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Deja UI too costly to save, Google boss tells Reg

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Google killed Deja's front end to its newly acquired Usenet archive because maintaining it was judged too costly, co-founder and CEO Larry Page told The Register yesterday.

Although the historical archive has been saved from the moribund Deja operation, one of the co-founders of the Internet discussion system added his voice to the criticism yesterday, telling that he thought the new style of user interface was inappropriate.

"From my standpoint and with a responsibility to my shareholders - the costs of keeping [the Deja UI] Deja running were too high," said the Google boss. "It was possible - everything is possible, but economically it wasn't a rational thing to do. There's a reason Google still exists."

"I feel for all the users - I would be upset too," said Page, a note he sounded several times in our talk.

But since Deja had bumped along with a skeleton staff for several months, and functioned fine, we wondered if this would really have hurt Google financially. Surely software doesn't rust?

"The operational costs would be very very high," said Page. "It's true that software doesn't rust - but 100 machines and big data center is a lot to ask our staff to support."

Page said Deja was on the verge of liquidating its assets, and said his team had done a good job working round the clock for the past two weeks to bring the beta Google interface online under the circumstances.

"It's hitting some really hardcore people harder than most. Most are happy," he said, as traffic had remained constant from Deja levels, or even increased slightly.

But one of the founders of Usenet, Steven Bellovin, told The Register that he hopes Google will rethink it's prototype Usenet user interface.

"I'm hoping Google understands that they have to do this differently," said Bellovin, who with Tom Truscott and Jim Ellis is credited with creating Usenet, and is an AT&T Fellow at Phonezilla's Florham Park labs in New Jersey. "What Google didn't understand is that people want to make a narrow search." Sorting by thread, for example, was essential. Google's strength in searching the web wasn't appropriate for the discussion medium he told us. Google presents a single hierarchy, all-or-nothing view of discussion threads in its current beta. Bellovin said some the outrage was simply a reluctance to change, but more than that, the wrong paradigm was being used.

Page said he welcomes input on the new interface, which would evolve as the five year Deja archive was added within the next 90 days. Examples could include notification tools, but a return to the tree interface which represents discussion threads in a hierarchical format looks unlikely.

"Speed was the primary thing - the [Deja] pages were 100k frames. We would never do anything like that," he told us.

Reader feedback from our story yesterday was running at about five parts horror, one part wait-and-see. Steve Godwin wrote "I can not believe what Google has done to Deja, and your article sums up my feeling pretty well. I hope The Register isn't on Google's acquisition list," Almost certainly not Steve, but now you mention it, that could er, ... fix our search engine.

More of your letters later. ®

Bootnote

Bellovin said he thought Usenet would be used by "fifty to one hundred computers max," when he helped put the system together. Among many interesting security links, his homepage also hosts a sublime example of bureaucracy, which visitors to the US may enjoy.

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