How the Management of the Big-8 Developed



Introduction: What the Board does

The Big-8 Management Board oversees eight hierarchies in Usenet:

  • comp.*
  • humanities.*
  • misc.*
  • news.*
  • rec.*
  • sci.*
  • soc.*
  • talk.*

These are known as the "Big-8 hierarchies."

The idea of management distinguishes these eight subsets of Usenet from unmanaged hierarchies such as alt.* In the Big-8, newsgroups are added, removed, or modified by the action of the Big-8 Management Board. In unmanaged hierarchies, the control messages to perform these functions may be sent by any user.[1]

"The idea of the big-8 was that it's a stable "core" of Usenet; a set of groups that are widely agreed upon to exist, that can be expected to reach (almost) everyone. That's why it requires management, to ensure that it remains stable and suitable for most Usenet sites."[2]

The Big-8 Management Board aims to:

Development of hierarchy management in the Big-8

The purpose of this article is to trace the development--evolution?--of the tools that allow the orderly creation, removal, or modification of newsgroups in the Big-8:

  • Checkgroups: a canonical list of newsgroups in the eight hierarchies.
  • Creation Guidelines: a standardized approach to discussing and creating newsgroups.
  • news.announce.newgroups: a moderated newsgroup for publication of official lists and other items related to hierarchy management.
  • Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) key: a signature that is used to authenticate control messages and Checkgroups.

In the beginning was chaos

The Development of Checkgroups

The first steps towards hierarchy management--producing reliable lists of available newsgroups--were taken in 1980; lists of newsgroups were embedded in the code for A News.[3] In May of 1981, Mark_Horton reported that he had "renamed all the arpanet newsgroups from NET.whatever to fa.whatever."[4] In December, he mentioned that he was starting to collect a list of "officially blessed" newsgroups.[5] Horton created in January of 1982 "for discussions about proposed new newsgroups."[6] That same month, Curt Stephens began to publish a list of newsgroups in the new group.[7] By the end of 1982, Adam Buchsbaum was producing a "List of Active Newsgroups.[8] Gene Spafford (spaf) took over updating and posting that list in 1984, and soon added Checkgroups postings.[9] In 1993, spaf retired,[10] and David C. Lawrence (tale) took over the task of publishing the lists.

Development of Guidelines for Group Creation

In the early days of Usenet, there was no control over the creation of new newsgroups. Anyone could issue the necessary control messages to create a new group, as is still the case in unmanaged hierarchies:

From: cbosgd!mark (cbosgd!mark)
Subject: official policy on creation of new newsgroups
Date: 1982-05-31 21:52:27 PST
Message-ID: [bnews.cbosgd.2329]

The current official policy on creation new newsgroups is that someone is supposed to propose it in net.general, (substitute whatever for net if it's a local group, or set up your own procedure) and all followups are supposed to go to only. (The followup command in all recent versions of news does this automatically.) Once a consensus is reached, the person who originally proposed it should make a yes/no decision on the newsgroup and a name, announce it to net.general, and create it. (If he is not the netnews contact at his site, he should ask that person to create it, or ask me.)[11]

Message-ID: []
Newsgroups: net.general
From: curts@sri-unix
Date: Sat Nov 20 10:30:44 1982
Subject: grouplist

A new newsgroup may be created by simply posting material to the net under a new newsgroup name. However, THIS IS NOT RECOMMENDED! There are limits to the number of newsgroups that can be supported by the net. If you wish to send material to the net, first try to find an established newsgroup that deals with a subject related to that material. If there is no appropriate newsgroup, suggest the creation of a new group via Usually, there will be enough feedback to establish whether there is an audience for the subject that you would like to discuss.[12]

On October 31, 1987, spaf circulated the first Guidelines on "How to Create a New Newsgroup."[13] Although the document prescribed a routine for developing a proposal and issuing a call for votes, it had no strict mechanism for the subsequent creation of the group: "You can issue the control message yourself, but many sites will ignore the group unless the control message originates from one of the known backbone admins." These five [[wp>Backbone_cabal|backbone administrators]] were Gene Spafford, Mark Horton, Rick Adams, Greg Woods, and Erik Fair.[14]

The practice of voting on newsgroup proposals continued from 1987 until 2005. The last edition of the Guidelines for Big-8 Newsgroup Creation under the old system were published in August of that year.[15]

Development of news.groups and news.announce.newgroups

In 1987, became news.groups.[16] The new group inherited the task of the old group: to discuss newsgroup proposals and provide lists of active newsgroups.

