Altered States Magazine - June 2002


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    By Philip N. Zeman

    Outgrowing the List

    The list was a great place to be, but it had one main problem: it was unwieldy. Mailboxes tended to overflow with the amount of traffic that would be generated, so those with small disk space had to constantly keep up with each E-mail and delete as quickly as possible. More than once the list would see E-mail failures thanks to overflow. Also, since it was just E-mail messages on text accounts, discussion threads were a bit hard to follow. Probably the biggest problem was keeping the master lists of E-mail addresses up to date and synchronized. Because there was no central automated server, every once in a while, one of us would have to copy the list to an E-mail and send it out, asking people to make a copy for themselves. If people joined or quit, it took a while for these changes to be propagated to everyoneís account.

    In light of these problems, discussion soon turned to creating a Usenet newsgroup of our own. There were people on both sides of this argument. The "Pro" side stated a newsgroup would be a lot easier to "maintain", purely for lack of maintenance needed, and people didn't have to worry about joining or running out of disk space. The "Con" side said that newsgroup propagation could be a problem, and some people had spotty Usenet news servers -- or they didn't have Usenet access at all. Also, there were the alt.* vs. rec.* and the *.tv.transformers vs *.toys.transformers debates. Plus, there were questions that had to be asked, such as "What was the focus of the newsgroup going to be?" and "Do we want the higher visibility of a rec.* group?"

    Time for a confession: I was against a newsgroup.

    Hard to believe, I know, but I was one of the people on the "Con" side. My arguments were that my Usenet feed at Marquette University was unreliable at times, and new groups tended to be added without any regularity. One day five new groups would be added. Then no new groups would appear for weeks. Sometimes groups would vanish without warning. Not only that, I didnít know who to contact to request a group, and even if I did, I was a bit self-conscious about having my love for toys be known.

    So, I was against a newsgroup.

    Thankfully, I was outvoted. The final consensus was to create a compromise. The newsgroup would be created, but the Mailing List would not be neglected. The list would still be a supplemental source of TF-info for those who were Usenet-less. It would have its own discussion threads, but major newsgroup postings would be forwarded to the list so that everyone would be kept abreast of major Transformers happenings.

    And on September 23, 1993, alt.toys.transformers was created. The newsgroup became online Transfandomís new home, but the Mailing List still was the place for many of us to talk. I didnít get alt.toys.transformers for quite some time (and, in fact, some time after I had gotten it, it disappeared from my news server and stayed lost for some time. Thatís one of the reasons why I was quiet on the newsgroup, and my lurking sort of became habit.). So I kept posting topics to the list, reposted my fanfic, still didnít continue it.

    alt.toys.transformers soon became the place to be. As more and more people received the newsgroup, the Mailing List membership and bandwidth dwindled, until finally, it was just a select few, including myself. And when I got alt.toys.transformers (for the first time), the list was unofficially disbanded, simply through lack of use.

    So the Mailing List lasted a year... maybe a bit more, maybe a bit less. It served its purpose well, though. In some ways, though, I still miss it, as it is now a reminder of a time when the noise to content ratio was, well, virtually nil. The nature of an E-mail list in those days meant there were no off-topic posts, no spam, and no flames. It was Transformers all the time. That sort of occurrence is rare on alt.toys.transformers these days.

    When I look at alt.toys.transformers and the other newsgroups today, I still see some remnants of the list. Robert Jung, Jameel "MegaBee" al Khafiz, Patricia "Vulcana" Wright, Andrew "Swiper" Frankel, and several others were part of the list at some point and still are on Usenet today. Alas, Steve Mar and Olatunji Nowlin seem to have faded into obscurity.... Perhaps they are lurking as well; if so, I wish theyíd drop me a line as well.

    The Transformers Mailing List was technically archaic, but it still holds a fond place in my memory. And every once in a while Iím reminded of it when I browse the current messages in my inbox that come from other, newer Transformers mailing lists.

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      Copyright © 2002 Altered States Magazine
    A SkyJammer Enterprises Publication