Part 2 – After the Great Renaming
Yet, ironically, nothing really changed for a significant portion of sites, and almost all the sites except company ones still got a full feed. As has been so often the case in Usenet history, its “imminent death” was postponed by advances in technology. The connectivity, modem baud rates, storage capacity, etc. improved so dramatically that very few university and public-access sites dropped the soc.*, talk.*, and later alt.* groups. For a few years after the Great Renaming, however, these groups were not transmitted to Europe, although that changed after NNTP.
Wiener states, “misc.headlines was proposed as a way around this, for the sake of major news events that are headlines around the world. It’s become a worthless group since.” So the major effect of the Great Renaming was just to organize the groups better. Since the community in question was Usenet, there was bound to be some disagreement over the proposed general renaming of groups.
After the 1986 Usenix conference, Spaf formalized the Backbone Cabal. He began to regularly post a PostScript map and a description of what was a Backbone site. Spaf, quoted by Hardy, said being a Backbone site ment “good connectivity, carrying the mainstream groups, and a commitment to stable news and mail software.”
At some point, Net.Legend Brian Reid, a member of the Cabal, decided he didn’t like how things were going. So he, John Gilmore, and Gordon Moffett discussed the creation of an “Alternet” over dinner on May 7, 1987 at G.T’s Sunset BBQ in Mountian View, California. An “alternative” distribution system was organized by this group that didn’t use the “backbone” links. A new top-level hierarchy name”alt.*” was created for this distribution. “John’s home computer was “hoptoad”; my home computer was “mejac”. We set up a link between us, and each of us set up a link to amdahl, and we vowed to pass all alt traffic to each other and to nurse the net along. In those days one sent out numerous newgroup messages in the hopes that one would “take”; by the end of May the groups alt.test, alt.config, alt.drugs, and alt.gourmand were active. At the time I also managed “decwrl”, so I quietly added “alt” to the list of groups that it carried.”
Reid created the first alt.* group, alt.gourmand, because the Cabal wanted to put his recipe group under rec.food.* (According to Weiner, Reid didn’t want the group in rec.* at all.) Reid, who was moderating mod.recipes, objected to the name rec.food.recipes because there were non-food recipes. Gilmore objected to the Cabal’s dropping of net.flame and the refusal to create rec.drugs. (Moffett just wanted to help.) Alt.drugs was also created around this time. (Acording to Wiener, Net.flame had died a number of years before.)
Yet it was not until the rec/soc.sex debate nearly a year later that alt.* really began to take off. It all started because Richard Sexton is a bad speller. Sexton wanted to show his friend Ralph Freidenberg how to post to Usenet, so as a joke he posted the message “I propose the newsfroup rec.fucking.” to talk.bizarre. At the time, he thought he had set the distribution to “local” thus keeping it on the gryphon.com machine. Yet because of a spelling error in the “Distribution:” line the post went out into greater Usenet. There was a lot of sex-related traffic being carried in soc.singles at the time, and the talk.bizarre readers of the time would not let an idea like that go, so the idea took on a life of its own.
According to Peter daSilva, this was all happening during a time when the Backbone Cabal was beginning to experiment with interest polls. “Rec.fucking was one of a series of proposals created to attack the Cabal…” da Silva stated in a post.
Another such type group proposed during this period was comp.protocols.tcp-ip.eniac. It was essentially a joke group because the ENIAC was one of the first computers ever created and thus could not support TCP/IP.
After the group’s name went from rec.sex to soc.sex in a futile attempt to pass it, Reid proceeded to create alt.sex and alt.rock-n-roll the afternoon of April 3, 1988. Reid sent the following to the Backbone Cabal when he did it:
“That meant that the alt network now carried alt.sex and alt.drugs. It was therefore artistically necessary to create alt.rock-n-roll,which I have also done. I have no idea what sort of traffic it will carry. If the bizzarroids take it over I will rmgroup it or moderate it; otherwise I will let it be.”
-taken from Henry Edward Hardy’s Internet History.