Monday Duke University announced that it will be shutting down a piece of Internet history by switching off the home of the first electronic newsgroups. Thursday, May 20 will mark the day Duke's Usenet server finally goes offline after more than thirty years, originally launched by two Duke graduate students, Tom Truscott and Jim Ellis, as a means to exchange messages and files (via modem) between computers located at Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill.
The Users Network, or Usenet as we know it today, quickly grew to become an international electronic discussion forum consisting of more than 120,000 newsgroups. Dietolf Ramm, professor emeritus of computer science, said that the Usenet played a large role in the growth and popularity of the Internet. However, not every parent, student, or general consumer could jump "online." Connections were expensive and required a research contract with the federal Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA).
Ramm, who worked with the students responsible for developing and launching Usenet, said that the ARPA had funded a few schools to begin the early stages of the Internet. "But most schools didn't have that," he said in an interview. "Usenet was a pioneering effort because it allowed anybody to connect and participate communications."
Despite the legal sweep made by the RIAA and MPAA as of late, Duke didn't decide to terminate its Usenet server based on piracy. Instead, the relic will be laid to rest thanks to low usage and rising costs. Applications such as Twitter, blogs, RSS feeds, Facebook and more have made communication a bit more user-friendly since the days of Usenet, making it obsolete.
But ask the RIAA and MPAA their thoughts on Usenet, and you'll more than likely get a negative response thanks to the many gardens of pirated, copyrighted content found throughout the network.