Dept. of Odd things you run into when you have a new, cookie-free computer:
While looking at the Wikipedia entry on egoboo, I noticed that the list of external references included a link to the earliest recorded online citation of the word: Usenet, 1982, net.sf-lovers/msg/988b7faf00af1308.
If you click on that link, most of you will wind up looking at a 26-year-old usenet message. What I got was the sign-in page for Google Groups. Which was odd. I tried googling with “groups” selected for any instance of egoboo. It said there were none. Then I googled on stuff I know is in the old Usenet message base, like “inaan obagn” “nielsen hayden”,* and again got zero hits. Which was very odd.
On a hunch, I reset Google to search the web, ran one of my search strings again, ignored the results, and reset Google to groups while leaving my search string in the query box. This was successful, insofar as it turned up a long string of links to those old messages I knew had to be there; but when I tried clicking through on one of the links, it sent me back to the sign-in page for Google Groups. No cookie, no Usenet.
I have three objections to this state of affairs, and one question about it.
1. Google ought not be running a system for newsgroup searches that returns a false answer—i.e., says there are zero hits on a search string—when they’re actually denying access to that part of their database to users who aren’t signed in on Google Groups.
It’s not the denial of access that bothers me; it’s that they tell you the data isn’t there. They don’t do that with web searches or image searches. Whether or not you have a Google account, they’ll tell you what web sites and images your search string finds. They ought not make the ability to know about Usenet search-string hits contingent on an unrelated function.
2. No one who wasn’t already aware of Usenet could infer its existence from looking at their Google Groups login page. All it talks about is how keen it is to create current groups. Here’s the text:
Create and share with groups of peopleWhich is no doubt a swell thing; but nowhere does it hint that back behind that login page is a primordial internet archive stretching back to 1981, which in internet years is as one with Vinča symbols and Oracle Bone Script.
Along with familiar features like group creation and search, Google Groups has a new look and exciting new features. Now you can:Create rich custom group web pages
Customize your group’s look and graphics
Upload files for your members to share
Share member profiles
If you click on the small unobtrusive “Help” link at the bottom of the login page, it takes you to a Google Groups help page, which has a link to The Basics of Usenet, which has a link to How far back does Google’s Usenet archive go?, where it says:
Google has fully integrated more than 20 years of Usenet archives into Google Groups, which now offers access to more than 1 billion Usenet messages dating back to 1981. We believe this to be the most complete collection of Usenet articles ever assembled and a fascinating historical document.(Twenty-seven years, but who’s counting?)
I’ll grant that the Usenet archive is historically fascinating, but does no one at Google ever use it for current searches? It’s surprising how often subjects too obscure for Wikipedia and the Web can be found there; and the decades-old language of its earliest threads can still be understood by modern English speakers who know the trick of reading the difficult bits out loud.
Which leads to my third objection:
3. Usenet is still a going concern. The long tail it drags behind it may be a static historical archive, but its chronological front end is still alive and squawking. I believe this makes Usenet the only area of current internet activity that Google won’t search for you if you’re not logged in.
So much for my three objections. Now for the question:
While I honor Google greatly for the work they’ve done in searching out and compiling old archives from the frontier days of the internet, that doesn’t mean they own the old Usenet message base—does it? In all the publishing law I know, owning a copy of something doesn’t mean you own the rights to it, even if yours is the only copy in existence.