1987: The Great Renaming – Page 1


As of 1987, there existed three international newsgroup hierarchies: net.*, mod.*, and fa.*, in which newsgroups were sorted.  Net.* was the hierarchy in which unmoderated groups were placed, mod.* for moderated groups, and fa.* for groups originating from ARPANET. The Usenet newsgroup naming process during this era was fairly random and difficult to navigate, and because of the rapid growth of Usenet, the administration of all of these loosely organized newsgroups with their three hierarchies because a huge burden. Also, at this time, European members of the Usenet community were encountering problems because many European networks refused to carry newsgroups which dealt with religion or racism.  These factors all combined to inspire The Great Renaming.

The Backbone Cabal, a primary influence in matters concerning Usenet, proposed a reorganization of the Usenet hierarchy and newsgroup naming structures.  This push was not the first time that reorganization of Usenet had been discussed, but earlier attempts were thwarted by software limitations, which were resolved with improvements wrought by Rick Adams' B News version 2.11.  B News 2.11 was re-crafted to accommodate the use of newsreaders for posting to moderated groups and removed the requirement for moderated newsgroups to use 'mod' as a prefix. The new B News version also stopped using the flat storage method, thus allowing for newsgroups to be named without requiring the first 14 characters of the group to be unique. With those software issues resolved, 1987 was an apt time to make much needed changes to Usenet's structure.

The Big Seven

The key players of The Great Renaming devised a hierarchical system which organized newsgroups into seven different hierarchies based on their topic of discussion. Acknowledging the problems that the European networks were encountering, the talk.* hierarchy was proposed.  The talk.* hierarchy would incorporate those newsgroups which the European networks found objectionable and would funnel other discussion newsgroups which dealt with controversial topics, thus allowing the objecting networks to merely omit this hierarchy from their servers. 

The other members of the Big Seven family included: misc.*, comp.*, sci.*, soc.*, rec.*, and news.*Misc.* would be home to newsgroups with miscellaneous topics that did not fit into another hierarchy, comp.* was for computer related newsgroups, sci.* for scientific discussions, soc.* contained social and societal discussions, rec.* covered all things recreational and entertainment, and news.* was Usenet's own hierarchy, created to discuss newsgroup related topics. The 8th "Big" hierarchy, humanities.* did not come into existence until after the initial Great Renaming.

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