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posted by janrinok on Monday March 12 2018, @03:05PM   Printer-friendly
from the full-of-300bps-goodness dept.

Professor Steve Bellovin at the computer science department at Columbia University in New York City writes in his blog about early design decisions for Usenet. In particular he addresses authentication and the factors taken into consideration given the technology available at the time. After considering the infeasiblity of many options at the time, they ultimately threw up their hands.

That left us with no good choices. The infrastructure for a cryptographic solution was lacking. The uux command rendered illusory any attempts at security via the Usenet programs themselves. We chose to do nothing. That is, we did not implement fake security that would give people the illusion of protection but not the reality.

For those unfamiliar with it, Usenet is a text-based, worldwide, decentralized, distributed discussion system. Basically it can be likened to a bulletin board system of sorts. Servers operate peer to peer while users connect to their preferred server using a regular client-server model. It was a key source of work-related discussion, as well as entertainment and regular news. Being uncensorable, it was a key source of news during several major political crises around the world during the 1980s and early 1990s. Being uncensorable, it has gained the ire of both large businesses and powerful politicians. It used to be an integral part of any ISP's offerings even 15 years ago. Lack of authentication has been both a strength and a weakness. Professor Bellovin sheds some light on how it came to be like that.

Despite weaknesses, Usenet gave rise to among many other things the now defunct Clarinet news, which is regarded to be the first exclusively online business.


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  • (Score: 5, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 12 2018, @03:22PM (33 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 12 2018, @03:22PM (#651363)

    Censorship (including downmodding of legitimate, but differing points of view) is a serious issue.

    However, what's even more serious is the fact that so many people are now online that it's hard to find good discussion; it's hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. Back in the day, this problem became known as "Eternal September", because it used to be a problem only in September, when new college students would enter the message boards for the first time and have to learn how to interact meaningfully. Now, it's not just September, but rather it's ALL THE TIME.

    There is not yet a system that can sift out good discussion; all we have is censorship, and the result is that people find themselves in echo chambers, surrounded by only people who agree with them already.

    Starting Score:    0  points
    Moderation   +5  
       Insightful=2, Informative=3, Disagree=1, Total=6
    Extra 'Informative' Modifier   0  

    Total Score:   5  
  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 12 2018, @03:40PM (2 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 12 2018, @03:40PM (#651373)

    Invitation-only forums.

    • (Score: 4, Insightful) by dwilson on Monday March 12 2018, @04:28PM (1 child)

      by dwilson (2599) on Monday March 12 2018, @04:28PM (#651403)

      Invitation-only forums.

      and the result is that people find themselves in echo chambers, surrounded by only people who agree with them already.

      --
      - D
      • (Score: 2, Disagree) by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 12 2018, @04:52PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 12 2018, @04:52PM (#651417)

        I fully agree...

  • (Score: 0, Troll) by cocaine overdose on Monday March 12 2018, @04:08PM (20 children)

    Application-only forums have worked well. You can peer inside and read some discussions, but you can't be a part of them unless the community (or the head brown-noser) decides you're gucci.

    On discussion, it's pretty useless. If your point was you can't find any discussions because Google indexes forums lower or not at all, fine. If your idea of a discussion is real-time postings with multiple people, try the myriad of chans available at your disposal. There's shit focused on: security, modern civilization, philosophy, college, coffee, porn, child porn, data dumps, esotericism, fitness, politics (haven't seen too many), video games, media, languages, cars, art, music, business, finance, hikkikimori life, girl's only (no BOYZ ALLOUD!11!), crime, committing crime, fetishes, anarchism, terrorism, gardening, dancing, wine, reverse engineering, pentesting, startups, software engineering, "game development," individual games, medicine, drugs, WWE, chemistry, sports and steroid physiology, travel, "anime," hentai, torrents, life advice, BrainFuck programming, raiding, gays, and a shitload of sub-specialities. And this is just anonymous imageboards, but they're all that's left that's any decent. Forums are cancer as low-payed time-for-money losers create cliques so their lives have some meaning, and usually turn the community towards "$Clique" community instead of "$Hobby" community. To find them, you just gotta start looking.

