The once and future BYTE newsgroups

Jon Udell, August 6, 1999

I've long been fascinated with computer-based conferencing. It's the original and in many ways still the most prevalent and useful form of groupware. I spent most of the last year writing a book that explores this idea. One of the experiences that prompted me to write that book began with this message, with which I launched the BYTE newsgroups three years ago.

From: Jon Udell 
Newsgroups: joncon
Subject: The Web Project conference
Date: Thu, 01 Aug 1996 11:09:28 -0400
Organization: BYTE Magazine
Lines: 28
Message-ID: <>
Mime-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=us-ascii
Content-Transfer-Encoding: 7bit
X-Mailer: Mozilla 2.0 (WinNT; I)

I've experimented a lot with NNTP- and Web-based conferencing 
lately. Seems like a good idea to start my own conference to support 
my Web Project column. I answer a lot of emails privately; many of 
those responses are appropriate for a wider audience as well.

As is my current practice, this conference is an INN 1.4 message 
base that you can access Usenet-style, using any NNTP newsreader, or 
Web-style, using just a browser. I enhanced Earl Hood's MHonArc to 
enable Web users to not only read, but also contribute to, the 
conference. That's a subject for a future column...

Here's an important tip when replying to a message: Change the 
Subject: line. Both the Usenet and Web views of the conference will 
maintain threadedness -- it's message IDs, not subject headers, that 
determine the thread hierarchy. So if you identify your message with 
a unique title, the toplevel view of the conference is more useful 
than something like:

  re: Message
    re: re: Message

Anyway, this conference is for question, comments, or other 
discussion prompted by any of my Web Project columns, or just 
generally about Internet technologies and development techniques.

Jon Udell

By the time BYTE ceased publication last year, the BYTE newsgroups had become an integral part of my professional life. One contributor introduced himself to the groups this way:

This is my first posting to the collective braintrust that Jon has gathered, but I have been following the discussions for long time.

The term "collective braintrust" captures very nicely what conferencing, at its best, can be. Like me, the kinds of people who used to read BYTE Magazine, and who are now reading, are eclectic technologists. We use computer technologies to do our jobs, and to do our jobs well we must constantly push the boundaries of those technologies, explore their intellectual foundations, and pool our practical knowledge.

The online community attracted to the BYTE newsgroups maintained a very high standard of discourse. The generosity, professionalism, and intelligence displayed in the newsgroups was exemplary, but really not surprising -- BYTE readers always were a class act.

What was surprising, and delightful, was what happened in June of last year after the magazine shut down. CMP was not, at the time, interested in hosting the newsgroups, and gave me permission to move them to my own server. So I parked a machine about a mile from the BYTE building, in the basement of former BYTE editor Ben Smith's house -- which happened to be the Peterborough POP for MV Communications -- and fired up a news server on that machine.

Things just kept rolling on, pretty much as before. I suppose the BIX experience should have prepared me for this. The original BYTE online community, BIX -- which McGraw-Hill sold in 1993 ("Think there's anything to this online stuff? Naaah.") -- remains to this day an important watering hole for many former BYTE readers and like-minded people. I'd probably be there myself, had not McGraw-Hill's jettisoning of BIX prompted me to explore alternative ways to build an online community for BYTE.

It takes a long time to build an online community, but once you do it can be a remarkably durable thing. Just as BIX transcended its original roots in BYTE Magazine, so did the newsgroups that I continued to run on the server in Ben's basement. The "collective braintrust" just kept on doing its thing. This was especially valuable to me, as a newly-minted independent writer and consultant working -- as many of us do -- from my home office.

The T1 connection to Ben Smith's basement wasn't going to last forever, though. Ben was building a sailboat and getting ready to fulfill a longtime dream to travel on it, with his family, around the world. So last fall, the groups migrated again -- to the DevX site run by Fawcette Technical Publishing, whose WebBuilder Magazine published a series of my columns last year. There, I also wrote a series of weekly columns based on issues raised in the newsgroups -- a traditional that will continue here starting next week.

Why have the newsgroups moved back to Because ultimately I think that's where they belong. Like BYTE Magazine, values the rich diversity of the technology landscape. In the BYTE newsgroups we've always explored hardware and software, the Microsoft empire and the Open Source rebellion, cable modems and ADSL, relational and object databases, and much more. I'm deeply committed to this braintrust, and I think it can flourish best here at See you in the newsgroups!

Jon Udell ( was BYTE Magazine's executive editor for new media, the architect of the original, and author of BYTE's Web Project column. He's now an independent Web/Internet consultant, and is the author of Practical Internet Groupware, forthcoming from O'Reilly and Associates.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.