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Alt Hierarchy History
- Brian Reid
The alt hierarchy enables the Usenet community to exercise complete freedom of speech.
The issue of free speech and the Usenet have been intertwined from its creation, since the newsgroups were carried by a wide variety of military, academic, and corporate sites, each with their own usage policies. In a bit of an Internet theme, like the similar development of mulitple IRC networks the establishment of the "alt." category established a right to freedom of online expression cuased by a reaction against over-control at the center.
The first attempt to control Usenet speech resulted in the creation of the "talk.*" hierarchy, where all controversial newsgroups and postings were supposed to be allocated. This wasn't successful mainly because it was a controlled form of free speech. Someone could say what they wanted in the talk newsgroups, but the groups themselves were still controlled by the backbone administrators. Interestingly, with the increase in message traffic in the late 1990's, the talk newsgroups saw a resurgence in use for the discussion of controversial subjects just as they were originally intended.
The introduction of genuine free speech on the Usenet began with the creation of the "alt." hierarchy, sparked by the creation of alt.sex. The alt hierarchy now has many more newsgroups than any other hierarchy. All other Usenet hierarchies require you to follow a definite procedure to create a new group in that category. However, a newsgroup in the alt hierarchy can be created by anyone. The resulting set of newsgroups form a truly global democratic system, since each group in the alt category survives only if people show an interest in it.
The best description of the creation of the "alt." category, is given by someone who was there - Brian Reid, as described below: