The Great Renaming FAQ

By Lee S. Bumgarner

Part 4

Richard Sexton and Usenet's consitutional crisis

Yet, in a way, things did not change all that much. After the death of the Backbone Cabal, Spaf was installed as the new group creation "Tsar." Spaf's place in Usenet culture cannot be overstressed, even though his famus "Burn out letter" was posted in the early 90's.

One of the biggest events during Spaf's post-Backbone Cabal days was the 1989 aquarium reorganization controversy, which is the closest to a constitutional crisis Usenet will ever get. Richard Sexton noticed at some point that there was no newsgroup for tropical fish afficionados. He posted to rec.pets, but only got 2 responses in 6 months. He thus proposed a group for aquaria. When the vote failed by a 10% margin, Bob Webber created alt.aquaria. Soon, the group was getting about 40 posts a day but because it was in alt.* it did not have great distibution and was not read in Europe. Readers of the group generally belived that the subject should be mainstreamed via a rec.* group.

Yet Sexton decided he disagreed. A vote for sci.military had recently been successful and Sexton reasoned, "if killing people was a science then so was keeping tropical fish; besides, sci.aquaria would make it to Europe," Sexton says in the Net.Legends FAQ.

Following the newsgroup creation guidelines of the time, a discussion was held for two weeks on the group, and popular opinion was very much against it. Yet the discussion phase was non-binding so Sexton went ahead and called the vote anyway. At this point, the Backbone Cabal came back for one last fight. Sexton got a lot of his ex-Cabal friends to skillfully forge yes votes and the group passed 938 to 727. The forgeries went undetected and Spaf created the group, although many sites either refused to honor the newsgroup or forwarded its traffic into one of the other *.aquaria groups. It was at this point that newsgroup creation rules were changed.

(The 2/3 rule came about after comp.protocols.tcp-ip.eniac passed, according to Wiener.)

Yet even this is not the end. Given that Usenet behaves almost like a living thing, it is very likely the current rules will be changed as needed. Stay tuned.