Responses to really old news threads

modified: 16 Jan 2005

Context: In late 2004 some very strange posts started appearing on the comp.os.minix newsgroup. Some of these appeared to be responses to messages posted more than ten years ago, when Linus Torvalds first announced the project that came to be known as Linux on comp.os.minix.

Q: Why are replies to really old news posts appearing on comp.os.minix?

A: On 13 Jan 2005 Michael Black <et472@FreeNet.Carleton.CA> posted this explanation on comp.os.minix (lightly edited by ASW):

It is sad that what amounts to historical posts have now been turned into a chance for people show off their stupidity.

The fact that old posts are now easy to reply to is Google's fault. When they improved/messed up the interface, they made the serious mistake of allowing replies to old messages in the archive. Up until the change in early December, if a message was older than a month, there was no link to reply to the message. It made sense, since the archive now goes back for about a quarter century, and not only has the discussion moved on, but chances are good that many of the participants are no longer reading the newsgroup.

The previous examples of this, I've just chalked up to stupidity. Someone clueless has stumbled on google's archive, and either didn't know what the newsgroups are, and/or didn't notice the date of the message they were replying to. And much of the time I've seen this done in the past month or so, they didn't even quoting the message they were replying to, so it leaves people wondering what they were talking about, and why we didn't see the previous message. The fact that it is happening is the only reason to check Google to see that once again someone is replying to an old message.

This mistake of Google's is now messing with the newsgroups, because unless they fix this error, it's only going to get worse.

In the case of Linus's message here, this is clearly deliberate on the part of the poster. When Google added the old messages a few years back, before that they'd only had the Dejanews archive going to 1996, they put in a timeline of what they deemed historic posts. Linus's message is one that is on the timeline. So clearly someone has targeted it because of that, i.e., it's a famous post so now they are linked forever with it. Never mind that the original post is really old, never mind that the reply is nonsense, he only cares that if anyone looks at that timeline and looks at the message, his is there with it. Rather like present day graffitti on historical monuments.

I've seen three or four references to that usenet timeline in the past week, so it's making the rounds; I suspect some prominent website mentioned it, despite it being around since 2001. I suspect the idiot who replied came to the post that way.


Newsgroup headers:

From et472@FreeNet.Carleton.CA Sun Jan 16 11:25:01 2005
Path: news.umass.edu!arclight.uoregon.edu!wns13feed!worldnet.att.net!!border2.nntp.dca.giganews.com!nntp.giganews.com!cyclone-sf.pbi.net!!news.he.net!news.kjsl.com!ncf.ca!FreeNet.Carleton.CA!et472
Message-ID: <cs5293$p81$1@theodyn.ncf.ca>
From: et472@FreeNet.Carleton.CA (Michael Black)
Newsgroups: comp.os.minix
Subject: Those old resurrected threads
Date: 13 Jan 2005 05:51:31 GMT
Lines: 45
Organization: The National Capital FreeNet
Reply-To: et472@FreeNet.Carleton.CA (Michael Black)
NNTP-Posting-Host: smeagol.ncf.ca
X-Trace: theodyn.ncf.ca 1105595491 25857 (13 Jan 2005 05:51:31 GMT)
X-Complaints-To: complaints@ncf.ca
NNTP-Posting-Date: 13 Jan 2005 05:51:31 GMT
X-Given-Sender: et472@smeagol.ncf.ca (Michael Black)
Xref: wonka.hampshire.edu comp.os.minix:4335


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