We're the Usenet Big-8 Management Board! We administer the original discussion groups on Usenet, an online network that was established in 1980, a decade before the World Wide Web.

Usenet is famous for being the place where Tim Berners-Lee announced the launch of the World Wide Web and where Linus Torvalds announced the Linux project. It's also infamous for being the venue for the first major commercial spam incident. Usenet contains some of the earliest recorded (online) discussions of historical events, such as the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. Many now-common technical terms (including antivirus, blog, spyware, and streaming) originated on Usenet.

We recently reconstituted the Board after a three-year dormancy, and have been busy restoring and modernizing its infrastructure, as well as stepping up public outreach efforts to promote Usenet. Ask us anything about the past and future of Usenet and the Big 8, about the technical and social challenges currently facing the network, and about why people still converse on Usenet today (and why you should too)!

The current Board members are Jason Evans (u/Capitan_Picard, a technical training engineer), Tristan Miller (u/Logological, an artificial intelligence research scientist), and Rayner Lucas (u/JamesMowry, a self-employed programmer, electronics hobbyist, and retrocomputing enthusiast). We'll all be here for at least an hour, starting on Friday, May 28 2021 at 19:00 UTC.

Proof: Official website, Twitter, Facebook

Edit at 20:30 UTC Thanks to everyone for your many insightful comments and questions! Things seem to be winding down, and it's getting a bit late here in Europe where the three of us live. We may check back here occasionally over the weekend to answer any further questions.

Comments: 84 • Responses: 33  • Date: 

SnarkyFartBlastoid42 karma

There's a name I haven't heard in a long time. Glad to see you're getting back to it. What apps would you recommend to get back into Usenet? I lost my floppies many, many moons ago.

Capitan_Picard15 karma

There's a name I haven't heard in a long time. Glad to see you're getting back to it. What apps would you recommend to get back into Usenet? I lost my floppies many, many moons ago.

Jason: Thunderbird is the most prevalent. Pan is great on Linux.

nicht_ernsthaft16 karma

I sometimes like to idly dream up alternatives to the current social media landscape, with its surveillance/advertising and centralized control. The first obstacle I see in alternative systems that are more p2p is spam. Usenet faced that crisis first - any insights or thoughts about how communities/technologies can be built that would be resistant to spam without some kind of centralized control?

Capitan_Picard15 karma

Tristan: Back in 1998 some denizens came up with a proposal for Usenet II, which was intended to mitigate a lot of the spam issues without sacrificing (too much of) the decentralized nature of the original Usenet. Sadly, the plans never came to fruition. Tackling spam on Usenet has instead taken the form of cancelbots, moderated newsgroups, and (lately) waiting for spammers in general to lose interest.

nullrecord11 karma

I always felt Reddit was an evolution of Usenet groups. Do you see a future where Usenet evolves again and becomes a better and decentralized Reddit?

Usenet was always anonymous and decentralized, but the big evolution leading to user adoption since then has been post scoring (since slashdot) and upvotes/downvotes and karma - or basically gamification.

This usually requires user registration and accounts in a central database. But since then a number of federated identity systems have developed, as well as private/public key methods of keeping an anonymous yet decentralized identity and scores (cough blockchain cough).

Along with a modern client supporting seamless image and video posting (or a better binary storage system than uuenncode), this would be a really cool thing.

Any such plans?

Capitan_Picard3 karma

Jason: I think this sounds like a good idea. Things like this have been suggested in the past. Someone just needs to see them through. Usenet is open. We personally don't have any plans to reinvent it, but we would love to see positive changes that keep the decentralized simple aspects of Usenet.

Capitan_Picard3 karma

Rayner: Reddit certainly feels like it has a lot of the same spirit as Usenet to me too. As for whether Usenet will have a resurgence as a decentralised forum for conversations, that all depends on the users. We're doing what we can to remind people that Usenet exists and make it easier for more folks to participate.

lkosov10 karma

The Big 8 hierarchy hasn't had a group added in eight years, and for the last decade (at least) has had more group deletions than additions. Some areas, like rec.games, are painfully outdated in topicality.

