Once upon a time, Dejanews epitomized the emerging coolness of the Internet. It provided an incredibly useful interface into a vast, distributed network of people and ideas. There were all those people out there, having a conversation about anything and everything on Usenet, and, thanks to the archives maintained by Dejanews, you could listen in, across space and time. The archives were a history of cyberspace.
But then last month Deja.com, as it now calls itself, lost its long-term memory. The site was already suffering from a split personality, caused by a management decision to restyle the venerable archive of Usenet postings into a comparison-shopping site. Then, at the end of May, Deja.com moved to new servers and took down the Usenet archives that pre-dated May 1999.
Richard Gorelick, chief strategy officer for Deja.com, says the site will put the old postings (which go back as far as 1995) back up by the end of the year. Besides, he adds, it shouldn't cause visitors too much trouble, since only 10 percent of the site's traffic is to Usenet postings that are more than a year old.
"The focus of our business is on our comparison-shopping service that helps consumers figure out what to buy and where to buy it," explains Gorelick. He offers reassurances that the company understands what a "valuable asset" the Usenet archive is and implies that if it were not for the expense of maintaining the 1.5 terabytes of Usenet archives, the Net's history would never have been put in storage. "Our plan is to bring it back by the end of the year, but it could be significantly sooner than that," he says, adding that the company is looking for a more cost-effective way to do it.
But for now at least, the archives are gone. And Deja.com is evidence of yet another failure to "monetize" (to use that ugliest of words) what was coolest about the Net. That's the fate of history in the 21st century -- we don't burn the books anymore, we just unplug the servers.