The Way of the Usenet

A Cathedral somewhere in time and spaceFor the second or third time this month I’ve heard the techies preaching a new (mini) tech boom comparable to the one we had in the late 90s early 00s. Consider this article from Slashdot. And this one, the Web 2.0 conference whose theme was a bringing together of diverse or incompatible or simply customizable features to existing web content. (Another Wired.com link here) There was one software I read about which will allow a user, when browsing Amazon or some other such online book store, to automatically check to see if their public library carries the book and to reserve it. Hardly what a CEO might think he’d get rich off of in the previous tech era, but certainly something that I think would be very cool.

And now, not even three weeks later, already the foundation is starting to crack. Wired reports that people are abusing the new technologies (which many or most of us don’t even use yet. Do these people sleep?). Do you remember Usenet, alternately known as newsgroups? Back in the day, say ’93 to say ’00 it was the place to go for questions, answers, and general discussion about almost anything. (I considered myself proud to have created the alt.global-warming newsgroup which spread around the world in a matter of weeks.) But recurrent spam, also known as the signal-to-noise ratio, got too pronounced, and people shifted to forums en masse, and dropped the resource which had never before been seen in the world. For example, in 1993, for a class assignment, I wrote a questionaire on music and religion and posted it to several newsgroups. I received about two hundred responses from all over the world. You couldn’t have done that just years before. (I ended up getting a B on the assignment while my “partners” got As, and it was all my idea in the first place!!!)

The bazaar - somewhere else in space and timeEmail is in a dangerous position now as well. Already my email account which I have had since, say ’94, receives about 400 messages a day, of which maybe two dozen are meaningful. Good thing I have good spam filters, but this is unacceptable. With new, emerging technologies, spam and abuse prevention has to be built right in. Even this blog, which in its defense has spam protection sort-of built in, still gets spammed from time to time by lowlifes who think that people reading a blog about a fiction magazine and rants about the world will somehow want to buy viagra at a discount. (I don’t know, maybe you do?)

And now there are rants (yes, rants) against the “overhyped” Web 2.0 which most of us aren’t even using yet which have reached a holy status among geeks, apparently. It seems people long to become the prophets of cyberspace, coveting the esteemed position of Eric Raymond and his “Cathedral and the Bazaar” which was widely touted as the gospel of the Open Source universe. (And to this day some people still believe every piece of software should be free and open and available for no charge at all. Religions have a life of their own)

I use Skype and RSS and I’m just really getting good at CSS. And that makes me pretty far behind the curve on most things, according to these people. Yet, I suspect we should pay attention, because, while some of these technologies will no doubt fall to the wayside and disappear, some of them will be your email, your usenet, your web of tomorrow. That’s not hype, that’s just the way it goes.