Google Groups: How Not to Run an Archive

by Kevin Alfred Strom

IT’S BEING acknowledged everywhere — now by Wired magazine and the SEO Theory newsletter. Google Groups is totally broken.

It began well. Google acquired the Deja News archive of Usenet postings from 1995 forward, and then added 1981-1994 material from Marc Spencer’s archive. If somebody said it in a newsgroup, you could find it by searching Google Groups. You could search by author, by keywords, by newsgroup, by date range, or by exact phrase. It was as it should be.

But then Google decided to kluge its own “discussion groups” onto Usenet, and began emphasizing “new communities” or some such cliché at the expense of Usenet archiving, which has been all but abandoned. Some entire newsgroups have been ditched without explanation. And searching by author or exact phrase? Forget it. If you get any results at all, they’ll be woefully incomplete.

Google Groups is in violation of its own terms of service, which state in part “The Service contains the entire archive of Usenet discussion groups dating back to 1981.” To Google: Fix, please. Or remain evil.

Here’s a copy of the letter I sent last September to — to which they still haven’t bothered to respond:

Dear Google:

I notice that some political discussion groups, including alt.politics.nationalism.white, on Usenet are no longer accessible via Google Groups. The message one gets when trying to access these newsgroups is that they were “removed” because they violated Google’s terms of service.

How can an unmoderated Usenet group violate anyone’s terms of service? It’s a Usenet newsgroup, for goodness sake. It can’t do anything of its own accord, much less “violate” anything. It’s just a feed of opinion and news messages, which in my view Google promised to carry and archive when you bought DejaNews.

I need access to the archived messages in these groups, going back many years, for my research. (Example: I need to see all messages posted by a particular person in order to find a particular post of historical or political importance. How can I do this if the Usenet archive has been suddenly rendered incomplete by your unilateral and inexplicable “removal” of an entire newsgroup and all its archives going back decades? This is grossly irresponsible. In addition, your Usenet archive search function is no longer working properly, when it works at all.)

While I see nothing in your terms of service that an entire newsgroup could possibly violate, I do note that you are in violation of the very first item in the Google Groups Terms of Service:

“The Service contains the entire archive of Usenet discussion groups dating back to 1981.”

Were these Usenet groups removed in error? Can the error be corrected and the archive restored? If not an error, please explain your reasoning and provide me with the names of the specific individuals behind this removal, along with these individuals’ contact information.

With good wishes,

Kevin Strom.