1983 ~ 1993: The Cabal
Giganews Usenet History > 1983 ~ 1993: The Cabal
After its humble birth in 1979, Usenet flourished at a surprising rate, leading to various problems and headaches for its developers and users. In an attempt to establish collaboration between Usenet site administrators to more easily resolve these issues, Mark Horton organized a list of large Usenet sites and the contact information for their administrators. That list would remain dormant for a few years until Gene Spafford became a Usenet administrator at Georgia Tech. He took Horton’s list of hosts and facilitated conversations between their operators. This group would become the Backbone Cabal. Horton is considered the organizer of the ‘physical’ backbone Cabal, while Spafford established the ‘political’ Cabal.
When asked about the impetus behind the organization of the political aspect of the Cabal, Gene Spafford detailed:
“When I took over the administration of Usenet on the Georgia Tech machines in about 1983, I noted that it took a long time for some articles to propagate, and often discussion threads got all out of order for many of us who were trying to follow many subthreads. So, I looked at the “map” of connections that Mark had put together. This was in the early 1980s, and Mark’s original “backbone” was in it. I identified a set of about 10 machines that had high capacity links, many subfeeds, and seemed to be maintained by clueful people. I contacted them one at a time and suggested cross linking that they might establish to reduce latency and increase redundancy. Most agreed. We ended up with a pretty robust “core” which was the new backbone.”
Issues that Cabal members commonly addressed included approving new newsgroups, managing article propagation, and otherwise attending to the administrative needs of the rapidly growing network.
The Backbone Cabal played a large part in The Great Renaming which created the hierarchy and naming structure that is still used to create and organize Usenet newsgroups today. This reorganization was made possible by the influence that the Cabal had earned amongst the Usenet community, but, ironically, the voting system that was implemented with the Great Renaming resulted in the lessening of the Cabal’s power.
Though rumors of the Cabal’s activity survived into the late 1990s, it is generally agreed that the Cabal’s active years ended in 1993 when Gene Spafford withdrew from his Usenet duties and moved on to new projects.