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Path: xs4all!!xs4all!sun4nl!!pipex!!!!Sprint!!!!news.Stanford.EDU!nntp.Stanford.EDU!not-for-mail
From: Russ Allbery <>
Subject: A Rant (was: Re: HeadHunter.NET flooding jobs newsgroups)
Date: 31 Mar 1998 05:01:34 -0800
Organization: The Eyrie
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Hi.  You are about to be subjected to a rant.

[...], please do not take any of the following personally.  I am sure that
you're a very responsible person who cares a great deal about Usenet and
simply happens to disagree with me on this single issue.  This is not
aimed at you, even though I know from the beginning it sounds very much
like it is.  I don't know who this is aimed at.  But I'm in a pissy mood
right now and I started responding to your post and I started getting
angrier and angrier about the state of the world while I was doing so, and
this is what came out.

This started as being about jobs newsgroups.  By the end of this, it had
nothing to do with jobs newsgroups.  Take it for what you will.

[...] writes:

> I could continue to respond to various points you've both made, but it
> seems like you're just a couple of admins griping about how tough your
> job has gotten. ... "It's using up too much disk space" ... "there are
> too many postings" ... and other related whining.  So somehow you make
> the leap that because it's difficult for you to do your jobs, YOUR
> failure WON'T matter because your customers aren't reading or using
> these newsgroups anyway.  WRONG.

[...], look.  I run a *NEWS* server.  I do not run a jobs database.  Got
it?  My server resources do not exist for your convenience.  They exist
for the convenience of the Stanford community.

The Stanford community is not reading those groups because they're

That's right.  A population, one forth of which at any given time is
pretty much looking for jobs on a full-time basis *IS NOT READING* BECAUSE IT'S FSCKING UNREADABLE BY HUMANS!*

Somewhere along the line, those newsgroups broke.  I don't know what the
hell it's going to take to fix them.  Something massive, I'm sure.  In the
meantime, people like HeadHunter.NET are not helping matters any.  I
refuse to be a casualty in a war of escalation.  I refuse to let my news
server be a casualty in a war of escalation.  Recruiters have gotten it
into their head that if they just post faster than the other recruiters,
they'll be the ones whose ads people see first.

That's doomed.  That's flat-out doomed.  The result is that the readers
are all going to leave (they pretty much all have) and sooner or later
stuff is going to start melting down.

The fact that you still manage to make useful use of those groups is
impressive, but in the end irrelevant.  If you want a jobs database of
this sort, there are more efficient ways of going about it than by doing
this.  Right down to the simplest (if you really want to use a flood-fill
algorithm for distribution of jobs database) of creating a jobs.*
hierarchy explicitly for such use.

Apologies for my old-fashioned ways, but you know, I still have this
deluded belief that Usenet proper is actually for the use of humans, and
that groups which are not readable by normal humans don't belong in the
standard hierarchies for *human* discussion and should be handled

And yes, now that you mention it, I also have this problem with
news.lists.filters, despite the fact that I proposed the damned thing.  No
one seems to listen to me when I talk about out-of-band distribution
methods for NoCeMs, control messages, or something else along those lines.

And yes, I still propagate local posts to (a damn sight
faster than I would if I were dealing with all of the HeadHunter.NET
flood), so whatever service that provides to my local community is still
being provided.  Of course, I think that service is pretty small, since

====== 100592 unread articles in -- read now? [+ynq] 

and think "you know what, the chances of me actually finding a job within
a random selection of 100,000 jobs from random places in the world is
worse than if I walk into a random company on the street and apply, and if
I had a job to offer, I would do better by advertising in the newspaper
than in competing with 100,000 other people who are posting 10,000 jobs a
day."  And you know what, they're right.

So do you have a way of fixing that?  Hey, I'm all ears.  Everyone who
successfully reads that group claims that all they do is filter on the
subject line.  So why don't we just send out a few giant posts with just
the subject lines and URLs, and you can go clicky clicky on the ones that
sound interesting and I don't have to waste disk space storing a bunch of
text you don't read and a bunch of headers listing in excruciating detail
precisely every server that was abused to bring you this morning's
rendition of the Idiot's Law of Duck Hunting.  "If I fire enough bullets
into the air, eventually I'll hit *something*!"