Do you foresee a future where a Big 8 group gets created again? If so, under what fantastical circumstances?

Capitan_Picard4 karma


Anyone is free to propose the creation of a new group using the official procedure. We've in fact had one or two expressions of interest in the past year, but so far no one has followed through with a creation proposal. So it seems there are some people still thinking about creating new groups. If anyone is interested in doing so, we'd be happy to talk to them!

lessnonymous11 karma

I think this is a big reason why usenet faded while bulletin boards and social media skyrocketed. It has always been way too hard to create new groups. On Reddit I can click a button and create a new space. If nobody uses it, it fades away or gets adopted by a new set of users. On usenet I have to propose it then have a discussion.

Capitan_Picard2 karma

Rayner: Just as a personal opinion here (with the caveat that the others may not agree), I also think it would be good to streamline the group creation process. The current procedure makes a lot of assumptions that may no longer be true, such as "Usenet might become unmanageably messy from the sheer volume of new groups" or "It will be clear when a new group is warranted because the users for it will already be discussing those topics somewhere else on Usenet". With that said, it's still good to get some idea of whether there are enough people around to keep a conversation going in a new group. We'll be considering some of these admin procedures we've inherited, and figuring out if they still make sense for today's Usenet.

reversecowbird8 karma

Think there may be a double-entendre in Green Day's Wake Me Up When September Ends?

Capitan_Picard20 karma

Rayner: We have no idea if anyone in Green Day has heard of Usenet, but you might enjoy knowing that the 16th of January this year was the 10,000th of September 1993

tuttut976 karma

Do the newsgroups log upload or download activity?

If so who is this information turned over to?

Capitan_Picard10 karma

Tristan: Usenet is a decentralized network; each participating server is free to set its own logging and retention policies. Whatever provider you use may or may not be logging traffic from its own users.

Capitan_Picard8 karma

Jason: I can tell you from experience that the new server that I use, INN, only logs basic information like what a post ID and who posted it to keep track of potential spammers. It doesn't log IP addresses like a web server.

caster32356 karma

What was the big/main idea behind the creation of Usenet and how long did it take for the creation of Usenet?

Capitan_Picard12 karma

What was the big/main idea behind the creation of Usenet and how long did it take for the creation of Unsenet?

Jason: It started as a research project between UNC and Duke University in late 1979. It was a way to get a private network between these schools who didn't have ARPAnet access. in 1980, it was presented at the USENIX conference and took off from there.

Capitan_Picard10 karma


Usenet grew fast after its initial launch. There were 3 participating sites in 1979, 100 sites in 1981, over 500 by 1983, and 940 by 1984. Most early adopters were universities and tech companies, each of which might have dozens or hundreds of users.


Usenet quickly attracted a user base in the millions, and by 1984 it was estimated to account for 85% of all network traffic at participating sites. At its peak in the late 1990s, Usenet was seeing 20,000 people post 300,000 unique messages per day, amounting to some 2 GB of new text daily.

lkosov5 karma

If you could pick any one Big-8 group to again reach the absurd levels of activity and vibrancy of the early '90s, which?

Capitan_Picard3 karma

Jason: Good question! While it was never super popular, I would love to see the humanities.* hierarchy get more love and new groups. Also, sci.archaeology.moderated was my goto newsgroup when I was in college.

Tristan: comp.ai (but then again, I'm biased because I'm an AI researcher and also moderator of that group). My non-conflict-of-interest choice would be rec.humor.funny. Brad Templeton did a phenomenal job as editor for that group.

Capitan_Picard2 karma

Rayner: As a vintage computing nerd, I'd love to see a new heyday for groups like
comp.sys.atari.st and comp.sys.sinclair. I miss rec.humor.funny too, the archive is still online at netfunny.com but I feel like topical jokes don't really work so well when they're 20 years late.

m0le4 karma

How do you feel about the common use of usenet these days being piracy?

Are any of you active members of the scary devil monastery?

