The internet has facilitated many activities that once took a lot more time and effort to complete, such as shopping, news gathering, and communication. Discussion of news and events is also one of the pastimes that flourish on the internet, and one of the places where this can be done is Google Groups.
Google has been supporting discussion groups since 2001, and many of the groups can be accessed anonymously. These threaded conversations can either be viewed through a web interface or through email with the help of mailing lists. Aside from supporting current conversations, Google also offers the possibility to search its comprehensive archive of group discussions dating back to the beginning of the 1980s.
Google Groups was the product of Google’s takeover of Deja News, a service which started in 1995 as an archive of Usenet messages.
Usenet is a discussion system dating from 1980 and could be seen as the forefather of the internet discussion forums and bulletin boards we know today.
Deja News’ archive and search functions were incredibly well put together and won the service a lot of press. It helped organise the Usenet messages and turn it into a valuable research resource, but also created a lot of controversy as messages could not be fully deleted.
Even when options that allowed users to opt out of archiving were included, their messages could still be stored if others were quoting their initial text.
In 2001, Google transferred all of Deja News’ data to groups.google.com, and added more archives of its own. The 1981-1991 portion of the archive was donated by the University of Western Ontario – the archive itself was compiled by Henry Spencer from the University of Toronto. A series of updates was carried out throughout the following years, including allowing members to start their own groups independent of Usenet, adding post ratings and user profiles, and a new graphic interface.
October 2012 saw Google remove the button which gave users the option to report illegal content, which was a highly questioned move in the wake of much criticism over dubious content hosted in the groups. While Google has occasionally been involved in removing abuse, it does not actively monitor discussions and rarely gets involved in individual cases. Google does not assume responsibility for the content of the messages in the archive. Thanks to its minimal interference with the content archived, Google Groups may prove to be an invaluable resource in the future.