Magazine article Information Today

Google Acquires Deja.Com

Magazine article Information Today

Google Acquires Deja.Com

Article excerpt

In February, search engine company Google acquired the online discussion service Deja.com. The companies did not disclose financial terms. Deja.com was launched in 1995 as DejaNews.com and offered a Web front end to the vast content-distribution network known as Usenet. The new Google window into Usenet is known as groups google.com.

Universities and UNIX provided the milieu in which Usenet was born. In 1979, graduate students at Duke and at the University of North Carolina concocted a scheme for exchanging information among UNIX aficionados using the "UNIX to UNIX Copy Protocol." UNIX developed into a global discussion medium whose content was shared over the Internet using NNTP (Network News Transfer Protocol). Usenet evolved to support millions of users via thousands of news servers worldwide. Today, Usenet "newsgroups," such as rec.photo or comp risks, carry thousands of postings and gigabytes of content (much of it encoded multimedia) each day.

DejaNews revolutionized the nature of Usenet. First, it offered a Web-based view of Usenet. Although Web browsers dating back to Mosaic include the ability to read and post on Usenet, many users never explored those features. DejaNews' Web interface exposed Usenet to millions of Web users; in fact, many new users thought that DejaNews was Usenet.

Furthermore, prior to DejaNews, most participants in Usenet discussions thought of their postings as ephemeral. The thousands of distributed Usenet News servers at universities, ISPs, and companies usually archived newsgroup material for no longer than a week or two. Over time, DejaNews built an archive of Usenet postings that lent a sense of permanence.

Equally important, DejaNews provided a searchable index of Usenet. The index made it possible to find which newsgroups carried current discussions on which topics. Someone researching a topic such as digital cameras would search DejaNews first, find newsgroups with current discussions on the topic, and then post questions or comments.

All that began to change in 1999, when DejaNews executives attempted to cash in on the e-commerce explosion. They renamed the service "Deja.com" and shifted its focus to a product-ratings service. While still offering a front end to conventional Usenet newsgroups, Deja presented an initial view of product-oriented discussions. Worse, it eliminated archived content for earlier years. Deja fans protested bitterly.

As for the Google takeover, Deja's rich structured-searching functionality was lost, replaced by Google's much simpler interface. Google admitted the shortcomings of its search interface, while attempting to emphasize the positive: "The current beta service available on this site lacks browsing, posting, and many other important features. We are working hard to provide these. Due to the logistical and financial constraints of the Deja service, there was no viable way to keep the service going. Now that the Usenet data has been safely archived, we are focusing our efforts on implementing these important features. Please bear with us during this transition."

The news brought bitter protests. Negative postings began appearing, appropriately enough, on alt.fans.dejanews. Many asked why the existing servers at Deja.com couldn't have been maintained, even in frozen form, while Google attempts to rebuild the service internally. …

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