Usenet Los Angeles

Background

Ever wonder how Usenet works? Articles go in here, and pop out everywhere, and nobody has to lift a finger to make it happen! Pretty cool, eh?

Except that it does take work. A full Usenet feed is 450 megabytes per day, and the news servers have to be up nearly continuously. If they run out of CPU or disk space, whoops! articles start getting dropped. This happens often; probably several news hosts are down at any one time.

Fortunately, Usenet can work around problem hosts, if alternate feeds are available. For a partial map of how Los Angeles Usenet sites fed each other in 1994, click here. Note how many sites fed several other sites. The whole thing looks like a maze of twisty little connections. Generally, the fewer hops you are from a major (and therefore well-run) site like JPL, UCLA, Cerfnet, or UUNET, the less likely you were to lose messages because someone else's system was misbehaving.

The Problem

Unfortunately, many commercial Usenet sites in Los Angeles have to pay for alternate news feeds, and can't always afford them. Furthermore, many of the feeds come from faraway sites that don't particularly care about la.*. So it seems a lot of messages are getting dropped, delayed, or even duplicated on their way cross town.

On Nov. 30th, 1995, I logged in to three different Usenet sites in LA and looked at la.personals and comp.lang.java. The differences were striking; many recent messages were missing from both groups on two of the sites.

Here are a few notes about a test I ran on news propagation.

What to do?

First, I'm trying to see if I can understand what's going on. Second, there are a few commonsense things we can do: I invite comments. Please post any discussion on this topic to la.config - and pray it gets out past those flaky sites.