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Retro is the New Neo (Again) : Retro and Smol Tools for the Text Tinker Train [2023.07.01][ascii][rev.1]

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Syber Shock

Jul 1, 2023, 11:37:30 AM7/1/23
Retro is the New Neo (Again) :
Retro and Smol Tools for the Text Tinker Train

<followup-to: alt.cypherpunks>


1. Usenet :
2. Bitmessage :
3. NovaBBS / Rocksolid Light :
4. Tildeverse :
5. DarkMX :
6. RetroShare :
7. Citadel BBS Groupware :
8. BBS (Bulletin Board System) :
9. Toot (Mastodon) :


I enjoy reading from old-school text protocols like Usenet, IRC,
FidoNet, and even the modern flood forum, Bitmessage. Some people have
recently shared some ideas about doing new things in old ways with
old-timey or retro methods where text is tops, and characters are king.
They have put their ideas on the wire in the form of work product and I
find it inspiring. In this article is some information about a few
communities and tools for mostly text-centric information sharing (with
some file-sharing included).

# Usenet :

Of course Usenet is the #1 retro community for dropping ideas on the
wire. If the reader is unfamiliar with Usenet, think of it as your
grandpa's Internet, only better. Imagine an Internet that worked only
because grandpa had to hand-crank a generator to push electrons uphill
both ways in eight feet of snow on the way to the post office.

Usenet is useful for sharing text and binary files. Its original design
is text-centric but binary files can be encoded as text or attachments
and forwarded on the network. Many people around the world still depend
on Usenet to share files and have raging arguments over miniscule
disagreements. These arguments are sometimes called, 'flame wars.'

The following link points to a list of Usenet servers that are free to

Usenet Free Servers List :

# Bitmessage :

Although a newer text messaging protocol, Bitmessage sports a solid
'retro' aesthetic. It still runs like a champ using the deprecated
programming language, Python2. Bitmessage works like an encrypted
Usenet with much shorter article retention time. It provides secret
channels which are like private, encrypted newsgroups that the user
creates instead of asking a sysop to create a group.

The Bitmessage web site says: "Bitmessage is a P2P communications
protocol used to send encrypted messages to another person or to many
subscribers. It is decentralized and trustless, meaning that you
need-not inherently trust any entities like root certificate
authorities. It uses strong authentication which means that the sender
of a message cannot be spoofed, and it aims to hide "non-content" data,
like the sender and receiver of messages, from passive eavesdroppers
like those running warrantless wiretapping programs."

Redneck translation: Only the Almighty can crack your encrypted
messages. Everyone else is wasting their time trying to spy on this
network. Your mails are safe, Bubba.

# NovaBBS / Rocksolid Light :

Rocksolid Light is a text-based forum based on the NNTP protocol. It
uses a NNTP server backend to serve a forum website. The forums can be
accessed via a web browser or using a NNTP client such as Thunderbird,
Pan, Sylpheed, or Claws-Mail. NovaBBS also synchronizes with a bulletin
board service, or BBS, which are explained later in this document.

Rocksolid Light peers can link independent forums together for a
decentralized network similar to Usenet and they can peer directly with
Usenet servers. Each forum topic corresponds to a NNTP newsgroup in
dedicated News reader applications.

Rocksolid Light Source Code:

# Tildeverse:

Users on the Tildeverse tend to enjoy text-centric 'smolnet'
applications such as IRC, NNTP, gopher, gemini, and spartan.

The Tildeverse site says: "we're a loose association of like-minded
tilde communities. if you're interested in learning about *nix (linux,
unix, bsd, etc) come check out our member tildes and sign up! tildes
are pubnixes in the spirit of, which was created in 2014 by
paul ford."

# DarkMX:

One old community that provided millions of users with file-sharing and
anonymous messaging and publication was WinMX. DarkMX is the successor
to the WinMX network. DarkMX is a peer-to-peer network that works over
a onion network. It is a continuation of the original WinMX but with
encrypted and anonymous traffic. It has text chat built-in. The DarkMX
interface is a miracle of material design for user experience.

The DarkMX site says: "DarkMX is a new decentralized communication app
that utilizes Tor hidden services to allow you to easily have an
anonymous, reliable, and censorship-resistant presence on the internet.
You can chat. You can share files. You can search other people's files.
You can keep a contact list and send private messages to your friends.
You can create your own custom .onion site, available to anyone with a
Tor Browser."

WinMX (DarkMX predecessor):

# RetroShare :

RetroShare is a F2F (friend-to-friend) network. It is decentralized and
secure. It enables users to connect privately to their friends and work
associates in a secure environment over the hostile Internet panopticon.

The RetroShare site says: "Connect with Friends and Family. Retroshare
establish[es] encrypted connections between you and your friends to
create a network of computers, and provides various distributed
services on top of it: forums, channels, chat, mail... Retroshare is
fully decentralized, and designed to provide maximum security and
anonymity to its users beyond direct friends. Retroshare is entirely
free and open-source software. It is available on Android, Linux, MacOS
and Windows. There are no hidden costs, no ads and no terms of service."

