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webmaster Jan 26, 2021 - 6 Minutes Read

People are always fond of free stuff, especially if they are available on the Internet. However, the consequences are not positive when a platform, which was meant for communication, becomes congested by free stuff.

That is precisely what Usenet is all about. The protocols date back to around four decades and is a key hub for sharing files today. In its simplest form, Usenet can be looked upon as an online protocol aimed at conversations. However, things changed when the public realized that binary files can be passed through it.

Why was there a dramatic shift in Usenet’s digital role over time?

It was in 1979 when a couple of students from Duke University introduced the idea of “netnews.” There were several rounds of improvements before the service came to be known as Usenet. The protocol was initially referred to as “A-News” before a chain of improvements took leverage of the UUCP or Unix-to-Unix protocol.

It is a distributed technique to copy files between computing devices, which was constructed alongside the network, then known as ARPANET. The ARPANET later came to be known as what we refer to as the Internet today. The protocol became compatible with this network.

Two software developers- Jim Ellis and Tom Truscott ensured that the software could be made available to all Unix hosts. It took just a few years for the protocol to emerge as one of the preferred ways to communicate across the Internet. The network was still in its formative years then.

The creation of Usenet originated from the idea that computing devices were transitioning into sophisticated devices for holding conversations. There were so much conversation and communication going on. Usenet could be compared to today’s Reddit except that it did not have a true owner and was decentralized.

However, the roots of this protocol lied in UUCP, which was a peer—to—peer mechanism for sharing files when it is broken down. It also signified that it was an effective means to share files. While the protocol was designed to just share text, programmers decided to enhance the technology.

A graduate student of the University of California Berkeley, Mary Ann Horton, was engaged in designing the early protocols of UUCP. She assisted in creating a link between the broader Internet and the protocol. Horton was highly influenced by what eventually became Usenet.

Horton used her special skills to further give a shape to Usenet. She further improvised on the work done by Ellis and Truscott. It was the same time when the developer was given the responsibility for creating a piece of software called Uuencode. It would eventually emerge as the solution to the legacies of Usenet, as well as email.

Uuencode

The software had some functional similarities to today’s.zip file format. It effectively functioned as a link between raw text and binary files. When one runs a Uuencode command on any binary file, the result would be some jumbled texts. A second user can use this command to convert the text file into a binary file.

The software was extremely useful because of its usage in email attachments. It also came in handy for distributing binary codes through Usenet. A web browser is adequately smart to decode the blocks of gibberish text. There are commands, which are not readable by humans to make them function in that system.

However, Uuencode came with its share of imperfections. Its text encoding was not always resourceful. The wastes were including more overhead. Also, there were more complications in the encoded text files than they were meant to be. However, there have been improvisations in that idea since then.

However, there was effectiveness in enabling the file transfer on a large scale. The software was particularly useful to distribute files via Usenet. The reason is the encoded file would be transferring between waystations.

Usenets decentralized nature- a limitation?

The decentralized design of Usenet made it tough to filter out and omit the unwanted stuff and spam. For instance, the FBI could not terminate a Usenet group even when it was unlawfully sharing episodes of a TV sitcom.

However, Internet Service Providers had the liberty to decide not carrying newsgroups. Several legitimate newsgroups that did not infringe the copyright or have explicit content were affected because of this. However, such changes did not kill Usenet though it was a big wound to its popularity.

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