Cyber Rape
  Great Renaming

Case Study

The Great Renaming

Created in 1979, the Unix User Network (Usenet) went through a lot of change and upheaval. The original plans for Usenet did not allow for the growth that users were demanding. Over the years, Usenet grew quickly, eventually linking together enough core sites so that most of North America could gain access. However, by 1986 it became apparent that a major change would have to occur. That change was the Great Renaming.

Usenet had a central backbone of hosts whose admins agreed to form a connected set and devote the necessary resources to carry and pass on all of the Usenet traffic immediately. This backbone was originally organized by Gene Spafford in 1983. The backbone was mainly controlled by a group known as the "Backbone Cabal." The Cabal was a group of admins and their close friends who helped shape Usenet. Especially at times closer to the Great Renaming the creation of a new newsgroup basically necessitated approval from the Cabal due to the structure of Usenet.

By 1986 Usenet's original structure would no longer suffice for the current nature of Usenet. Usenet's original scheme included just three worldwide hierarchies: net.* for unmoderated groups, mod.* for moderated groups, and fa.* which stood for from ARPAnet. The person, more than any other, was pushing for a new system was Rick Adams. Adams was the admin for "seismo," at the Center for Seismic Studies in Northern Virginia. Adams was especially powerful since seismo was the only link between the US and Europe.

Due to the high costs of transmitting news, the Europeans refused to pay for high volume and low content groups like net.religion and net.flame. Adams suggested a talk.* hierarchy which could be propogated only when it was specifically wanted. When Adams received resistance to his idea he threatened to stop participating in Usenet altogether. Thus, the Backbone Cabal was forced to begin the Great Renaming.

Preceeding the Great Renaming there was much concern over leaving the new structure of Usenet up to a small group of people. Several people in the Cabal had been known to often recite the phrase, "Usenet works by the golden rule: whoever has the gold, makes the rules." If this meant that they would not support groups that they did not like, then the Usenet would suffer greatly.

The Cabal eventually decided on the groups: comp, misc, news, rec, sci, soc, talk, (local). However, other than a better organization of groups, not much changed. Most traffic was still universally covered as hardware improved dramatically in order to handle the traffic.

Eventually, Brian Reid, a member of the Cabal, decided that he wanted to change the direction of Usenet. Along with John Gilmore and Gordon Moffett, he created a new top-level hierarchy name "alt.*". The first alt.* group was alt.gourmand, which Reid wanted because the Cabal had wanted to put his recipe group under rec.food.*. Gilmore was upset that the Cabal had dropped net.lame and would not create rec.drugs. It was, however, the creation of alt.sex that really caused alt.* to take off.

After the Great Renaming the Backbone Cabal quickly lost its power. New protocols enabled people to circumvent the Cabal. The Cabal had become too powerful right before the Great Renaming and their support was necessary to create a group. As people looked for a better way of controlling newsgroup creation a voting system was proposed. Created right before the Great Renaming, the voting system was not put into practice until 1987. That system is what is still used today.