    If you want usenet-type chat: mailing lists, IRC, gopher, telnet penpals.

    If your idea of a discussion is whatever this shit is, try: telegram, teamspeak/mumble/not discord/skype, stackexchange, "reddit," whatsapp groups, snapchat, facebook (quality is surprising).

    If you don't see something you like, make something new. That's what I do. "Niggers for incel HAPA awareness, appreciation, and boy-toying" not found under Searx? Make one yourself. There's a shitload of forums software that's open source and useable for this. Then you gotta shill it to your friends, family, and random faggots you know (you have friends, right?). If you don't wanna do that, then that sucks. You got two big ol pussy lips between your legs, but a group of catty-ass women managed to get a chan up and running for years, and you couldn't.

    If you're arguing for discussion in general, you're a wasteful moron and will not do anything of substance in your life. I wish you well on your next Mississippians MENSA, Mocha, and Marx meetup, but stay away from anyone that has shit to do. Discussion is a waste of time just like prolonged thinking, if you don't put any of it to use. The only good things forums have done is make a variety information available, which at that point you should just make a public link silo. Everything else is a cancer on the human species.

    Otherwise, if you want an uncensored discussion, with civility, go get some friends, you loser.
    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 12 2018, @04:14PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 12 2018, @04:14PM (#651391)

      And it's not useful.

    • (Score: 4, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 12 2018, @05:02PM (17 children)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 12 2018, @05:02PM (#651423)

      Forum software, no matter how good, is no proper replacement for Usenet, for a simple reason:

      It is centralized.

      It runs on a server, which everyone wanting to participate has to connect to (if it's actually several servers, it still doesn't matter as long as all those servers are under control of the same person or organization).

      With Usenet, there's an unlimited number of possible servers, exchanging messages with each other. If you don't like one, choose another. Or set up your own and find someone willing to peer with you. With Usenet, it doesn't matter if I'm using a server in Germany, and you are using a server in Australia, and the server operators never even have heard of each other. As long as both are part of the network, the communication works. And if one intermediate server decides to not forward your message, for whatever reason, no problem, another server, probably in another country, still will.

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 12 2018, @07:32PM (14 children)

        by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 12 2018, @07:32PM (#651485)

        Why did a supposedly superior technology fail?

        • (Score: 5, Insightful) by NotSanguine on Monday March 12 2018, @08:18PM (11 children)

          Why did a supposedly superior technology fail?

          1. It's text only (leaving aside the binaries groups), and the hoi polloi need their shiny photos;
          2. There's actually a minor configuration step to connect to a Usenet server, which is apparently too hard for the hoi polloi;
          3. Since most residential net connections have a severe bias to *download* and ISPs restrict their customers from running "servers", it was too difficult to set up more usenet servers as the internet user base expanded;
          4. ISPs used to run Usenet servers and provide access as part of their network access plans. They then started charging for access and when folks wouldn't pay, they stopped providing it at all;
          5. It's impossible to monetize a distributed model like Usenet.

          One of the really nice things about Usenet was that moderation of postings was pretty good, but you could completely get around it by using/creating a group in the alt* hierarchy.

          I was sad to see Usenet fail. Comp.* was much better than *.stackexchange.com and similar stuff.

          More's the pity.

          --
          No, no, you're not thinking; you're just being logical. --Niels Bohr
          • (Score: -1, Troll) by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 12 2018, @10:49PM (8 children)

            by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 12 2018, @10:49PM (#651566)

            5. It's impossible to monetize a distributed model like Usenet.

            In short, there's no such thing as a free lunch.

            • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 13 2018, @12:15AM (7 children)

              by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 13 2018, @12:15AM (#651591)

              5. It's impossible to monetize a distributed model like Usenet.

              In short, there's no such thing as a free lunch.

              Anarcho-capitalist moron makes moronic comment.

              I'm shocked! Shocked, I say!

