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Usenet's home shuts down today

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Duke University in North Carolina is where Usenet began, and today the institution is shutting down its Usenet server. The college cites "low usage and rising costs" for the decision.

The first messages began flowing in 1980, after two Duke students Tom Truscott and Jim Ellis, developed the protocol, using UUCP as a transport and modems (two 300 baud auto-diallers) and telephone lines as the backbone.

The system was unveiled at a Usenix meeting in January 1980, in which the two students distributed a five page handout called "Invitation to a General Access UNIX Network" to attendees. Their goal, they said, was "a poor man's Arpanet". By the time Arpanet evolved into today's internet, Usenet was already hugely popular, and evolved its own sophisticated nntp protocol.

And what a legacy.

"Many social aspects of online communication – from emoticons and slang acronyms such as LOL to flame wars – originated or were popularized on Usenet," notes the college.

It was also a nice example of a distributed system, with messages propagating to servers around the world. No Fail Whales here.

But then the original engineers actually had an education in how computer systems worked, rather than focussing on making privacy policies fade out of view using Javascript.

The definitive history of Usenet by the late Michael Hauben is here, in Ascii.

Duke's announcement, accompanied by pictures of genuine Unix beardies, is here. ®

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