Capitan_Picard2 karma

Rayner: I lurk and know the necessary secret rites, but I'm not quite enough of a sysadmin to be an active member :-) I've met a few of the old regulars in the pub, and can confirm that the newsgroup nickname is entirely appropriate.

da_peda3 karma

  • Which resources would you recommend for someone who hasn't used Usenet before (clients, servers, groups, …)
  • Do you see any future in bridges like nntpit?
  • What should I do if I want to setup an internal NNTP server for my club/school/company/…
  • What should I expect if I want to setup an NNTP server that's talking to other servers?

Capitan_Picard5 karma

  • Jason: I wrote some tutorials for complete newbies using Thunderbird since it is available for every OS
  • Tristan: I'm all for NNTP gateways like nntpit and Gmane, as they allow for reading threaded discussions in a sane(r) and more versatile interface. But these things should generally be run on a dedicated NNTP server that isn't connected to the rest of Usenet, because the communities they bridge generally don't follow the same rules of Netiquette.
  • Jason: Take a look at the documentation for INN. Join newsgroups like news.admin.peering to get feeds from other people and news.software.nntp for help setting up the server
  • Jason: If you care about text only newsgroups, 20GB and 1GB of RAM will do plenty. A cheap VPS is really all you need.

Capitan_Picard3 karma

Rayner: Usenet clients, I'm using Microplanet Gravity at the moment, which is slightly clunky but decent as a stand-alone application. Thunderbird has newsgroup support built-in, and may be a nice familiar interface for anyone who's used to using it for mail.

FnordDesiato3 karma

What is the most comprehensive archive that's freely available today, specifically of the 90s to early 2000s?

Capitan_Picard1 karma

Jason: archive.org has done a fantastic job of keeping archives in .mbox format. You can open mbox files with Thunderbird with an addon which is super useful for catching up on Usenet history.

36gianni363 karma

What do you think about Usenet mainly being known for piracy these days?

Capitan_Picard2 karma

Rayner: As a wise man once wrote, the street finds its own uses for things. I do think it's strange that Usenet took off as a file-sharing platform, because it's a ridiculously inefficient way to move bulk data. Everything needs to be text-encoded in some way, there's no guarantee that all posts will make it to all servers, and posts get propagated all over the network regardless of whether any end-user specifically requests them or not. The only thing I can see that makes it good for piracy is its distributed nature, but even there things like Bittorrent do the job far more sensibly. Or so I hear.

NorthStarZero2 karma

Are you the Cabal?

Capitan_Picard1 karma

Rayner: There is, of course, no Cabal :-) To give a somewhat serious answer, though, the anarchic nature of Usenet means the Board only has whatever influence everyone else chooses to give it.

Jason: I assume you mean this cabal. Any other cabals that we may or may not be involved with will not be spoken of upon threat of death and eternal punishment. Anyway, no we aren't and I recomment checking out the Usenet history section of David C. Lawrence's Managing Usenet. He has his colleagues tried to democratize the Big-7 hierarchies (humanities.* hadn't been created yet) instead of having a secret cabal of news server admins. This book was published 7 years before the board was formed in 2003 but he does a great job of talking about why the board was needed.

IdealBlueMan2 karma

Are you going to bring back Serdar Argic? Kinda miss him.

Capitan_Picard3 karma

Jason: No, but we would gladly welcome Kibo.

Capitan_Picard2 karma

Tristan: Personally I'm holding out for the return of Ed "Man As Old As Coal" Conrad.

Capitan_Picard2 karma

Rayner: I hope Mr. Argic is spending a happy retirement somewhere with Laurence Canter and Martha Siegel.

goldfishpaws2 karma

Does the Usenet Oracle still haunt your servers?

Capitan_Picard2 karma

Jason: Sadly, no but there are archives available.

Poobeard762 karma

Who do you think would win in a fight: One 20-foot tall Tim Berners-Lee vs. 20 1-foot tall Linus Torvaldses?

