Picture of a judge's wigThe Judge RAVES!Picture of a judge's wig

Date: 30/01/12

Whoop For The Froup!

When I first got online in the summer of 2001, I borrowed a colleague's copy of The Rough Guide To The Internet - for its time as valuable a guide to the digital jungle as you could ever hope to find.

Through it, I found out about Usenet and its countless newsgroups. I subscribed to about twenty at one time, but, Usenet nowadays being considered terribly passť (not least by internet service providers, who have mostly either started charging extra for access to it or have dropped the service altogether), this is now down to six; and two of those hardly have any posts on them anymore.

I have stuck firmly with one of them, however. alt.fan.pratchett (afp) is a group for readers and fans of the great Sir Terry Pratchett and all his works. Not that Pterry's books feature all that often in the discussions (we have alt.books.pratchett for that); rather, it is a place for discussions serious or silly, interesting or infuriating (and sometimes all four and more in the same thread), on an immense variety of subjects: politics, literature, ethics, law, and the truly intense subjects of chocolate, cats, alligators and why navel fluff is never the same colour as anything one happens to be wearing.

If it sounds a bit circular (in a 'form the wagons' sense) then, yes, it can be - as a friend of mine who contributed to it briefly some time before my arrival opined - somewhat incestuous. But it's a game the whole family can play, so where's the harm?

Like a family, there are disputes which occasionally descend into rancour, but these are rare and usually result from some newbie or other outsider trying to show off their superior knowledge (or what they believe to be same). These tend very strongly to be Randroids keen to show off how many times they've read Atlas Shrugged, even though their yabbings have suggested very strongly that that is all they have ever read.

These people are usually chased off after a couple of weeks of inanity by a combination of the wielding of the forensic rapier by group members who actually do know a bit about economics and poltics, and of the bludgeon of vulgar personal abuse by the rest of us. Yes, it's just like a family, isn't it?

And like a family, it has its in-jokes and ritual sayings. I adverted to one a few paragraphs back, in that newcomers are advised to, "Sit down, have some chocolate, mind the alligator and call the cat a bastard". Another one can be seen in the title of this piece, where 'froup' is a mis-spelling of 'group' which has taken on a life of its own to refer to our domain.

The tastes of members of the froup are as varied as their vocations - a mixture of the High Table and the Low Dive - which is why the subjects dealt with cover so much ground, sometimes with the blood of the vanquished (see above).

Times change, however. It wasn't in any way unusual, back in 2001 and for a few years afterwards, for sixty or seventy new posts to appear in a day. Now, we can go whole weeks without getting that number. Many of the regular posters of my early days have moved on, mercifully few have 'logged off' and gone to that Great Chatroom In The Sky, and others post only occasionally.

But a couple of dozen of us regularly carry on regardless. I cannot imagine how comparatively empty my days (or, to be more precise, my evenings) would have been without their company, whether it be for the sake of amusement, education, advice or consolation. I hope that I will only ever leave when the Guy With The Scythe pries my cold, dead fingers from the keyboard.

afp marks its twentieth anniversary today. So happy birthday, froup! Here's to the next twenty!