The last few months have been a rollercoaster ride for the Usenet ecosystem. Under heavy pressure from Hollywood lobbyists and the promulgation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) in the United States, two of the largest Usenet archives, NZBMatrix and Newbin, have been shut down. Perhaps this isn’t a surprise to many since these archives have been under pressure from the Motion Picture Association among other entertainment organizations for several years now. Nevertheless, their closure symbolizes a drastic change in the way we share data and collaborate. Without Usenet archiving services, much of the data and content that circulates through the Usenet ecosystem can, and probably will be lost forever.
Usenet was created in 1979, well before the rise of the World Wide Web. It was largely used to circulate news in an era of slow Internet connectivity, and served as the predecessor to online public forums. It’s historical value may appear to be insignificant today, but much of what became standard on the World Wide Web, particularly in its earlier years, was actually based on Usenet features - think of threads, FAQs, discussions, etc.
One of the major advantages of Usenet to more sophisticated users includes the free or paid access to information via archive services including text, documents, entertainment, etc. through a decentralized system. We lament what may be the decline of such a historically important technology, but as is the case with most web-based tools, paradigm shifts in usage are inevitable, regardless of how they are brought on. In the case of Usenet, the end result is that by removing archiving services, the system has very little chance of surviving.
In recent years, piracy has been a major concern for monopolistic content creators, whose interests are advanced by governments. The vast spread of pirated content across the Usenet ecosystem and its retention by searchable archive services like Newzbin has only aggravated the situation. Many questions can be raised regarding how owners of these services handled content, as well as how governments and judicial systems treated the demands of content creators. One thing is sure – net neutrality is still far from being actualized. Money and power still have a significant influence on internet policy and internet freedom.
Yet, there is light at the end of the tunnel. In a world where innovation outpaces the reactivity of politicians and special interest groups, new technologies that are able to circumvent government oversight and intrusion will be developed – not out of interest in accessing pirated content, but rather to provide a secure and free forum for the exchange of all information. Already, many companies have launched products that may prove to be the ‘Usenets’ of tomorrow and there is more reason to think that the decline of Usenet will lead to a new, more powerful ecosystem, than a complete lack of one. Infinit is just one of the companies providing secure, private and collaborative peer-to-peer experiences. We’re not alone, and despite what politics and money attempt to control, innovation is moving far too fast for governments and special interests to keep up.