Matthew Braga of Vice reports on Google’s evisceration of its Usenet archives. As someone who first came to the Internet on Usenet and depended seriously on it back in the day, this is saddening news. Will they fix it? One hopes. (I hope.)
For well over a decade, Google has maintained one of the internet’s most important historical archives—a collection of over 800 million messages from discussion groups dating back to 1981. And much to the chagrin of online researchers, the company has been doing a really bad job.
In December, users discovered they could no longer search for posts across the archive by date. Google, a search engine, had made its archive impossible to search.
“The Usenet archive in Google Groups is an invaluable resource for historians when it comes to researching events that occurred in the ’80s and ’90s,” wrote Kate Willaert in a post to Google support describing researchers’ latest woes. Now? Not so much.
Usenet was where the majority of online discussions took place in the early 1980s and 1990s—a network of topics, or newsgroups, where users could post and read messages on everything from politics to music. A service called DejaNews launched in 1995 in attempt to archive and preserve this wealth of early internet content, and Google acquired DejaNews, along with other historical archives, in 2001.
But the problem, according to Willaert and other researchers, is the way Google Groups now handles searches for posts before or after certain dates. “The “before:YYYY/MM/DD” and “after:YYYY/MM/DD” terms have stopped working, and it also appears to no longer be possible to search by date,” Willaert wrote. It is, apparently, a recent change.
“I don’t understand the point of having 30 years of Usenet archived if you can’t search it with any accuracy,” wrote Neil Cicierega—yes, that Neil Cicierega—in response to Willaert’s post.