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Magi's NetNews Archive Involvement

Well, the thank-you's have been rather ebullient all day long today and I feel somewhat embarrassed by the attention. Especially given how long it took us to get the archive on line and visible! It has to be close to 10 years now. Sigh.

The story is more a story of fits and starts than of resolve. And our contribution accounts for some (most?) of the first 10 years of the Google archive.

If I recall correctly, the issue of Henry Spencer's (actually, the University of Toronto, Department of Zoology's) NetNews archive was raised at a Usenix conference in the early 90's. The question: can we get at them? Bruce Jones was especially interested in this. Henry's answer was that it really wasn't going to be easy because he had neither the disk space nor the tape drive to pull them all down to make them available.

I, it turned out, did. So one bright winter day I drove from London (Ontario Canada) to Toronto (Ontario Canada) -- a two hour drive in my shiny new pickup truck and picked up 141 magtapes from the Zoology department at UofT and brought them back to the Department of Computer Science at the University of Western Ontario. (A not unimpressive bandwidth, by the way, of some 18Mb/sec :-) never underestimate the bandwidth of a pickup truck on the highway!)

Then with the help of several people (some of whom have not yet been credited) we started to pull the data off of the tapes and onto disks in both the Computer Science department and the Robarts Research Institute. Lance Bailey, then with the Robarts Research Institute, did the pulling there and I with assistance from Bob Webber did it at Computer Science. Bruce Jones from UCSD took some vacation time and came up here to help pull data down for a week or so as well.

But we quickly ran out of space and time: Lance left Robarts for UBC, Bruce's vacation ended, and Bob and I got busy doing other things (like our jobs). As a result, the archive project made very little progress over the next few years.

Then Brewster Kahle started pushing on us (thanks Brewster!) to get it done. He even bought us a large disk to hold the archive when we truly ran out of space. With the help of Sue Thielen, who was out of work and bored, we got all of the rest of the tapes read down onto that disk. Unfortunately, that disk was not "close enough" to either a tape drive or the ftp server to make the data available to anyone. And it wasn't organized in anyway usefully.

Brewster pushed very gently for a very long time but the new archive project was far from the top of the list of projects I was supposed to be working on and I just never got it going again.

Late this summer Michael Schmitt from Google started pushing as well. And as luck would have it, I was able to hire a student to do the final sorting of the archive as well. And, that luck still holding, I managed to "steal" enough space on the ftp server for the entire archive! But it still took months to get that figured out and the archive transferred to a machine from which they pull the archive. It was the middle of October before we were able make the collection available to Google. And it is actually available, although totally unsorted, to anyone who wants it and can deal with pulling some 160 files ranging in size from 1.4Mb to 65Mb. Just drop me a line to say please and we'll arrange to make it visible to you.

I'd still like to impose a bit more order on the raw archives than we have but the time just hasn't allowed for that...

David Wiseman, Dec 11, 2001


The Google Announcement
The Salon.com Article
Brad Templeton's article on the birth of USENET