1987: The alt.* Hierarchy
Giganews Usenet History > 1987: The alt.* Hierarchy
One of the major arguments against the actions taken by the Backbone Cabal and the supporters of the The Great Renaming was that the regulation of Usenet and especially the creation of the talk.* hierarchy would significantly limit Usenet user’s freedom of expression. Though the Great Renaming was successful, many still felt that there was a gap in the system that needed to be filled. Thus, the alt.* hierarchy was created in 1987, after the finalizing of the Great Renaming.
Brian Reid, Gordon Moffett, and John Gilmore are credited for the creation of the alt.* hierarchy. For Gilmore, the tipping point came when his request to create the newsgroup rec.drugs was denied, and, further, the alternative talk.drugs was also denied. Because the talk.* hierarchy was supposed to be a place where free speech was supported and allowed, Gilmore found this last denial completely unacceptable.
For Brian Reid, a member of the Backbone Cabal, the impetus to create a new hierarchy was the renaming of the popular mod.gourmand group, which he moderated. Under the new naming structure the group was called rec.food.recipes, a less attractive and compelling sounding group than its parent.
Together, Reid and Gilmore decided to propose the creation of a new hierarchy outside of the traditional backbone, in which any technically competent user could create a newsgroup without going through the discussion process which had become mandatory for the Big Seven groups. The title for their new hierarchy would be “alt”, which is now taken to be an abbreviation of alternative, but has been rumored to stand for “anarchists, lunatics, and terrorists”. The first alt.* newsgroups were alt.sex, alt.drugs, and, appropriately, alt.rock-n-roll.
“We designed “alt” as an escape hatch from the restraints imposed on the other newsgroups,” said Reid. “I think that if the rest of the newsgroup administration had been more open and inviting, alt would have had a lot less traction. By the time alt.sex was created (and never got a home elsewhere), it was clear there were going to be scores of alt newsgroups…”
Since its creation, the alt.* hierarchy has expanded to become the most popular hierarchy in all of Usenet. alt.* topics are as diverse as the members of the Usenet community, encompassing fan groups, groups for self-promotion, alternate lifestyles, various adult content, and, most popularly, the alt.binaries groups.