              Strange how Usenet managed to survive for decades [wikipedia.org] without an issue, until those whose only concern is monetization (ISPs and the centralized [google.com] spying [facebook.com] apparatus) put forth concerted efforts to make it less available, and as a result, less useful -- driving folks to less worthwhile (but eminently monetizable) platforms.

              I'd call you an idiot, but I already called you an 'anarcho-capitalist' and I don't want to repeat myself.

              • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 13 2018, @01:30AM (6 children)

                by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 13 2018, @01:30AM (#651615)

                Usenet prospered when it was basically by the same people it was for.

                When the hordes showed up, that didn't work out; the hordes didn't care to "pay their fair share".

                • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 13 2018, @01:37AM (5 children)

                  by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 13 2018, @01:37AM (#651619)

                  When the hordes showed up, that didn't work out; the ISPs' asymmetric bandwidth offerings and abusive TOS made it mostly impossible for them to "pay their fair share".

                  There. FTFY.

                  If one in 100, or even one in 200 (possibly an even lower ratio) had been able to set up their own usenet servers, there would have been no issue

                  But they weren't given the chance to do so, as ISPs wanted to make sure they could invest the minimum into infrastructure and extract the maximum in rents.

                  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 13 2018, @02:31AM (4 children)

                    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 13 2018, @02:31AM (#651637)

                    The ISP doesn't owe you anything.

                    If you don't agree with how your ISP got its infrastructure, then complain about the local government, not the ISP—it was your local government who granted the monopoly.

                    • (Score: 2) by NotSanguine on Tuesday March 13 2018, @03:51AM

                      The ISP doesn't owe you anything.

                      If you don't agree with how your ISP got its infrastructure, then complain about the local government, not the ISP—it was your local government who granted the monopoly.

                      Actually, an ISP (at least one that I'm doing business with) owes me the services agreed upon in the contract/agreement between me and the ISP. This assumes that I hold up my end of the contract (by paying the bill).

                      In my particular case, there are *at least* four ISPs that can provide me with internet connectivity. The one that I use doesn't block ports or have abusive TOS.

                      The issues with local government corruption are long-standing and well known. In fact, if you search my posting history, I've addressed that specific issue more times than I can count.

                      What's more, such corruption doesn't make what I said here [soylentnews.org] untrue:

                      3. Since most residential net connections have a severe bias to *download* and ISPs restrict their customers from running "servers", it was too difficult to set up more usenet servers as the internet user base expanded;
                      4. ISPs used to run Usenet servers and provide access as part of their network access plans. They then started charging for access and when folks wouldn't pay, they stopped providing it at all;

                      So, I'm not exactly sure what you're going on about.

                      All the same, if it makes you feel better to go on an uninformed rant, knock yourself out.

                      P.S: If the subject line was supposed to get a rise out of me, I'm sorry that didn't work out for you. Don't stop trying though. I have faith in you!

                      --
                      No, no, you're not thinking; you're just being logical. --Niels Bohr
                    • (Score: 3, Interesting) by janrinok on Tuesday March 13 2018, @07:55AM (2 children)

                      by janrinok (52) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday March 13 2018, @07:55AM (#651720) Journal

                      If you don't agree with how your ISP got its infrastructure...it was your local government who granted the monopoly.

                      While I am sure that your problems are very real - they are, to a great extent, limited to North America and, perhaps, Australia. Huge areas of the world can choose from several ISPs (I can have accounts with at least 6 ISPs and probably more if I want to go searching for something special), which keeps the prices relatively in check and maintains market competition. As for getting on to Usenet, it couldn't for me be any easier. For the price of a cup of coffee I can buy a month's access, unfiltered, unregulated and accessible from any computer, using HTTPS and SSL links at least to the gateway.

                      But perhaps the 'computer' is the problem - I need to be able to run a short script to set up the IP, ports, username and password into my access program, although I could do it manually if I wished. Not being a 'smart phone' user I'm not sure how easy that would be for many people to do. And then smart phone users seem to prefer bling and pretty colours - neither of which are of any importance to me when I am having a conversation or discussion.

