What was Usenet?

And why was it good for writers?

Usenet was one of the earliest text-based computer communications services, started around 1980.

Originally, Usenet didn’t even use the Internet. At the time, Internet access was rare and expensive, so computers hosting the Usenet service would call each other up late at night and exchange information directly over the telephone. Later, of course, like everything else, Usenet migrated to the Internet.

Users wrote text messages that resembled emails. Individually, these messages were called ‘articles’, or ‘posts’. Collectively, these messages were called ‘news’, or ‘the newsfeed’. Each message was ‘posted’ in one or more categories that were called ‘newsgroups’.

Devilbunnies articles were posted in a newsgroup called ‘alt.devilbunnies‘.

Users were identified by their email addresses, but could post under any username. The username would show up after the post’s title in the list of posted messages that a user would read when scanning the newsgroup.

Being able to use different usernames at any time was important for writers in a shared fiction, because they could post both under their own names, and under their characters’ names.

Under their own names, writers would post story segments and general between-writers conversation.

Under their characters’ names, writers would post in-character conversations and messages, and interact with other characters, and react to story events. The in-character conversation became known as ‘the banter’, and often led to events and character development that made their way into later stories.

After Internet access became widely available (after 1995 or so), Usenet access was one of the standard services offered by Internet service providers (ISPs). Later on, many ISPs dropped Usenet, and now many users must use services offered by specialist Usenet companies, such as GigaNews or NewsHosting..

Usenet servers retained old posts for varying amounts of time. Around 2001, Google bought one of the main Usenet archives, run by a company named DejaNews, and made it available through the Google Groups service.

The devilbunnies.org website has its own archive of posts from 1994 to 2008 (for the alt.devilbunnies newsgroup only, of course). I am not clear whether this is a cached copy of the newsgroup stored on the website’s server, or some kind of web interface to an active Usenet newsfeed. I am slightly amazed that it still exists; ads for Usenet service providers that mention post retention and archives don’t seem to go this far back. Google Groups seems to go back to early 1993.