Duke University: A Piece of Internet History
By Cara Bonnett
Monday, May 17, 2010
Durham, NC -- This week marks the end of an era for one of the earliest pieces of Internet history, which got its start at Duke more than 30 years ago.
On May 20, Duke will shut down its Usenet server, which provides access to a worldwide electronic discussion network of newsgroups started in 1979 by two Duke graduate students, Tom Truscott and Jim Ellis.
Working with a graduate student at UNC-Chapel Hill, they came up with a simple program to exchange messages and files between computers at Duke and UNC using telephone modems.
The "Users Network," Usenet for short, grew into an international electronic discussion forum with more than 120,000 newsgroups dedicated to various topics, from local dining to computer programming languages. Each group had a distinctive name such as soc.history or sci.math.
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USENET lives, but it's still a sad day. I've been on USENET since 1992 and managed to rise to a position of some prominence there--Friendly Neighborhood Vote Wrangler of alt.usenet.kooks. There, I ran the longest-running, most notorious, and best organized awards on USENET from 2006-2009.
Before that, I posted the monthly summaries on alt.fan.utena from more than a year ending in 2006. Before that, I ran the gRAMDies and the Drum Corps World fan poll on rec.arts.marching.drumcorps (1996-2002 for the gRAMDies and 1993-2003 for the fan poll).
I've had more fun and opportunities at leadership on USENET than I would have believed when I first started posting.
Looks like it's time to actually write that book I've been thinking about for the past 4 years--"USENET: The world's largest functioning anarchy." USENET needs a good history from someone with inside knowledge.