Article by Kevin Savetz

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Copyright © by Kevin Savetz

Kevin Savetz: Who has time to read Usenet anymore? Back in the old days, you could reasonably keep up with the goings-on in a couple dozen newsgroups. But today, that's all but impossible -- unless you can make newsreading a full-time job. With the explosion of new users and new newsgroups in an endless sea of spam, its hard to keep up with more than a few favorite discussion groups. Having an excellent newsreader helps.

I know I'm alledged to be the fierce Netscape advocate, but I gotta say that the newsreader in Communicator isn't that great. I use it occasionally, but when I do, my heart's not in it. For starters, it lacks filtering functions and the navigation's not so slick. I wonder how Netscape could have done such a fantastic job with its browser and e-mail programs while missing the mark on the newsreader. Actually, I know the answer, it's something I've said to you before, Neil: no program can do it all. Communicator's poky newsreader is the runt of the Net suite litter. I'd rather use Newswatcher (on the Mac) or Free Agent (on Windows) -- both full-featured, stand-alone newsreaders that make it easy to sift through the dross. I suppose you'll tell me, Neil, that the newsreader in IE4 is sheer bliss, the reason you get out of bed each morning?

Neil Randall: You still don't get it, do you, Kevin? Let me spell it out for you. Communicator4 and IE4 mean never having to bother with standalone programs. Now, you might want a specialized newsreader if you're a Usenet fanatic, but as you've just told me, you're not anymore. Nor am I. I pick and choose my newsgroups, and usually stick with them only for as long as I'm doing a project, and mostly it's a matter of sifting through a few weeks of postings. I don't need big-time filtering features, kill files, and all those other things that marked the Usenet era of the Internet. So why would I fire up a separate reader?

But even if I did, I think you're selling the integrated readers short. Outlook Express does a perfectly fine job for all except the most fervent subscribers. And so does Communicator's newsreader. Have you actually looked at the feature set for it? Last I checked, it could do plenty of good things, including displaying binary graphics, which some standalone readers still don't do. So no, IE4's newsreader isn't the reason I get out of bed each morning, but at least I don't pull the covers over my head and hope it goes away.

Kevin Savetz: Everyone who expects to get anything useful out of Usenet anymore needs big-time filtering features, kill files, and all those other things. These days, Usenet is useless without them. Sure, Outlook Express has a graphics viewer, which is probably important in your role as moderator of But Usenet is not about pretty pictures.

Did you move your computer back into the corner of your office near the time wormhole? Perhaps you're using copies of Communicator 6 and IE2002 that have fallen backward through time. Or maybe you're just giddy because your 1200 BPS modem is back from the repair shop? Those are my best theories, because you certainly aren't looking at the newsreaders in present-day versions of Communicator and IE. They both suck. I've said it before, I'll say it again: a Swiss army knife may be useful in a pinch, but you don't want to use one to cut your steak, trim your nails and shave your head. When given the option, use the right tool for the job. Get a real newsreader.

Besides, this may be a moot point. Do you even think that Usenet will be around, say, three years from now? With the proliferation of web conferences, message boards, mailing lists, live chat tools, even Internet telephony, will folks stop bothering with newsgroups? Long-time users are dropping out because Usenet's signal-to-noise ratio is dropping steadily. New Net users, enamored with the hype of the Web and e-mail, don't even bother to try newsgroups... if they know that they exist at all.

Neil Randall: This makes me sad, but I think I have to bite the bullet and admit that we actually agree on something here. No, I don't think Usenet will around in three years, at least not in the sense that it's a useful discussion forum. I think that the binaries newsgroups will survive, because people want erotic and pornographic pictures without paying for it (as they often have to on Web sites), but what else? You're right - the signal-to-noise ratio is horrible, which is why I use it less and less. If Usenet is to hang around as a useful discussion tool, it has to change to adopt moderated forums with control over accepting multiple postings from other newsgroups and other kinds of spam and flames and etc. But if it does that, then it's no longer good old Usenet. I think it's pretty much history even now, in fact.

Articles by Kevin Savetz