Newsgroup History

"History" may be the wrong title for this page, as it's difficult to call something history when the difference between history and current events is so blurry. I've been rewriting this page for 6 years to keep up with ongoing history, and I will probably have to continue doing so until the Wheel stops turning. Please help me keep it accurate and up to date by offering your suggestions. Let me know if you have a question you'd like to see me answer here or a correction of something I've gotten wrong.

Last update: April 2000. Minor tweaks.

Ancient History

Most of you reading this page are familiar with the newsgroup rec.arts.sf.written.robert-jordan (abbreviated rasfwrj). Before July 1994, though, there was no such group. Rasfwrj sprang from rec.arts.sf.written (raswf), a newsgroup for the discussion of all written works of speculative fiction. If you only want a short explanation of what happened, it is sufficient to say that the RJ-related traffic on rasfw grew large enough that a separate group, rasfwrj, was created in July 1994. If you want a more detailed account, keep reading.

Growing Pains

There were two attempts at creating a new newsgroup in the rec hierarchy for Robert Jordan. The first happened in about October of 1993 when rec.arts.sf.written was being flooded with lots of RJ traffic due to the release of The Fires of Heaven. The newsgroup was also receiving lots of anti-RJ traffic due to the heavy RJ traffic. More than a quarter of these messages were of the sort "There's too many f**king RJ messages on this group!!" Think about it: people posting messages complaining about the preponderance of messages posted. Irony, thy name is Usenet.

Because of the heavy traffic and constant fighting, many readers supported the creation of a separate Jordan group, but many people opposed it. Even some fans of Robert Jordan opposed it. I don't remember exactly why, but I can only imagine it was because not all of them thought there was enough Jordan-related traffic to warrant a separate group.

Many people opposed it for other reasons, too. Chief among these was the objection that rasfwrj would establish a precedent for a newsgroup devoted to a single author. People wrote apocalyptic treatises about a Usenet littered with hundreds of thousands of newsgroups, one for each individual person, book, television show, celebrity, or idea of note. This form of argument may seem strange to a participant in Usenet news in 1999, because today there are hundreds of groups devoted to particular authors, artists, musicians, athletes, sports teams, etc. Is it the Orwellian nightmare that doomsayers were predicting back in 1993? No. Many of these fan groups dedicated to a single individual or group enjoy healthy discussion and apparently offer enjoyment to some segment of the general public. If you don't like it, you don't have to read the groups.

An odd note: Many of the people opposing the creation of the newsgroup were the most vociferous in complaining about all the RJ traffic filling the newsgroup. Again: Irony, thy name is Usenet. (Some of these people simply disliked Robert Jordan's books and apparently wanted to prohibit Robert Jordan's books from being discussed anywhere on the 'Net.)

The pros and cons of creating a new group were discussed in rasfw for a while and then were moved to news.groups and formalized with a Request For Discussion. Shortly thereafter, the issue died. It seemed that everyone on rasfw said, "Glad it's gone!" and forgot about it. Because so few people supported the group once it was formally proposed, a Call For Votes was never issued.

The Wrong Thing, and for the Wrong Reasons

During the height of the October 1993 debate about creating a new newsgroup, someone (whose name I forget) created the newsgroup (afrj). While this may seem to be a good thing at first -- it was the new newsgroup we wanted, wasn't it? -- it was actually a problem. The newsgroup creator didn't follow any of the guidelines for creating a new group. The guidelines in the alt hierarchy are none as strict as for big-7 groups, but there are guidelines. If you don't follow them, you doom your group to poor propogation and to being the victim of an rmgroup war.

The proper way create an alt group is to discuss it in alt.config and try to build some consensus. You need to make news administrators around the world aware that there's a real desire to use the proposed group. The person who created afrj did none of this, so few sites accepted the group in the first place. Of those that did, many removed the group later once several people deemed the group bogus and issued rmgroup commands. (People frequently create new newsgroups for idiotic and purely selfish reasons. Other people have to clean up after them, and that's what they did with afrj.)

The alt group was Dead On Arrival.

Even had it been created according to the guidelines, afrj would not have been a good solution to the problems in rasfw. Many readers didn't have alt groups available at their sites, so they would have been unable to use afrj. They would have continued using rasfw.