# Citadel BBS Groupware :

Citadel is a 'all-in-one' package of communication protocols that grew
out of the BBS scene into a groupware suite. In addition to modern
graphical paradigms and interfaces, Citadel retains a retro BBS front
end. The Citadel site says:

"Citadel is groupware with BBS roots, so it's no surprise that Citadel
still offers a traditional text-based BBS front end."

Wikipedia says:

"Citadel (originally referred to as "Citadel/UX" to disambiguate it
from other implementations) is a collaboration suite (messaging and
groupware) that is directly descended from the Citadel family of
programs which became popular in the 1980s and 1990s as a bulletin
board system platform. It is designed to run on open source operating
systems such as Linux or BSD. Although it is being used for many
bulletin board systems, in 1998 the developers began to expand its
functionality to a general purpose groupware platform."

"In order to modernize the Citadel platform for the Internet, the
Citadel developers added functionality such as shared calendars,
instant messaging, and built-in implementations of Internet protocols
such as SMTP, IMAP, Sieve, POP3, GroupDAV and XMPP. All protocols offer
OpenSSL encryption for additional security." [Wikipedia]

The Citadel site says:

"Email, collaboration, groupware, and content management - up and
running in minutes, on your own hardware or in the cloud. ... Citadel
is easy, versatile, and powerful, thanks to its exclusive "rooms" based
architecture. No other platform seamlessly combines so many different
features using this familiar and consistent metaphor."

"Groupware/BBS Style Services - Addressbook, Calendar/Scheduling,
Filestorage, Notes, Tasks, Wiki, Blog, XMPP/Jabber."

Citadel maintains a uncensored BBS you can test:

# BBS (Bulletin Board System) :

A BBS (Bulletin Board System) is an early predecessor of the Internet
and sibling of Network News or Usenet. For decades before the Internet
became widespread individual bulletin boards would accept dial-up calls
over modems from client computers. Each day the BBS would then dial
other BBSes and exchange mail and files with them, and forward Network
News messages. Many BBSes interoperated with Usenet to forward messages.

Hundreds of BBSes still operate today over the Internet. And a few
BBSes still accept dial-up modem connections and some of these are
capable of packet radio data transfers, which is similar to using a CB
radio to transmit text data between computers. Existing BBSes carry and
relay messages for several retro networks, from DOVEnet and FIDOnet to
Usenet. Users interact and read their mail and download files with
telnet clients such as Putty or via a terminal emulator. Some BBSes let
users log in with a modern web browser and a forum-like interface.

# Toot (Mastodon) :

Toot is a TUI (Test User Interface) front end for the Mastodon social

Although Mastodon is neither retro nor text-centric in general practice
or design, the Toot application interface is very retro and
text-centric. With Toot the user can engage on Mastodon in plain text
with a very lean, fast, and well-organized interface. Using Toot allows
the user to avoid the clutter and flood of distracting images that are
found when using Mastodon in a web browser.

Toot source code:


These successful networks, protocols, and applications began as small
ideas that grew into big concerns despite user interfaces that were
mostly text-centric rather than ostentatiously graphical like the
modern web. Some of the ancient or 'retro' networks, tools, and trick
trains are still chugging along, offering an alternative to the
panopticon of social media and centralized messaging services.

Almost every digital technologist and programmer who finds this message
likely has some 'little idea' that's been tossing around in the back of
the mind. Perhaps the idea is an improvement on existing technology or
methods. Perhaps the idea it is a tiny tool that could change the way
people think about something, or the way they think about everything.
Perhaps it is the next 'big thing' that could change the way people
connect and share information.

It doesn't really matter what it is. It matters what it is to you, the
creator, and what it becomes to those to whom you reveal it. Whatever
it is, your idea is work product waiting to happen, urgent to assume
form to help and bless someone, somewhere. I want to encourage the
tinkerer to create that idea and put it out on the ether. You may not
know who might benefit from it. It doesn't matter if you know who
benefits. What matters is that you create it and put it into words for
others to read and use, and maybe to move the tinker train on down the

"Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many
days." ~ Ecclesiastes 11:1

SugarBug |


Jul 2, 2023, 10:49:59 AM7/2/23
(accidentally sent this to alt.cypherpunks only, originally. x-post here)

Great write-up! I love that text-centric and "simple" communication has started
to see a resurgence in recent years. I was not online until the early 2000s and
didn't learn about BBSes, Usenet or these other forums until many years later,
far after they had really declined in popularity. But they've always interestd
me and I'm glad to see an uptick in activity so that I can have a chance to
experience it for myself.

A note related to Usenet:
There is a project called Superhighway84
( which builds on the ideas of Usenet
but does so on top of IPFS. The primary benefits to this approach are that it's
possible to directly participate on the network (not requiring the use of a 3rd
party NNTP service or running your own NNTP node). It's not particularly active
(seems it had it's hayday a year or two ago) but the topics are interesting and
it's easy enough to setup so I strongly recommend looking at it if this kind of
thing interests you.
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