Or, alternatively, you can keep bitching at me about how I don't know how
to do my job, or claim to me that the group is serving a purpose for the
people I'm serving when you don't have the logs to back that up and I do,
or somehow claim that by voodoo magic my storage of jobs postings sent by
HeadHunter.NET helps them get to you better.  Or, hell, you can claim that
the existence of recruiter downloads in will cure world
hunger and is singlehandedly responsible for the end of the cold war.
It'll make about as much sense.

Because I can explain to you right now why you and they and everyone else
involved in this wants to use Usenet rather than coming up with a real
solution to a problem that Usenet was not intended to solve.  Laziness.
That's right, you're lazy, they're lazy, news distribution is a solved
problem, there's this nice, large network of mutually cooperating sites
that for some deluded reason are doing all of this for free, if you buy a
cheap connection to a fast pipe and dump a bunch of articles in everything
happens magically and doesn't cost you a dime, and hey, even better, so
many people have put so much time and energy into making the Usenet
protocols easy to use that they can hire some cheap student programmer to
write a one-off script to dump their database into a Usenet newsgroup,
leave it running on some forgotten computer, and never touch it.  Wow!
This is just a dream come true!

Heaven forbid that you would have to actually clicky clicky on their web
site and (*gasp*) *wait* for their web server to respond when the entire
Internet exists to be exploited to move bytes around for you.  Or that it
would occur to you that, you know, there are these programs that do web
mirroring and, you know, you could run one from your nice local fast
server every night and download the web pages *yourself*, and then you
would actually be taking responsibility for your own needs and not making
other people pay money to give you the information you would pay money to

But hey, why would you do that?  News is already there!  And it's fast and
easy and free and you don't have to do any extra work and the only people
who actually believe that it's for anything as prosaic as actual
discussion are all old, bitter news admins who just can't keep up with the
times and don't know how to keep their servers running under perfectly
reasonable loads.

Do you have any idea why I do what I do?  Do you have *any* idea at *all*?

You think this is just a job I'm hired to do?  Let me tell you something
about jobs.  I could walk out the door tomorrow and have a job by next
Monday paying twice what Stanford can pay me.  I know.  I've been offered
them.  You know why I turned them down?

Because I wouldn't get to pick what I wanted to do.  And I sure as hell
wouldn't be running news servers.

You think ISPs actually consider news important?  Wrong.  News is not
where the money comes from.  News is not the sexy application.  News is
not the thing that gets written up in magazines and newspapers all the
time and that is glitzy and pretty and provides lots of eye candy for the
sales force to use.

Who the hell do you think is keeping Usenet running, anyway?  You think
we're doing this just because it's our *job*?


I don't know what makes me more sick, the fact that people don't have any
clue what actually goes into keeping this thing that they're using
running, or that when they find out they don't care.  And that's ironic.
That's really fucking ironic, because Usenet is also the place where one
can find a *real community* of people who actually *understands* what it
meant to do something for the love of it.  To throw your time and
resources and and energy into something that no one is ever going to pay
you a dime for, for no other reason than, damn it all, it's *cool* and
people *use* it and it actually helps people *talk*.

Yes.  Present tense.  You will never, never, *EVER* see me post the two
sentences in past tense, because if those sentences ever become past
tense, I won't be posting.

There are people here who understand how it felt to be a teenaged kid who
wandered into a newsgroup about comics because he collected comics at the
time and it was something interesting to talk about.  Who had the
experience of walking into a culture and a community in the process, with
its own legends and history and elder figures and mythology, where the
Reverend Scowling Jim Cowling flaming Holbrook was a spectator sport,
where one heard stories of the legends like Chuq von Rospach and Jayembee
who had been posting there *just* before you got there but you weren't
quite there soon enough to see them in all their glory, where no one
really took any of this all that seriously except for the friendships
formed in the process.  Who, a year or two later when he'd long since
given up comic collecting and lost interest in comics altogether found he
was still hanging out with the same people in the same places, because the
thing that Usenet did, the *important* thing that Usenet did that put
everything else to shame, was that it provided a way for all of the cool
people in the world to actually meet each other.