The creation of afrj muddied the issue of creating a rec.* group. Even if not for that, though, the effort for a rec.* newsgroup probably would have failed just from lack of support.

The Second Try

Rasfw calmed down in a few months as the discussion of Fires of Heaven diminished, but the situation on the newsgroup remained tense. Small flamewars sprouted here and there every three weeks or so. None were as big as in October, largely because the veterans (on both sides of the issue) were tired of arguing.

In April 1994, after several months of tense disarmament punctuated by occasional skirmishes along the border of the issue, I started thinking about spearheading a newsgroup creation effort. I collected figures on how much RJ traffic was being sent through the group and I solicited opinions from several veteran members. I sketched out the strongest arguments for and against creating a separate RJ group, and convinced myself that every argument against it could be refuted.

In May 1994 the tensions on rasfw started coming to a head again. It seemed that every bloody newcomer to rasfw posted a message saying, "Who da f*ck is RJ and why da f*ck don't they get their own group?" I was nearly ready with my work on the Request For Discussion (RFD, the first formal step in big-7 newsgroup creation) so I posted a draft of it, as a suggestion, and conducted a straw poll. My poll showed 117 in favor of creating a new group and 25 opposed.

With that much support I felt the effort would be successful. In addition, all the RJ fans favored a separate newsgroup this time, as did many people who disliked RJ but would be happy to see our traffic disappear from rasfw. I posted the formal RFD in early June and the CFV (Call For Votes) at the end of June, the minimum period of 21 days after the RFD. The voting period closed in mid-July with a total of 406 votes in favor and 71 opposed. This was a fairly overwhelming result. The standards for approval are that there be at least 100 YES votes and that the YES votes outnumber the NO votes by at least 2:1. Our ratio of nearly 6:1 was virtually unheard of amongst proposals that drew significant numbers of votes.

The newsgroup rec.arts.sf.written.robert-jordan was created on July 26, 1994.

A Strong Showing

Rasfwrj quickly became popular. Prior to its creation, we predicted that it would receive 25-40 messages per day. During the first week, it averaged almost 100 messages per day. Two years later, it averaged almost 200 messages per day. This makes rasfwrj one of the busiest newsgroups in all of Usenet. (And that's not even counting the 400 messages/day peaks in June 1996 due to the release of A Crown of Swords!)

Back From the Grave

A truism of the Internet is that once something is created, it's virtually impossible to destroy. This happened with the afrj newsgroup. After its bastard creation, it limped along with only a few servers carrying it. People tried to remove it -- because we certainly didn't need two Robert Jordan newsgroups -- but some sites, as a policy, ignored all removal attempts. Afrj appeared on approximately 10% of all sites, and it suffered poor interconnection because the other 90% that considered it a bogus group wouldn't propogate the messages in it.

Another truism of the Internet is that 2 years is a lifetime. Afrj found new life as the Internet evolved. In 1993, site administrators actually spent time managing Usenet News. They rejected bogus newsgroups to save precious disk space on their server machines. A few years later, with the 'net exploding in popularity and with the resouce-intensive World Wide Web rocketing from 1% of all traffic (in 1993) to 90% or more of all traffic, site administrators generally gave up managing the existence of Usenet newsgroups. Saving time by putting the process on autopilot and carrying all newsgroups regardless of merit became a better economic proposition than spending valuable time to save a paltry few megabytes of disk space on the servers. Afrj, despite its ignoble birth, became indistinguishable from first-class newsgroups except in the minds of those old enough to remember. And, by Internet standards, remembering back 2 years makes you an old fogey. (My 10+ years of experience on the Internet qualify me as a fossil.)

Today, in 1999, you'll find rasfwrj and afrj virtually next door to each other on Usenet. Their names would seem to make them interchangeable... in the same fictional universe where you can always judge a book by its cover. To find out what I mean by that, you'll either have to read the groups yourself or pester me to write an article about social differences. This article only covers the technical history.

If you came to this article from the FAQ or a web search, you might like to visit Bill's Repository of Robert Jordan Fandom

Bill Garrett
garrett (at)
Copyright 1994-2000