By Lee S. Bumgarner
Breaking of the Backbone Cabal
A number of simultaneous events rendered the Backbone Cabal irrelevant. The most important was the increased use of NNTP around this same time. Usenet's use of Internet made it easier to ignore what the Backbone news admins thought. Acording to Reid, the Backbone started to decline when he and Richard Sexton snuck the site "gryphon" into the backbone. It was arranged to get "gryphon," a 386 PC in Greg Laskin's living room in Los Angeles, to get news feed from "famous and important" backbone sites and thus put into the official backbone map.
Also, the new procedures set up after the Great Renaming led to a challenge by "readers" against the "privileged" positions of the admins. In the years right before the Great Renaming, a new group would be created after a subject had sufficient traffic on an existing group, or arbitararily. Then the Cabal would figure out the name and create it. The Cabal was strongest during this period: backbone sites refused to carry groups they considered stupid.
The new procedure went something like this, according to Greg Woodbury. Someone proposed a newsgroup and then the Cabal talked about the potentials of/for the new group. The Cabal defined a name for the group, and after asking the views of other admins, would then create the group.
"There were often votes. Many things didn't really interest them, but they wanted evidence that the precious namespace wasn't wasted," Wiener said.
This original system eventually became the proposal and "vote" scheme of the Big *. Holding votes was a way to make people shut up if a group was unpopular. Even though there is no one "in control" of Usenet, the voting system is the closest thing to a government it has. Although voting had existed long before the Great Renaming, according to Wiener, it was much more informal, with neither an offical ending time nor count requirements.
The current voted format was laid down around right before the Great Renaming, but not used until 1987. Once the voting mechanism was in place, the individual opinions of the backbone-site admins no longer mattered much.
Lastly, Usenet's changing makeup was involved. Adams was given a loan by USENIX to set up a non-profit Usenet site. Eventually this became UUnet and thus as a commercial entity existing to distribute news, had every reason _to_ carry all of alt.* .
During the Cabal's last days, its death was quickened by the "comp.women" debacle, as it was later known. In summer 1988, a moderated, technical issues and women newsgroup was proposed. Its creation became the subject of a massive flame war because its supporters wanted to put it in the comp.* groups for better propagation. Opponents noted this hierarchy was devoted to far more technical things. "Proponents noted that comp.risks and comp.society were often non-technical," Wiener said. After *much* discussion John F. Haugh created a "comp.society.women" via a forged control message, out of exasperation. Strangly, Wiener remembers these events differently. "There was a vote--for that very name--and the newsgroup passed, and then Rick Adams refused to issue the newgroup for it," he said. According to Haugh, this was no big deal if you had a well-connected UUCP machine. "And I had 50+ UUCP neighbors at the time," Haugh notes. Haugh got a great deal of flamage for doing so, partly due to the content of his first post to the group.
"...it was basically a very sarcastic dig aimed straight at Gene Spafford and the rest of the Backbone Cabal," Haugh said Yet because it was sarcasm, "there was some question about the actual meaning and many took the posting as being patronizing," he said. Anyway, the group came to life after it was created.
About a month or so after the comp.society.women debate, the backbone mailing list having gone almost entirely silent, Spaf announced he was going to shut it down. It had become silent because very few people were using dialup UUCPnet links any more. A few months after _that_, it was observed that the list had become /dev/null. The Cabal's last act, according too Jim Jewett, was to " sanction Ed Vielmetti's rush creation of comp.sys.next." Regardless, the Backbone Cabal was dead, and the "Usenet Cabal" myth was born.
End of part 3