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Slyck Interviews Giganews
February 11, 2009
Thomas Mennecke
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The Newsgroups are a special part of the Internet that predates the World Wide Web. Since their inception, they’ve been used as a medium to share information and ideas. With the arrival of the World Wide Web, communities have to some extent shifted away from the newsgroups in favor of web based services such as phpBB. Does this mean the newsgroups are going away? Not at all. The Giganews team has participated in an interview with to discuss the many issues surrounding the newsgroups and to debunk some commonly held misconceptions. A recent article appeared in PC Magazine that recently said that Usenet was dead; Would you agree? Based on your observations, and if you could provide statistics, how would Giganews interpret the state of the newsgroups?

Giganews: What we are seeing is not the decline of Usenet, but its robust and continuing growth. As illustrated in our December 24th blog post, we have experienced steady growth over the past year, but our most recent growth has been explosive. When we started, it required the partial use of a fractional T1 to process the feed. Today, 15 years later, it requires multiple GigE links to process over 5 Terabytes of new uploads and discussions per day, which represents almost 500mbps of sustained traffic.

Internet traffic studies compiled during 2007 from Ellacoya in the United States and PlanetInternet in Europe estimated NNTP traffic at 9% in the US and 14% in Europe. These statistics only include unencrypted NNTP traffic and do not include encrypted traffic (which Ellacoya and PlanetInternet cannot track). Over 40% of our customers utilize encryption, so the actual percentage of NNTP traffic is significantly higher.

Further, many organizations still utilize text newsgroups extensively. In fact, text groups are by far our single largest request for peers.

Usenet has never been more thriving and popular. Prompted by NY Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, Comcast and many other ISPs have recently discontinued newsgroup support. What traffic changes, either positive or negative, did Giganews witness after that string of events?

Giganews: During the summer we had a surge in new customers when customers of various ISPs who lost their newsgroup service looked to Giganews to replace it. It was our largest ever number of sign-ups during the summer. What kind of dialog, if any, existed (or continues to exist) between Giganews and the NY Attorney General's office? What was the result of that dialog?

Giganews: The NYAG's office communicated to us that they had verified certain newsgroups dedicated to child sexual abuse images and requested that we remove them. Giganews had already previously removed many of the specified groups and we immediately removed the remaining groups at their request. We have had no other dialogue. Do you believe that Cuomo's approach helped or hurt the cause of eliminating the exploitation of minors? Who do you believe the move hurt in the end? Also, what efforts does Giganews take to eliminate/mitigate this problem?

Giganews: Please read our September 29, 2008 blog post for more details about our views on the NY Attorney General's efforts and Giganews' long history of combating child sexual abuse.

We won't speculate on the Cuomo's effectiveness as we truly have no way of knowing the ultimate results of Cuomo's effort. However, as we wrote in our blog post, we are not aware of any arrests or children saved as a result of the NYAG's efforts, nor do we know how many ongoing investigations were compromised and unnecessarily interrupted.

We take the issue of child sexual abuse very seriously and will continue to do so in the future. This is an area where we have been an industry leader for many years. We are a long-term, dues paying, Full Member of the Internet Watch Foundation out of the UK, and we have relationships with similar organizations in other countries. There's often an analogy drawn between the Newsgroups and BitTorrent - at least in terms of copyright issues. What dialog exists between Giganews and the entertainment industry? How would you describe the relationship?

Giganews: As a Service Provider under the DMCA, we stand in stark contrast to file sharing technologies such as BitTorrent. The DMCA is the codification of the Netcom case , which arose from a copyright holder attempting to hold a Usenet provider liable for user-generated content in a Usenet newsgroup (alt.religion.scientology). The DMCA provides clear guidelines and "Safe Harbors" which clearly outline a process for protecting copyrights. If copyrighted materials are available through our service without a copyright holder's consent, the copyright holder can send us a DMCA "take-down" notice and we promptly remove such materials from our systems.

A concrete example suggests that newsgroup copyright abuse is not epidemic: in 2007, we corresponded with a major copyright enforcement group who asserted that 72 newsgroups we carried contained "widespread and obvious" infringement. But when we reviewed the copyrighted works the enforcement group had asked us to remove, we saw that a mere 0.1% of the articles in the 72 newsgroups had been identified as infringing by the enforcement group via DMCA take down notices. Furthermore, 23 of the 72 newsgroups had no infringing materials identified whatsoever. So the assertion that the 72 newsgroups contained "widespread and obvious" infringement seems to vastly overstate the case. This begs the question: If the infringement is "widespread and obvious," then why hasn't the copyright holder provided DMCA take down notice for this "widespread and obvious" infringement? We have had no further communication with this enforcement group, but the percentages for these groups have stayed the same, if not declined.