                      You know, we haven't done too badly here at SN, We have a simple - even retro! - UI. You can start any topic that you wish to discuss in your journal. We protect as much as we can your identity - although members of our community can sometimes compromise their own identities by not thinking. And if you want to put something encrypted on your journal - well, go ahead.

                      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 13 2018, @12:02PM (1 child)

                        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 13 2018, @12:02PM (#651783)

                        Hey, can SN be bridged to Usenet?

                        • (Score: 2) by janrinok on Tuesday March 13 2018, @03:01PM

                          by janrinok (52) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday March 13 2018, @03:01PM (#651833) Journal

                          I don't know - we will have to wait until someone with more technical knowledge lets us know, and then decide if it is in our interests to do so.

          • (Score: -1, Redundant) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 13 2018, @01:27AM

            by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 13 2018, @01:27AM (#651614)

            5. It's impossible to monetize a distributed model like Usenet.

            In short, there's no such thing as a free lunch.

          • (Score: -1, Redundant) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 13 2018, @02:22AM

            by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 13 2018, @02:22AM (#651631)

            5. It's impossible to monetize a distributed model like Usenet.

            In short, there's no such thing as a free lunch.

        • (Score: 4, Informative) by number11 on Monday March 12 2018, @08:55PM

          by number11 (1170) Subscriber Badge on Monday March 12 2018, @08:55PM (#651521)

          Why did a supposedly superior technology fail?

          Fail? It hasn't failed, at least not entirely. It did suffer from two things:
          First, it had more and more spam;
          Second: it didn't have shiny pictures and the ability to sell things for advertisers.
          But it's still around, somewhat moribund but still there. There are free servers such as https://www.eternal-september.org/ [eternal-september.org]. They're text groups only, for binary groups you'll probably have to pay someplace like http://www.blocknews.net/ [blocknews.net]. But that's like a prepay cellphone, you only pay for the bits you use.

          There are still some active and useful unmoderated and moderated groups. The former sort of self-moderate via peer pressure. And while there are trolls, there's not too much spam, because advertisers have more productive things to do, like banner ads on yahoo.com.

        • (Score: 2) by FatPhil on Tuesday March 13 2018, @10:04AM

          by FatPhil (863) <reversethis-{if.fdsa} {ta} {tnelyos-cp}> on Tuesday March 13 2018, @10:04AM (#651751) Homepage
          Begging the question.

          I still use Usenet for discussions on several topics. Sure, some of the fora have degrated such that the signal is way below the noise floor, but not all of them.
          Sure, AOL's arrival was annoying, but it was nothing to the absolute floodgates of Google Groups, which lied to and stole from those who care about usenet, and then proceded to shit on it in industrial quantities from a great height. Had GG not arrived, Usenet would have been healthier now.

          And for those who want to put humerous dates in their usenet posts, because as I say, it's still alive, have some macros:

          alias aoldate='echo $((`date +%s`/86400-8643))'
          alias ggdate='echo $((`date +%s`/86400-11364))'
          --
          Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people; the smallest discuss themselves
      • (Score: 2, Informative) by cocaine overdose on Monday March 12 2018, @07:57PM (1 child)

        The theory that no one can censor something completely is cool, sure. But it's a huge pain in the ass practically to work with. USPs are a giant barrier to getting usenet any other use than for torrenting. If you want distributed censor-free foruming, try I2P, IPFS, or Syndie. You probably won't get any users -- because it's more of a pain in the ass than it's worth. TOR is a nice compromise between ease of use : less censorship.
        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 12 2018, @11:15PM

          by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 12 2018, @11:15PM (#651574)

          +Informative for IPFS (and Syndie reminder)

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 13 2018, @05:32AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 13 2018, @05:32AM (#651690)

      Nice fixed width font newfag.

  • (Score: 2) by DannyB on Monday March 12 2018, @04:16PM (3 children)

    by DannyB (5839) on Monday March 12 2018, @04:16PM (#651392) Journal

    I remember when AOL created a gateway to Usenet. Suddenly hordes of AOL users flooded usenet forums. That was an Eternal September.

    A phrase I remember from that time was that AOL had poisoned Usenet.

