The Battle for Usenet

The Battle for Usenet
by Charles A. Gimon
Charles A. Gimon teaches an Intro to the PC Class at the English Learning Center in South Minneapolis.

The whole world reads Usenet. Or at least, there are people in every corner of the world who read it. From Jakarta to Johannesburg to Jacksonville, Florida, international discussions cover just about any topic, technical or trite.

The remarkable thing about Usenet is that the workings behind the grand discussion rely on text. A Usenet news server organizes a vast river of text into files and directories, usually on a system running unix. Each article has headers that govern where it’s filed, where it’s sent, whether it’s kept, and for how long. These headers are simple lines of text that are read by the news software. And because these headers are text, Usenet news can be shared between almost any sort of computer using just about any operating system.

The problem with text is that anyone can dink around with it. You don’t need access to a compiler; for that matter, you don’t really need any programming knowledge at all. Text can be searched using simple tools that are packaged with unix. Getting Usenet to do what you want may be as simple as typing in a bogus header on a message.

Of course, the human factor can be manipulated as well as text. Your message can bounce its way around the world, and if you’re lucky it might be read by thousands of users. In Usenet, you can try to extend your reach by technology, or by psychology, or like some of Usenet’s more infamous personalities over the years, you can use both. READ MORE…