It is important to note in this regard that it is the copyright holder's responsibility to provide notice of specific infringing content (based on Message-IDs) to the Service Provider. With 5 terabytes (1,000 DVDs) worth of data being posted to Usenet every day, it is impossible for Giganews to monitor what is being is posted. Congress anticipated this problem for Service Providers when drafting the DMCA and rightly placed the duty on copyright holders to police their copyrights.

Another important distinction between Giganews and BitTorrent is that Usenet is a transfer protocol that existed long before current file sharing technologies. As many people know, Usenet (circa 1979) existed years before the World Wide Web (circa 1992). Usenet is the original social networking technology and maintains that important distinction today. Giganews is a global, public social networking community that enables its members to chat with each other and share content on a global basis. Our worldwide approach is an effort to introduce the world to Usenet with the hopes that people across the globe will interact. People tend to take the longevity of BitTorrent trackers/indexers with a grain of salt. What reassurances can you give Usenet fans regarding the longevity of Giganews?

Giganews: We have been running Usenet servers continuously for 15 years and aren't slowing down. Almost 40% of our members live outside of North America and they represent over half of our traffic. We keep clusters and network in North America (Ashburn, Los Angeles and Miami), Europe (Amsterdam, London and Frankfurt) and have recently expanded to Hong Kong. We have near term plans for deployments into other areas of the world. Wherever we go, people that learn Usenet love it. The most powerful aspect of Usenet is the ability to share and communicate worldwide, and we think this will ensure that Usenet will have a long life. Giganews recently announced a significant upgrade and a temporary decline in retention. Once the upgrades are completed, what retention level can we look forward to?

Giganews: We aren't sure how high it is going to go. We are completing a West Coast deployment as we speak with a European upgrade to follow. The combination of upgrades to existing server clusters and ongoing deployments will provide Giganews with a platform to take retention above 300 days in the very near future. But these upgrades are just the beginning. More announcements are coming in 2009! People tend to think of Usenet as a static technology; that the technology used in the late 70s is the same technology being used today. What can you tell us about the technological innovations that Giganews has brought to the newsgroup table?

We have completely redesigned the server software required to run Usenet in order to be able to operate in the broadband era. We are able to provide the retention, completeness and speed that defines us as a premium service provider because we have designed (and constantly redesign) our systems with scalability and redundancy. That would be unworkable (and uneconomical) under Usenet's original design.

We are the first Usenet company to deploy a networked cluster of servers that provides access to Usenet on multiple continents. Even if you are in Europe you can connect to a server cluster that is optimal for your network connection but at the same time have access to the same retention and completion North America has enjoyed for years.

We're also pushing Usenet into Asia, Australia, Africa, South America, and other areas of the world that haven't previously experienced much Usenet usage due to the high latency to the major server farms located many time zones away. We have developed technology that address latency and allows us to provide content more quickly. We also have other projects in the pipeline that will continue to push the NNTP protocol.

In addition, we have continually developed software improvements over the years such as the Giganews Accelerator and Encrypted Usenet. By the way, more software improvements are on the way. We hope to announce these projects soon! Ball park figure: how many concurrent individuals are on Usenet as we speak?

Tens of millions of people worldwide. What type of growth projections do you think Usenet will see in the short term (6 months) and long term (1-3 years)?

Giganews: The two ways to analyze Usenet growth are to examine downloads (traffic out) and uploads (traffic in). Historically, Usenet download traffic has grown a minimum of 50% annually. However, the growth of uploads, which we refer to as the Usenet feed, exceeds the growth of the downloads. The Usenet feed has doubled over the past year and appears to be growing even more as more and more new people discover Usenet. The chart below illustrates historical feed growth:

Giganews: We fully expect these trends to continue. You tell me, is Usenet dead? How is the infrastructure of Usenet growing and expanding? What part is Giganews playing in the growth?

Giganews: The size of the server farms required to run Usenet is definitely growing. Giganews has deployed servers worldwide in order to connect with the most news servers possible. We're also driving the distribution of text Usenet. We actively peer with almost anyone who asks (contact: if you are interested) and we're seeking out peers in remote areas of the world that aren't as connected into the North American and European Usenet providers. Are peering partnerships creating a Usenet service that is now susceptible to litigation? I.E., do major Usenet players partnering and sharing large %'s of data at central locations increase the potential for easily crippling Usenet by disrupting the sharing of data at these points? Are there any plans for such situations?

Giganews: I think the distributed nature of Usenet makes such an event unlikely.

Editor’s note: There’s little doubt that the interest surrounding the newsgroups continues to expand. Written off by many and considered dead by some, the newsgroups are anything but. Usenet development isn’t limited to Giganews - software developers like Grabit, Alt.Binz, and SABnzbd are also pouring tremendous effort into this community. The newsgroups indeed have a bright future.

This story is filed in these Slyck News categories
Newsgroups/Usenet :: Other

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