Usenet is sometimes said to be the world’s oldest social network. Since 1980, Usenet has been a massive, global discussion system. Participants can read and post messages (called articles) in discussion forums (called newsgroups). Unlike web forums, Usenet newgroups are available from thousands of independently-operated servers worldwide (instead of just one particular site). You can also use the client of your choice to access them.
Although it is transferred almost exclusively over the Internet using NNTP these days, in the early days, Usenet data was exchanged using UUCP, the ancestor technology of NNCP (much as rsh/telnet are ancestors to ssh).
Suitable for both large & small scales
A Usenet server that is a full participant in the global system can be quite massive. There are “binaries” newsgroups, in which people post large image or video files. These are mostly the realm of commercial pay-for servers, and we aren’t concerned with them here. We are talking about discussion groups. While the overall load for those is <100MB per day, operating a full-fledged Usenet server on the Internet can be heavy in terms of administrative resources, needing to have a 24/7 connection with a static IP that accepts inbound connections, maintaining spam filters, etc. An NNCP feed is ideal for people that wish to run a smaller server – perhaps even on a Raspberry Pi or some other very cheap system – that doesn’t have a public IP and may not be permanently connected to the Internet.
Since the tools that operate Usenet come from an era in which even a Raspberry Pi would have been an unimaginably high level of computing power, the resource requirements for a small site are quite minimal. You could, for instance, operate a family bulletin board, a discussion group among friends, or even something more unique using various Usenet gateways: for instance, a RSS-to-Usenet interface, etc. This could all operate on a Raspberry Pi, and nodes could exchange articles via NNCP. In a closed system like this, NNCP’s multicast areas would be perfect, requiring minimal configuration on the Usenet side with maximum flexibility for you.
Usenet is an example of an Old and Small Technology.
Links to this note
UUCP is a system for exchanging data and requesting remote execution. It dates back to 1979, and was primarily used over Modems using telephone landlines for most of its days of popularity. It is an Asynchronous Communication system, which transmits data from one machine to the next on the way to its destination. Each intermediate node may store the data before passing it on to the next.
This started out at a post on my blog. This edited version is intended to be kept more up-to-date.
Inspired by several others (such as Alex Schroeder’s post and Szczeżuja’s prompt), as well as a desire to get this down for my kids, I figure it’s time to write a bit about living through the PC and Internet revolution where I did: outside a tiny town in rural Kansas. And, as I’ve been back in that same area for the past 15 years, I reflect some on the challenges that continue to play out.
At quux.org, I operate a heavily-peered Usenet server. It peers with others on the Internet using conventional NNTP. Moreover, I also offer partial and full Usenet over NNCP feeds. quux.org carries a full set of text newsgroups, and no binaries.
Arguably the most successful platform whose code can be easily modified at runtime. Emacs presents this through the metaphor of a text editor, though the Emacs platform has been about more than that since pretty much its inception. Emacs as a platform hosts email readers, Usenet clients, web and Gopher browsers, games, terminal emulators, sftp clients, chat clients, and even a window manager. With org-mode, most of these (including the email clients) can be linked together with agendas, task lists, and personal notes to form an integrated tracking system. org-roam extends this yet further.
Technology that supposedly is designed to connect people to each other. Facebook, Twitter, and maybe Youtube are examples.
Usenet, of course, originally ran over UUCP in quite a few cases. Since NNCP is quite similar to UUCP – in fact, you can map UUCP commands to NNCP ones – it is quite possible, and not all that hard, to run Usenet over NNCP. In fact, in a number of ways, it works better than Usenet over UUCP!
Packet BBSs like FBB (Packet BBS) work great for what they’re intended to do: provide access to messaging within a low-bandwidth environment. They, however, don’t do a good job of things such as tracking what bulletins you’ve already read.
Old technology is any tech that’s, well… old.