QZ qz thoughts
a blog from Eli the Bearded

A Usenet Lifetime

I'm in my 29th year of using Usenet and Netnews, and someone who can still tell you the (increasingly irrelevant) difference between the two. Usenet, tainted by the "gigabyes of copyright violations" as one binary group was jokingly summarized once, was dropped from the free and/or included offerings of most ISPs perhaps fifteen years ago or so. The format resists pictures, fancy formatting, easy tracking, serious moderation, or ethical money making opportunities, so it has not been encouraged by corporate Internet. Mozilla runs their own newsserver, news.mozilla.org, with Mozilla-specific groups only (an example of non-Usenet Netnews), but I don't know any other company that does likewise. (At least for free use. Panix has panix.* for Panix customer use.)

One of the things that happens when something exists for multiple decades and has been in decline for over a decade is that losing people to dying begins to exceed new people joining.

Returning home from Sea Ranch today, I saw a pick-up truck parked on the side of the road at one point. It was facing me, and if it had markings on the hood they couldn't be seen. But I could see a bunch of antennas on top. I was reminded of Ron Echeverri, an old Usenet personality who commented that California Highway Patrol "unmarked" cars are always obvious by the dozens of antennas.

When we passed the truck, I saw a sheriff's department logo on the door. But I continued to think about "rone", as Ron always went by on-line. He came down with a rare nerve disease in 2016 and spent months paralyzed. Rone did come through, but has not been posting anywhere that I've seen. Yet the last message I did see credited to him was a second-hand report late last year that another Usenetter we both knew had died.

And so this sighting of a car parked by the side of the road led me down a path of thinking of people I've known only through the text medium of Usenet who have since died. I have four names in mind for 2019's deaths, and know of others from earlier years. (One of whom I won't miss, so I'll not name any of them.) Add to that all those who stopped posting and for which I'll never know death, "moved on" or just lost easy access to Usenet, and it feels like an end of a lifetime.