Usenet 30 Years Ago : Real-Time Usenet Feed

Were you around Usenet in 1981?  Would you like to see how it looked 30 years ago in real-time?  If so visit  As the site is updating in real-time from a 1981 feed.  The feed was originally from the University of Toronto’s Department of Zoology so you can expect a slight focus on Canada and Zoology themes.  Thanks to Joey at and everyone else who had a hand in bringing this piece of Usenet history to life.

The feed can be accessed through the site or via newsreader at  Tested successfully using slrn newsreader.  The Usenet archive is updating in real-time as if we were in 1981.  So right now it’s showing posts from June 5, 1981.  Unlike the feed in 1981 which was updated nightly, this one is kept up to date every 5 minutes.  So check out this piece of Usenet history at


For more information read the announcement below:


As I write this, it’s the morning of June 5th, 1981. A few people scattered across the US are waking up, going in to work, sitting down at their terminal with a coffee, and reading Usenet. Usenet is only getting a trickle of posts each day — it’s still in that period where it’s easy to read every message posted to it.

Many things lie in Usenet’s future. It’s still running A-News, which doesn’t even have a real From header yet. Later this year it will switch over to B-News, and volume will begin to increase. In 1987 there will be The great renaming. And of course in 1994, the first spam will be posted to Usenet.

But that’s all a long way off, here in 1981. Right now, they’re talking about 500 mb disk drives that only cost $38000. And rms is inciting flames about nuclear proliferation. And Postel is publishing an RFC for the new Mail Transfer Protocol.

Good morning, Usenet. Who knows what will come next in this fledgeling electronic communications medium!

a ten year real-time historical exhibit

This morning, I’m announcing a new site:

It’s Usenet, updated in real time as it was thirty years ago. Planned to be available for the next ten years, unless I run out of inodes (again).

If you missed it the first time around, this is your chance to follow Usenet’s flowering.

made possible by

141 magtape usenet archive

  • Henry Spencer at the University of Toronto, Department of Zoology, who archived Usenet. Back when it was really uncool and really expensive. Our view onto Usenet is thus slightly centric to Canada and Zoology, but that’s ok.
  • David Wiseman, who hauled 141 magtapes in a pickup truck.
  • Many who worked to rescue data off the tapes. Including from the deleted stuff at the ends.
  • Rich Skrenta, who somehow got a copy of the archive out from under the Google borg. Although one of the tar files is truncated. Just saying.
  • The creator of Telehack, who pointed me in the right direction, ending my multi-year quest to find the archive. And if you think this is neat, Telehack will blow you away.
  • The developers of Haskell, which enabled me to whip up a B-News to C-News converter, a custom uucp, date parsers for every crazy date format ever used on Usenet, and suitible queue data structures in a rock solid, maintainable way, in 500 lines of code written over 12 hours. When I realized I also needed an A-News to B-News converter, I knew it was worth it to have done things right, because that took only 43 more lines, and worked 100% on the first run! My code repository for is here.