Capitan_Picard1 karma

Rayner: My money's on the 20 Linuses, that's gonna be an overwhelming tide of sarcastic flaming.

Capitan_Picard0 karma

Jason: Linus's by sheer grit alone. You wouldn't like him when he's angry.

Tristan: Archimedes Plutonium would sweep in to crush them both.

Such-End-9872 karma

How difficult is it to stay relevant when you have the tech giants like Facebook doing similar things?

Capitan_Picard4 karma

Tristan: Usenet's transparency and lack of centralized control give it important advantages over newer forms of social media. It's versatile, resilient, and resistant to censorship in ways that Facebook and Twitter can never be.

kamtib2 karma

I have a few questions. 1. As far as I know all groups within Usenet big 8 are a textbase group. This means you cannot post files along with the text like Reddit for example. Do you planning a system or something so it would easier for new user to get interact with Usenet?

  1. I heard that to run a usenet server or service is expensive. That's why nowadays most of the usenet backbone or infrastructure is own by only several companies. What is your view as Usenet big 8 management board regarding this issue.

Capitan_Picard2 karma

Rayner: I agree that the text-only requirement of most Usenet groups is awkward when someone really needs to reference an image or other file. One downside of Usenet being open and decentralised is that it's unbelievably hard to change an established way of doing things because of the sheer number of people using software that's been written or configured under the old assumptions. I'd currently recommend hosting images on Imgur and posting a link.
As for running your own NNTP server: you can do this cheaply with modest hardware and bandwidth, if you're only interested in text groups. You can download the INN server software for free, and ask in news.admin.peering for other admins to peer with. See Jason's tips above (https://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/nn4vp8/were\_the\_usenet\_big8\_management\_board\_ask\_us/gzsmjz1/). It will help a lot to have some background knowledge of Unix/Linux administration.

xilix21 karma

I ran my own NNTP server back in the early 90's. Got rid of it a few years later due to the spamming. Back then, I remember having our server download EVERYTHING and it amounted to about 9GB/day, which back in the 90's I thought was alot.

Question: What is the current daily traffic if one was to subscribe to all the groups ?

Capitan_Picard1 karma


Text only newsgroups: 2-3GB per month

Binary groups: I hear it's a few TB per month but my server doesn't carry them so I can't tell you exact numbers.

Duffadash2 karma

What are your suggestions for long-term preservation of Usenet posts? I work with the Royal Library which already do web archival, but would really like to make sure we also properly preserve Danish Usenet posts. Who should I contact?

Capitan_Picard1 karma

Jason: Contact archive.org. I don't know who is responsible for their Usenet archives, but they do a fantastic job.

Esc_ape_artist2 karma

The world of alt. still exists? Wow! I spent far too much time on Usenet back when the internet was much slower and far more limited.

What would you say is the biggest draw Usenet has today that keeps people coming back when so much is faster and easier on the open web?

crypt0dax1 karma


Capitan_Picard1 karma

Jason: There will always be hobbyists like me to run servers that don't carry binaries just because we can. If the binary groups all dried up, it wouldn't kill Usenet.

Capitan_Picard1 karma

Jason: Usenet is very difficult to police. While you can be banned from a moderated group, you can't be banned or shadow banned from any unmoderated group. This puts the onus on you to filter out anything you don't want to see. A lot of people like that. If you're a jerk, it may feel like you are being ignored and that's probably because you're on everyone's filter list.

DoppelFrog1 karma

How long does Usenet have left? By most measures it's an inferior 'product',

Capitan_Picard3 karma

Jason: It will be around as long as there is at least one server left. It has years to go.

Rayner: Usenet will last for as long as people want to keep using it. As for whether it's inferior to a centrally-controlled social network, I guess it depends what you want out of it, but I think the network will last longer if there's a conscious effort to make things less mysterious for new users.

r3dk0w-1 karma

Isn't this AMA breaking the USENET rules? You know, the rule to not talk about USENET?

Capitan_Picard1 karma

Rayner: No, that's not Usenet, you're thinking of Fi... wait, dammit, that was close