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Netizens blinded by ‘half-assed’ Google stunt

Can we have our Usenet back, please?

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If the folk at Google were feeling pleased with themselves for rescuing Deja's Usenet archive from the dormant dot.gone, it can't have lasted long. Without early warning, the company began to host the Deja archive yesterday, but refused to migrate Deja's web based front end with it, which renders the archive all-but useless.

How? It's rather like waking up one day to find that all the libraries you know have decided to stop using Dewey classification, have moved their books, roped them off, and will only throw the first ten at you. And last night Register readers were telling us exactly how grateful they were for Google's act of philanthropy.

"I rely on Deja for finding out what our customers are saying about us," a software CEO told us yesterday. "It's my window onto world, and without it I'm blind."

On Slashdot a typical comment added: "Couldn't they keep the existing Deja functionality until they had something decent to offer? I can't believe how completely un-sympathetic to the needs of existing Deja users this sudden, and obviously not-at-all-thought-out, gutting of Deja is on the part of Google."

Indeed, and we wonder how many other people woke up, like us, to find their bookmark files gutted too. Each carefully saved Deja shortcut now points to the Google beta Usenet search engine. And that's where the trouble starts.

You can't follow threads (not implemented), you can't search by hierarchies (broken), can't delineate dates. In other words you can't filter the noise from Usenet, or most important of all follow conversations. Oh, and it's currently updating every 24 hours... somewhat less than the near-real-time even the dormant Deja maintained. We also got miffed reports that the screenscraper applets (and there are a few) that rely on the Deja format were also been broken.

Message to Google: Usenet is a few useful conversations, hidden by lots of noise. Duh.

In recent years Deja had tried to orientate the archive to being the centrepiece of a shopping channel, with a number of tacky manoeuvres such as inserting adverts into postings. But they'd never (almost, but not quite) managed to break the main Usenet archive overnight, which is effectively what Google has done. You'd almost think Google wants to be thought of as a bunch of come-lately, VC-flushed hooligans with no inkling of the history or the culture of the Internet.

Something as simple as maintaining the Deja interface - Google acquired the software as part of the deal - while signalling a change of front-end and soliciting user input, could have avoided this PR disaster for Google.

But perhaps something as valuable as Usenet - the words of ordinary Internet users - is never going to be safe in private hands. Why not return it to its roots? The Library of Congress could administer the archive, and ensure it was a properly distributed system farmed out to the best Universities, who could produce ever more cunning hackish search tools? That's not as much fun as shooting lasers at rockets, of course, but a lot cheaper.

Google hadn't returned our calls at publication time. ®

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