Open access challenge to Google

Deja debacle springs some alternatives

Your letters continue to stream in complaining about the loss of service resulting from Google's takeover of Deja's Usenet assets, and calls are spreading to make the archive publicly available.

Wired woke up and noticed there was a problem yesterday, too.

Its report will be wearily familiar to those of you who depended on the service until Monday last week, but mildly encouraging too. It cites users calling for the Usenet archive to be wrestled away from private ownership, and a new initiative to provide alternative access to the archive.

"I challenge Google to provide Deja's code and its oldest archives to the open-source community, and I urge others to echo that challenge," says an anonymous programmer who wishes to be known as "Deja Refugee", and who's planning an open source tools project to give people a better interface onto the database.

He (or she) may be bluffing, and he (or she) hadn't responded to our email at publication time. But it may prove to be an effective ploy. Google holds its open source values dear, so an open access movement, using open source tools could well spur the company to provide a user interface that users want, rather one that it thinks is cool.

If it's not too late, that is. Wired's Michelle Delio notes that Google has stopped using Deja's article number tagging, so recreating those thread views could now be difficult.
And it was with some sense of er, déjà vu, that we read a user cited in the article who suggested the Usenet archive be handed over to the Library of Congress. Where did he get such a whacky idea from? Actually, we floated it last week, although we were taking up a proposal from Netizens author Ronda Hauben who'd been anxious about the fate of the archive before Google took it over.

"I'm enraged that it has been taken from me. It's as if a private firm bought and then closed down all of Manhattan's public libraries for a few months simply because they wanted to rearrange the bookshelves," says user who supports the remedy we originally suggested here here last week.

From experience, your correspondent believes that Being Nice To Librarians is a mandatory life skill. We'll try and find out if Deja Refugee's alternative - constructive belligerence - is making any headway with Google later today. ®

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