Sure, I've been involved in Usenet politics for years now, involved in
newsgroup creation, and I enjoy that sort of thing.  If I didn't, I
wouldn't be doing it.  But I've walked through the countryside of Maine in
the snow and seen branches bent to the ground under the weight of it
because of Usenet, I've been in a room with fifty people screaming the
chorus of "March of Cambreadth" at a Heather Alexander concert in Seattle
because of Usenet, I've written some of the best damn stuff I've ever
written in my life because of Usenet, I *started* writing because of
Usenet, I understand my life and my purpose and my center because of
Usenet, and you know 80% of what Usenet has given me has fuck all to do
with computers and everything to do with people.  Because none of that was
in a post.  I didn't read any of that in a newsgroup.  And yet it all came
out of posts, and the people behind them, and the interaction with them,
and the conversations that came later, and the plane trips across the
country to meet people I otherwise never would have known existed.

That's what this is all about.  That's why I do what I do.


Do you know what it's like to see something that you've put your heart and
soul into creating grow and flourish and *become* one of those
communities?  What it feels like to give back to someone, someone just
discovering the Internet, those same feelings of wonder and awe and warmth
and community and friendship that you found?  To receive, not the welcome
random bit of thanks here and there, but the far deeper and more wonderful
knowledge that you've built and maintained something that people are
*using* and using to do things and see things and think things that they
otherwise would never be able to do or would have no outlet for?

Do you know what it's like to have a friend of yours randomly on a whim
decide something in a newsgroup you created is interesting and engaging
enough to post to Usenet for the first time?  And then to experience the
horrible, sinking knowledge that with that post he's likely to get his
mailbox flooded with spam?  Or the raw fear that he'll then never post
again, scared away, when this place that has given you so much could give
that to him as well, and that he could give the same to other people?  And
that, damn it all, he's one of the cool people in this world, and you
don't know what these groups are all for, in the end, but if they're for
anything at all, they should be for people like him?

Do you know what it feels like to know that your news server, despite the
fact that it's some of the best hardware you can get with your available
resources for an application that most people just don't care about, is
running a backlog?  That you're dropping incoming articles?  That
somewhere, *somewhere* there are things being posted which you are not
receiving?  They could be junk, they could be beautiful, well-expressed
pieces of someone's soul, and you DON'T KNOW, you CAN'T KNOW, because
legions of fucking vandals are throwing so much *CRAP* at your news server
that it's running flat out trying to process it and delete it and just
can't go any faster?

Let me tell you this:  there's a rage in that.  There is a cold rage that
you feel at that because, God damn it, it is not acceptable, it is NOT
FUCKING ACCEPTABLE for a *single* post that is from a *person* talking to
other *people* to be deleted, to be dropped on the uncaring floor to make
room for machine generated spew.


And you can talk to me about free speech and applications and the future
of communication and the use to which people put such things until you're
blue in the face, and when you ask me if there's really such a thing as
good speech and bad speech, I'll still say yes.  Because there are people
talking to other people and there are machines talking to no one as loud
as they can to try to make people listen, and damn it, there *is* a
difference, and the first one *does* deserve to be here more than the
second one.  And I don't know how to tell the difference reliably either,
but that has jack to do with the way I feel about it.

And to all of the spammers and database dumpers and multiposters out
there, I say this:  You want to read that stuff, fine.  You want to create
a network for such things, fine.  You want to explore the theoretical
boundaries of free speech, fine.  But when it starts impacting *people*
trying to *communicate*, then that is where I draw the line.  This is not
a negotiation and this is not a threat; this is simply a fact.  I've been
through pain and joy with this network, I've seen communities form and
wither and reform, I've met friends and lost friends here, I've learned
things and discovered things and created things.  I've seen people make a
home here when they didn't have any other, not on a newsgroup, not with a
bunch of electrons, but with people that they've met and communities that
they've found and support that they've received from people who had just
the words they needed to hear and would never have known they existed, and
by God I *KNOW* what this network is for, and you can't have it.

Russ Allbery (         <URL:>