Tag Archives: nntp

Geek nostalgia–newsgroups

When I was a naive 12 year old and massively into Transformers – the 80s animated series, not today’s Michael Bay monstrosities – I discovered newsgroups. These were a predecessor of modern web forums, and you’d use a desktop client (like Microsoft Outlook Express) to access a series of newsgroups relating to your interests where people discussed. I think they’re still around, but suspect remain principally the domain of the die-hard fanboys.

Now these newsgroups had various forms – moderated and unmoderated alike – and one of the most popular was alt.toys.transformers. People would put up requests to buy/sell toys, discuss the new TV series (Beast Wars came along in the mid 90s) and more. Hundreds of posts and replies came up each day.

And then, sometime shortly before I lost interest, the “Flame Wars” began. Some rather unpleasant chap decided to troll the forums with hundreds, thousands of spam messages, replying with offensive comments to anyone that actually tried to use the newsgroup for its intended purpose. The unmoderated forums took a battering and were nigh on unusable. These were the days predating pervasive broadband, so spam took a toll on your dial-up connection, and so cost you money as well as time.

Being home for a longer stretch this time I remember trying to combat these anti-socal spammers – finding an IRC room for hackers (IRC being Internet Relay Chat – another Internet antiquity that allowed people to chat on whatever topics they’d like), to try to find some sympathetic white-hat hackers willing to take on the digital ASBOs. Totally naive, but what’s amazing, in retrospect, was that whoever was in that chat room at least made sounds indicating that they were going to look into it.

Of course, they could have been an equally naive 12 year old pretending to be a hacker…The joys of the early interwebs!