Usenet and Reddit

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I’m pretty late to the party, but I am finally starting to use Reddit. I used it in a vague sort of way 8 or 9 years ago, but mustly to moderate a now-dormant subredddit on going paperless. I never branched out beyond that. But I’ve noticed that there is a lot of good technical discussions on reddit (if you can filter out the noise) and in browsing around a bit, it reminded me of perhaps the closest thing we have these days to the old Usenet newsgroups.

Back in the mid-1990s, I was a big follower of discussions in those newsgroups, especially groups like rec.arts.sf.written. Indeed, I think it was in that group that I first had a discussion with my friend Michael A. Burstein, although we didn’t meet in person until many years later. There were always interesting things in those newsgroups. I can remember browsing (read: lurking) in groups about math and history and philosophy. And there were plenty of tech groups from which I gained a lot of useful knowledge.

So I recently reignited my reddit account, and not only began reading stuff, but also began replying to questions that people posts in areas in which I feel confident enough to do so. Among the subreddits that I am following at the moment, there is:

That has been enough to keep me busy for the time being. I don’t reply to questions often, but when I can answer one I do, and it’s been fun to see my karma go up slowly. I even made my first post in r/ObsidianMD about my Practically Paperless series.

Like usenet, reddit is a culture unto itself and jumping in blind can be overwhelming. Fortunately, I can always find a guide to get me oriented and in this case, my guide is a book that I’ve had for a while, but hadn’t yet gotten around to reading: We Are the Nerds: The Birth and Tumultuous Life of Reddit, the Internet’s Culture Laboratory by Christine Lagorio-Chafkin. I just started reading this book, but the reason I like it so far is that it provides a complete context for how this culture evolved.

There are ways in which reddit is very different from the usenet that I used. There were no videos and no ads in usenet1. I find reddit easier to naviate than the usenet groups, although I sometime miss the simplicity of rn or trn for reading newsgroups.

Interestingly, as I write this, reddit appears to have gone down. I thought maybe it was my connection–I am sitting in my car waiting for Grace to finish up her gymnastics class–but a quick search on Twitter leads me to believe this is affecting a lot of people right now, not just me. I’m trying to remember if Usenet ever went down. I don’t think it did. But modem disconnections were a lot more frequent back then.

For those interested, you can find me on reddit at u/jamietr.

Written on January 20, 2022.

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  1. Well, actually, because I am a premium user in reddit, there are no ads there either.

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