Computer Systems Laboratory Colloquium

4:15PM, Wednesday, May 23, 2001
NEC Auditorium, Gates Computer Science Building B03

Usenet and the Usenet Archives
The Challenges of Building a Collaborative Technical Community

Ronda Hauben
About the talk:

In 1981, Mark Horton, one of the early developers of Usenet, wrote that "USENET exists for and by the users, and should respond to the needs of those users."

Almost twenty years later, in the Fall of 2000, almost 4000 people signed a petition directed to asking them to either maintain the archives online that they had compiled of Usenet posts, or to transfer it to someone who would continue to keep it online and to provide it with an appropriate home.

These two events, separated by almost twenty years, help to highlight an important achievement and yet a significant challenge for our times. Usenet was created as a users's network. What are the implications of this design principle on the continuing development and scaling process of Usenet?

How do the contributions and collaborative efforts by the users affect Usenet's continued development? The technical collaboration and support that Usenet provides for people around the world is valued, as reflected by the petition to Yet there are problems that develop as Usenet develops, such as the problem of archiving Usenet and maintaining that archive and access to it in a way that recognizes the concerns of the online community and provides a means to respond to these concerns.

As Usenet scales new problems develop. But so too does the body of experience of how to understand and approach these problems.

Usenet is not only about open source and user developed content. It is also an example of user involvement in the administration and developing architecture of the network itself. As such, Usenet is a working model of grassroots development. What are the implications of this model toward the broader challenge of the continuing development of a collaborative technical community? Although focusing on Usenet and its development, this talk will also explore the implications of this model toward the general problem of the need for the continued development of a collaborative technical community.

About the speaker:

Ronda Hauben is a researcher and writer who has spent the past nine years studying, writing and participating in Usenet and the Internet. She has her BA from Queens College in NYC and an MA from Tufts University. She is co-author of Netizens: On the History and Impact of Usenet and the Internet published by the IEEE Computer Society in 1997, and online in a draft form at She is also a founding editor of the Amateur Computerist newsletter and writes about the social and cultural aspects of Internet developments for Telepolis and other publications. She is currently working on a new book about the Information Processing Techniques Office (IPTO) and the Birth of the Internet.

Contact information:

Ronda Hauben
Amateur Computerist,