Newsgroups dying? Why music fans should care
Gather around kids. Grandpa's gonna tell you about the early days of the Net, all ten, fifteen years ago it is already. Back then, we were still using computers but we didn't have such fancy graphics and multi-media little do-dads that you young'uns love. Nope, back in the early '90s when grunge was the next big thing, we were just a bunch of text-based geeks on the Net. Most companies (much less artists) didn't have webpages. Not even the Beastie Boys or Public Enemy, who each had some of the most far-reaching and visionary plans for their sites later on. Hell, even the major labels didn't get it.
Before the World Wide Web gobbled up all the interest about the Net, there were all these other neat little applications that let you get information and find other nut-jobs who had the same interests as you. They had all these cute names like Archie, WAIS (my personal fave), Finger, Gopher. You also had things like Telnet, Ping, IRC, BBS and FTP that are all still used by us geezers and the young techies.
And then there was Usenet aka newsgroups. You could think of the these as specialized discussion groups where everyone/anyone could and would post their two cents about a particular topic. Mailing lists serve a similar purpose except they come to you through your e-mail program while Usenet was something you accessed through a special program (a newsreader) or some kind of Web interface. You could find newsgroups about cars, dogs, outer space, Judaism, tennis, travel, alcoholism, fetishes, fashion, guns, etc. and then even more specific groups under each of those topics.
And of course, there were plenty of music newsgroups. Need to talk about art rock, death metal, hip hop, new age, 60's pop, flamenco, barber shop, chamber music, gospel, ragtime, Iranian music, soundtracks, Celtic music or jam bands? Want to share tips or advice with other people playing drums, french horn or bagpipes? No problem- there's a newsgroup to cover each one. You could have heated discussions, good conversations and find worthwhile information there. And of course inevitably a lot of spam too. It became such a problem that even if you posted a legitimate message there, you'd be greeting by dozens of pieces of spam in your e-mail inbox thanks to unscrupulous companies who trolled the newsgroups.
Maybe as a result of this, Slashdot now reports that a major provider is closing down its newsgroup services. As they point out in the article, newsgroups are something of a Net relic by now, not widely known or used. America Online also (maybe coincidentally) decided that they wouldn't provide their users with newsgroup access anymore. It might be just as well since their NG service was pretty bad to begin with but it still makes it harder for people to access these things. Luckily, Google has a decent newsgroup/web service that lets you read and post messages. Some of my faves are alt.music.alternative, alt.music.techno, rec.music.bluenote, rec.music.progressive (and there you see my proclivities on display). Don't worry though if you're wondering about your favorite music- do a search at Google groups and you'll find your own faves. Unfortunately, you will find spam there too but how is that different from a lot of your other online experiences?
Sure, mailing lists take up a lot of slack for discussions, musical and otherwise. But when any way to keep communication open and foster it is in danger of disappearing online, I think we all lose out in some way. That's why I'd like to urge you to check out some newsgroups, find kindred spirits, share your thoughts, ideas and observations there. Hell, like they used to say on Fat Albert, you might even learn something!
OK, Grandpa has to get back to his sitz bath. Next time, I'll tell you about how the Web won't be the dominant online medium in five to ten years and how to find a good pair of shoe supports when your arches are falling...