so one year I used the UNIX “at” command to send him email datestamped the 25th, when I wasn’t in fact in the country, never mind the office.

    I don’t suppose that any of these hovedoppgave are lying around anywhere as nice .pdf’s or anything? Our interlibrary loan service is very bureaucratic and unlikely to believe these are about oceanography, and I yearn very deeply to see Usenet (or similar) Bourdieuised. (I read Elizabeth Lawley’s, which was nice, but left me wanting more.)

  8. Jill

    New hovedoppgaver are usually held electronically by the university libraries, but I think these are too old. If the library had an electronic edition it’d show up on the entry. You could try and track down the authors and ask them?

  9. des

    The fruits of some Googling:

    Eit fors¯k p  konstruere eit felt for personleg datakommunikasjon ved hjelp av Pierre Bourdieu sin praksisteori,
    Jan Fredrik Hovden (HTML)
    and
    Kaos og orden p Usenet,
    Espen Munch (HTML but one file per chapter, which makes it more printable)

    I must say, I do like this InterWebNet thing. Now I just need to learn some sociology and Norwegian…

  10. Jill

    Cool! Thanks, Des!

  11. cuppen

    jill om usenet och blogging
    I’m digging through old Usenet archives today, to see whether I can connect that early net publishing to blogs today… Jill spÂrar bloggingutvecklingens rˆtter i usenetgrupperna.

  12. boigy

    It’s interesting what one finds when googling…

    As the original author of “Boigy’s Law”, I must say I’m rather embarrassed by it now. It’s a simple observation that I’m sure was made many times before I wrote it into the a.c.u. FAQ. I guess I was simply looking for something to name after myself! That’s one facet of Usenet I didn’t appreciate before – your words will live forever. Those you are proud of, but more importantly, those you are not!

    Good luck in your endeavors! And thanks for the trip back to 1995.

  13. Jill

    Oh, wonderful – I’m so glad I left comments open on this. I just presented a talk on timestamps but had (oh dear) actually forgotten this post with all its details. There’s a lot of research could be done here.

Leave a Reply to Jill Cancel reply

Recommended Posts

Machine Vision Presentations

Drones in Society conference

I’m (virtually) attending Elisa Serifinalli’s conference Drones in Society: New Visual Aesthetics today, and will be presenting work-in-progress exploring how drones are presented in the 500 novels, movies, artworks, games and other stories that we have analysed in the Database of Machine […]

Machine Vision

Cultural Representations of Machine Vision: An Experimental Mixed Methods Workshop

Call for submissions to a workshop, Bergen, Norway
Workshop dates: 15-17 August 2022
Proposals due: 15 June

The Machine Vision in Everyday Life project invites proposals for an interdisciplinary workshop using qualitative approaches and digital methods to analyse how machine vision is represented in art, science fiction, games, social media and other forms of cultural and aesthetic expression.

Digital Humanities Machine Vision

What do different machine vision technologies do in fiction and art?

For the Machine Vision in Everyday Life project we’ve analysed how machine vision technologies are portrayed and used in 500 works of fiction and art, including 77 digital games, 190 digital artworks and 233 movies, novels and other narratives. You can browse […]