Usenet or Die!
Okay, the title to this write-up is a little more crass then I usually care to be, but it’s a play on a classic game series called Skate or Die! (or my personal favorite from the series, Ski or Die!) from the 1980’s and early 1990’s by EA. To this day these games are still loads of fun and have shocking depth as they were most popular on the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System. Of course, you could still play these games via emulators on your PC (be it Windows, Mac, or Linux), and they can still entertain you for eons. But while finding emulators for your OS isn’t difficult, finding the actual game file (or “ROM”) could be a bit more of a challenge. As of this writing, finding classic game ROM’s on torrent sites isn’t hard at all, but admittedly the amount of torrent sites out there has been slowly dwindling for nearly a decade due to (completely unjust) corporatist intervention, with varying degrees of success (and let’s be honest, the infamous Pirate Bay is a really a shell of what it once was, as much as I love its tenacity). And I’m sure me telling you all of this isn’t a shock to anyone.
So what does one do if one day KickassTorrents or The Pirate Bay finally go the way of MiniNova? Yes, other sites will likely quickly pop up that you can go to, but perhaps there’s another option altogether. Perhaps an option that the “corporatist powers that be” don’t pay any attention to? There happens to be just such an option, and it’s one of the oldest digital communications technologies out there: Usenet.
Usenet was devised in 1979, and used to be a very popular medium of communication over the internet that operated in a group format, and could be described as “long form chat” (but that doesn’t really do it justice). Now, let’s be clear here, while Usenet is part of the internet, it is not part of the “World Wide Web”. Most people don’t realize that many different technologies make use of the internet as an infrastructure, but aren’t technically a website that you can go to (which most people think that’s all the internet is, a bunch of websites). IRC, email (which everyone uses), Usenet, and others are wholly separate from the World Wide Web, and sadly–other than email–many people have stopped using these even though they are just as robust and sound as ever.
And while Usenet was originally just a system of groups that you could talk in and search through (alt.sex.binaries, anyone?), in the past decade it has morphed into a very resilient file transferring service that is obviously being used by the right people since I can find things on Usenet that I can’t find on any torrent site, along with all the more popular stuff, too. Movies, books, games, albums, you name it, Usenet has it. Yes, it’s a bit more complicated to use than torrent sites, but then that’s the beauty of it. Much like when the internet was new, the only people that used it were the ones that understood it, and thus you had a higher quality experience just by that nature. Usenet is the same way today, and you can join in.
To help out with the complexity however, TorrentFreak has an excellent little tutorial that I’ve linked to here. It’ll get you started on the whole firesharing aspect of Usenet, but don’t limit yourself to that. On my science and tech podcast Sovryn Tech I’ve often expressed my desire to get back to using technologies like Usenet (and IRC) for day to day communication needs (and, obviously, fire transfers). There are still some very active communities there, and much fun can be had, along with much learning (which, other than sex, what else do you want out of life?). But for starters, perhaps you’ll want to take advantage of that recent Hollywood movie screener leak that is taking the internet by storm? Also, using Usenet will allow you to avoid present attacks on very popular torrent software that has happened as late.
Of course, if suddenly millions of people flocked to Usenet tomorrow, obviously the MPAA, RIAA, other corporations, and government lackeys would start to keep an eye on Usenet. But that’s likely not going to happen anytime soon, nor is there any good reason. Most people are just ducky and plucky with having everything streamed to them without actually owning/having control of their media and data, even though Netflix regularly rips away content right out from under them on a regular basis, nor do they want to actually understand how anything works…point being, Usenet will always be niche. And niche is good.
The only thing I’d add is that if you do get used to and enjoy using Usenet, I recommend using either Mozilla’s SeaMonkey (or at least Thunderbird) as your Usenet client. It’s not terribly fancy, but it’s convenient to have all of your internet technologies (Web browsing, IRC, email, and Usenet) in one package.
Some have said in the past that Usenet is the seedy underbelly of the internet, and I rather agree with that. But then, I don’t see that as a bad thing. The “seedy underbelly” of anything is where all the fun is usually had, after all.
DISCLAIMER: The ZOG Blog is the part of this site where Dr. Brian Sovryn can talk about anything. From pop culture, to philosophy, to just sharing updates with what’s going on at Zomia Offline Games and with other projects.