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Internet Evolution: Things Change

I had started writing a blog this morning related to the future of the desktop operating system (you know Microsoft versus LINUX versus Mac OSX and virtual appliances versus online applications, the evolution of the true thin client, blah, blah, blah) but when I tried to connect to a couple of Microsoft and networking-related Newsgroups that I occasionally scan for discussion posts, I found that I couldn't connect. I'm a Time Warner subscriber (in Maine) and so I checked out the Road Runner Website for server status to see if the Usenet server was down. Well, what do I find but a message that the Newsgroup Service will no longer be available for Road Runner customers. In fact today, June 23, was the termination date.

I was definitely curious about why Time Warner would dump Usenet and all I had to do was read a little farther in their announcement; I quote: "Due to low subscriber usage Road Runner has decided to discontinue Newsgroups service as of June 23, 2008." The announcement goes on to detail how users who still want access to newsgroups can contact a third party vendor (and pay for the privilege).

Now I certainly don't take advantage of Usenet all that often and most of my Microsoft product newsgroups are served up by Microsoft, so I will still have access to them. And I definitely read more blogs and e-articles than newsgroup posts. But I remember a day when I read Usenet newsgroup posts quite a bit. Back in the good old days (if they were good; they were definitely old) when I also used Internet Relay Chat to converse with other computer geeks and browsed Gopher servers on the Internet using Archie and Veronica.

As the Internet infrastructure is used for more advanced information sharing schemes, it makes sense that older communication platforms (such as Gopher) will fall by the wayside. In a Web server and design course that I teach at the University of New England, when we discuss the evolution of the Internet, I typically find that no one in the class has ever heard of Gopher or Internet Relay Chat and maybe only a couple know about Usenet. We live in the day of Facebook and Instant Messaging and I certainly use my iChat client to communicate with folks via video more than I do by email (but Time Warner do not take my email away) or posts in a newsgroup.

It is somewhat sad, however, to see a particular Internet communication tool fall by the wayside; although it is often replaced by something that provides greater possibility and typically better ease of use. This is definitely a good example of technical evolution, but with a twist, where even survival of the fittest is not assured to even the best of Internet tools (in terms of clients available and bandwidth use).

Although Usenet is not completely going away, Time Warner has certainly relegated it to a third class Internet onramp (unless you want to pay a third party company for Usenet). I doubt if many Road Runner subscribers will feel my pain (or even know they had Newsgroup access available in the first place) but I still bid Usenet a sad adieu.

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