Managing Google Groups headaches

Roy Smith roy at
Fri Dec 6 08:36:30 CET 2013

In article <51007240-6bc9-4f0b-9937-4883bcc0ceb6 at>,
 rusi <rustompmody at> wrote:

> On Thursday, December 5, 2013 6:28:54 AM UTC+5:30, Roy Smith wrote:

> > The real problem with web forums is they conflate transport and 
> > presentation into a single opaque blob, and are pretty much universally 
> > designed to be a closed system.  Mail and usenet were both engineered to 
> > make a sharp division between transport and presentation, which meant it 
> > was possible to evolve each at their own pace.
> > Mostly that meant people could go off and develop new client 
> > applications which interoperated with the existing system.  But, it also 
> > meant that transport layers could be switched out (as when NNTP 
> > gradually, but inexorably, replaced UUCP as the primary usenet transport 
> > layer).
> There is a deep assumption hovering round-about the above -- what I
> will call the 'Unix assumption(s)'.

It has nothing to do with Unix.  The separation of transport from 
presentation is just as valid on Windows, Mac, etc.

> But before that, just a check on
> terminology. By 'presentation' you mean what people normally call
> 'mail-clients': thunderbird, mutt etc. And by 'transport' you mean
> sendmail, exim, qmail etc etc -- what normally are called
> 'mail-servers.'  Right??


> Assuming this is the intended meaning of the terminology (yeah its
> clearer terminology than the usual and yeah Im also a 'Unix-guy'),
> here's the 'Unix-assumption':
>   - human communicationŠ
> (is not very different from)
>   - machine communicationŠ
> (can be done by)
>   - textŠ
> (for which)
>   - ASCII is fineŠ
> (which is just)
>   - bytesŠ
> (inside/between byte-memory-organized)
>   - von Neumann computers
> To the extent that these assumptions are invalid, the 'opaque-blob'
> may well be preferable.

I think you're off on the wrong track here.  This has nothing to do with 
plain text (ascii or otherwise).  It has to do with divorcing how you 
store and transport messages (be they plain text, HTML, or whatever) 
from how a user interacts with them.

Take something like Wikipedia (by which, I really mean, MediaWiki, which 
is the underlying software package).  Most people think of Wikipedia as 
a web site.  But, there's another layer below that which lets you get 
access to the contents of articles, navigate all the rich connections 
like category trees, and all sorts of metadata like edit histories.  
Which means, if I wanted to (and many examples of this exist), I can 
write my own client which presents the same information in different 

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