    --
    Reminder: March is National Procrastination Week.
    • (Score: 4, Interesting) by canopic jug on Monday March 12 2018, @04:53PM

      by canopic jug (3949) Subscriber Badge on Monday March 12 2018, @04:53PM (#651419) Journal

      One project, the late Internet Public Library, was so flooded with AOLers that for a while they had a great big notice on their main page warning people that they had left AOL and reached the Internet.

      That was a really cool project while it lasted. It was around for about 10 years, then changed hosting institutions, got infected with javascript and lingered in decreasing activity for another 10. It was based on the idea that the Internet at the time was a community and that if libraries are customized to support a community, what would a public library for the Interet look like. It went mostly web-only but for a long while even had a MOO [archive.org] of its own.

      There were a lot of Usenet groups where questions were posted and answered, too, before that. There was always a propagation delay as posts spread around so it was not uncommon to see the answer a day or more before the question, if the question came from topologically far away. That was exploited by an infamous prank where one person asked what time it was and got a flurry of answers followed by an extended period of embarrassed silence.

      I gather now that walled gardens like Faecebook and the others spread by oral tradition instead of written guides. It seems to carry a lot of disinformation and wishful thinking with it. I once printed out terms of service for a few of the walled gardens and discussed them with some young people, and also some middle agers, who were / are heavy users of said walled gardens. Even after seeing the terms in black and white, they were unwilling to accept them and reiterated the myths they and their friends tell each other, asserting that the printed terms were somehow incorrect. Middle aged people dig in even harder.

      Mastodon had some potential for carrying on from Usenet, but there are some shortcomings that make echo chambers and censorship prevalent. It also lacked the topic hierarchies and threaded discussions.

      --
      Money is not free speech. Elections should not be auctions.
    • (Score: 3, Insightful) by mmh on Monday March 12 2018, @06:08PM (1 child)

      by mmh (721) on Monday March 12 2018, @06:08PM (#651452)

      Me too!

      • (Score: 3, Interesting) by DannyB on Monday March 12 2018, @07:24PM

        by DannyB (5839) on Monday March 12 2018, @07:24PM (#651483) Journal

        It all seems so long ago.

        --
        Reminder: March is National Procrastination Week.
  • (Score: 5, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 12 2018, @04:49PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 12 2018, @04:49PM (#651415)

    I never saw the "Eternal September" to be as big of a problem as it was claimed. Rather the true decline of Usenet started when spam started to get overboard. Google had a big part in this by having an unresponsive abuse department (and unfortunately, the Usenet server operators didn't have the balls to use UDP against Google). Google further destroyed Usenet by conflating it with their proprietary groups (actually Google Groups started out as Usenet interface, but then morphed into a hybrid with their own proprietary groups).

    I think Google was the most important factor in destroying Usenet.

  • (Score: 2) by cellocgw on Monday March 12 2018, @06:59PM

    by cellocgw (4190) on Monday March 12 2018, @06:59PM (#651475)

    You are incorrect, as a simple Wikipedia quest would have shown: "eternal September" refers to teh last month before AOL was connected to usenet, thus unleashing millions of noob lamers on a region previously limited to educated engineers and a sprinkling of trolls.

    --
    Physicist, cellist, former OTTer (1190) resume: https://app.box.com/witthoftresume
  • (Score: 1) by khallow on Monday March 12 2018, @07:02PM

    by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Monday March 12 2018, @07:02PM (#651476) Journal

    Back in the day, this problem became known as "Eternal September", because it used to be a problem only in September, when new college students would enter the message boards for the first time and have to learn how to interact meaningfully.

    Eternal September [wikipedia.org] refers to September, 1993 when AOL first granted access to USENET for its users. That resulted in a sea change for the USENET.

  • (Score: -1, Troll) by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 12 2018, @08:42PM (1 child)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 12 2018, @08:42PM (#651517)

    Censorship (including downmodding of legitimate, but differing points of view) is a serious issue.

    No, it isn't. This post needs to be modded down into the sub-basement so that no one ever sees it, it is not legitimate, it is not a point of view, it is Nazi sympathizing madness!!!