On August 8, 1989, news.announce.newgroups (n.a.n.) was created with Greg Woods as the initial moderator of the group: "The moderated group will contain ONLY new group proposals, calls for votes, and results of votes, and periodic postings of the newsgroup creation guidelines. Proposals for changes to the newsgroup creation procedure will also be considered, again with the discussion and inevitable flame wars taking place only in news.groups, provided that these proposals do not become too numerous (bearing in mind that the major goal of this new group is to keep the volume low)."[17] In January 1990, [[wp>Eliot_Lear|Eliot Lear]] took over, at first as backup moderator for Woods.[18] He shepherded the system through its early turbulence and then chose David C. Lawrence (tale) as his successor in February 1991.[19]

Subsequent news.announce.newgroups moderators

Under tale, all of the ingredients for hierarchy management were consolidated. As moderator of n.a.n, he oversaw the creation and removal of newsgroups. After 1993, he also took over the job of issuing Checkgroups so that news administrators could have a reliable list of active newsgroups. In 1996, tale began authenticating his posts by using a [[wp>Pretty_Good_Privacy|PGP key]] to counteract a of bogus control messages that had been sent out under his name.[20] As a general rule, most news administrators ceased to honor control messages in the Big-8 hierarchy that were not authenticated by tale's PGP key.

Russ Allbery began to help tale with hierarchy management in 1997.[21] In 2002, Allbery succeeded tale as the lead moderator for news.announce.newgroups with piranha and Todd McComb as fellow n.a.n. moderators.[22] In 2004, Brian Edmonds joined the moderation team.[23]

Since 1987, most newsgroup decisions had been made by the system of voting developed under spaf's guidance. In 2005, the voting system came under attack, and the news.announce.newgroups moderators announced a moratorium on accepting RFDs and asked for new ideas about how to manage the Big-8.[24] Those discussions led in turn to the formation of an interim group[25] that eventually became the Big-8 Management Board, the successor to the n.a.n. moderation team of Allbery, piranha, McComb, and Edmonds.[26]


Allbery, Russ. "ADMINISTRIVIA: New members of group-advice" (2001-03-04).

------. "ANNOUNCEMENT: Change of Moderators" (2002-10-13).

------. "Big Eight hierarchy management transition" (2006-09-30).

------. "The Big Eight Newsgroup Creation Process 1.11" (2005-08-25).

------. "Usenet Hierarchy Administration FAQ 1.8" (2006-08-12).

Bernstein, Joe. "History of the guidelines for newsgroup creation in the Big Seven and Big Eight hierarchies 0.35" (2001-11-02).

------. "1981-1982 creation.txt" (2003-11-01).

------. "Early lists of newsgroups" (2002-01-20).

Buchsbaum, Adam. "List of Active Newsgroups" (1982-12-05).

Edmonds, Brian. "How To Write a Good Newgroup Message 1.19" (2003-07-23).

Guntner, David. "Authenticated newgroup/rmgroup messages" (1996-05-22).

Hauben, Michael and Rhonda. Netizens: On the History and Impact of Usenet and the Internet.

Horton, Mark. " is being renamed news.groups" (1986-11-07).

------. "network name change is in effect" (1981-05-12).

------. "official policy on creation of new newsgroups" (1982-06-01).

Internet Systems Consortium (ISC). Sample "List of Big Eight Newsgroups" (2006-09-15).

Jones, Bruce. usenet.hist mailing list archive.

McComb, Todd. "ANNOUNCEMENT: New Team Member" (2004-07-01).

------. "Call for Volunteers: Advisory Board" (2005-10-31).

------. "Welcome to new Board members" (2005-11-21).

Spafford, Gene. "Bad addresses & control messages"--first Checkgroups (1984-10-01).

------. "List of Moderators" (1991-05-20).

Stephens, Curt. "grouplist" (1982-01-26).

------. "grouplist" (1982-11-20).

Supernews. "Composing and Posting a Control (newgroup) Message" (2006).

Woods, Greg. "news.announce.newgroups is up" (1989-08-08).

Related Wikipedia articles

Specific hierarchies