The big picture: The first Usenet servers opened in 1980, over 10 years prior to the inception of the original World Wide Web. After 40 years, this distributed discussion system is still thriving, and a new board is now overseeing its operations behind the scenes.
Usenet is a distributed network spread across multiple servers hosted worldwide. This text-only discussion platform predates most of the online activities that netizens engage in today, and despite the original developers closing their server at Duke University in North Carolina, people continue to use it.
Usenet has a central governing authority known as the 'Big-8' Management Board. This board oversees Usenet hierarchies, makes adjustments to existing groups, and creates or deletes newsgroups. The Big-8 team also appoints or replaces moderators, while assisting the Internet Systems Consortium in maintaining the definitive list of newsgroups for Usenet service providers.
Tristan Miller, a research scientist at the Austrian Research Institute for Artificial Intelligence in Vienna, recently shared with The Register the news that the Big-8 Board has once again taken charge of Usenet. The Board is now fully active after a period of dormancy, with a new management committee established in 2020. This committee foresees a "bright future" for the internet's oldest discussion network.
The newly established Big-8 board got to work, fulfilling moderators' requests by deleting some old newsgroups and adding the first new group in a considerable span of time – the Gemini project. This group can be accessed using the news:comp.infosystems.gemini address with any of the various Usenet clients available today, including Mozilla's open-source mail client Thunderbird.
The Big-8 board also revamped its official site, introduced new packages for moderators, and more. Jason Evans, a training engineer based in Prague and a member of the new board, emphasized that Usenet holds an important place in internet heritage and history, while also having a future. Despite the prominence of social media and web-based discussion forums like Reddit, Evans pointed out that Usenet still exhibits "a surprising amount of activity."
Accessing the text-only realms of Usenet discussions has become easier than ever. Netizens only need to acquire a reliable News client, such as the aforementioned Thunderbird, create an account on a Usenet server, and then subscribe to various interesting newsgroups to engage in discussions. The Big-8 board website offers a straightforward "getting started" guide that explains how to configure Thunderbird as an efficient news-reading tool.