My friend Porsupah Rhee — you might know her work from a sometimes-viral photo of rabbits fighting, available on some fun merchandise — tipped me off to this. It’s a new attempt at archiving Usenet, and also Fidonet and other bulletin boards. These are the things we used for communicating before web forums and then Facebonk took over everything everywhere. There were sprawling and often messy things, moderated only by the willingness of people to not violate social norms. Sometimes this worked; sometimes it didn’t.
Usenet was a most important piece of my Internet history; for many years it was very nearly the thing to use the Internet for. For several years it had a great archive, in the form of Deja News, which kept its many conversations researchable. Google bought this up, and as is their way, made it worse. Part of this was trying to confuse people about the difference between Usenet and their own Google Groups, a discussion-board system that I assume they have shut down. If it’s possible to search Usenet through Google anymore, I can’t find how to do it.
So I’m eager to see this archive at I Ping Therefore I Am. I don’t know where it’s getting its records from, or how new ones are coming in. What it has got is a bunch of messages from 1986. This makes for a great, weird peek at a time when the Internet was much smaller, and free of advertising, but still recognizable.
The archives do extend already to sci.math, a group for the discussion of mathematics topics. Also for discovering how people write out mathematics expressions when they don’t have LaTeX, or at least Word’s Equation Editor, to format things. This also covers two subordinate groups, sci.math.stat (for statistics) and sci.math.symbolic (for symbolic algebra discussions).
It would be bad form to join any of these conversations, even if you could figure a way how. But there may be some revealing pieces there now. And I hope the archive will grow, especially to cover the heights of 1990s Usenet. You do not have permission to look up anything I wrote longer than, oh, six weeks ago.