Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Wednesday 26/1/2005The Eternal September has finally ended, twelve years after it began. To be sure, it probably won't make much difference now -- but it's a piece of early Net history that shouldn't go unmarked.

Wednesday 26/1/2005

The Eternal September has finally ended, twelve years after it began. To be sure, it probably won't make much difference now -- but it's a piece of early Net history that shouldn't go unmarked.

Before 1993, one of the only places on the Internet to go for a discussion was Usenet, the global distributed conferencing system that had been running since 1980. Since there were practically no public access ISPs back then, the Usenet denizens were overwhelmingly academic -- researchers, students, and the like. And, hard as it is to imagine in the rabble-soaked 21st century, there were certain standards of deportment and decorum online.

Just not in September. Every time a new influx of students started their first year at university and stumbled into Usenet, there was a month long period while they found their feet, misbehaved by accident or design and generally behaved like the freshers they were. A month was reckoned just long enough to civilise those who could take it and ostracise those who couldn't: October saw a return to the civilities and structures of the other eleven months of the year.

Until 1993. That was the year that AOL with its countless hordes of real people decided to give them all Usenet access -- and continued to recruit new bodies at a rate of millions thereafter. The newsgroups (as Usenet conferences are called) were rocked by an inrush of newbies that devastated the delicate island ecosystem, and so September 1993 became known as the September that never ended.

But now it has. Citing lack of use (under a thousand people, says the company) and the availability of alternatives such as Google's Group access, AOL has disconnected from Usenet. It's not alone: Easynet is doing the same thing. Usenet is quite expensive to provide as it's also one of the main conduits for illicit music and warez, which suck up huge amounts of bandwidth and disk space: expect others to do the same.

Nonetheless, the 26th of January 2005 is now 1st October 1993. Which means Take That is back -- please, AOL, reconnect that feed.

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