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Backbone cabal: Wikis


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The backbone cabal was a group of large-site administrators who pushed through the Great Renaming of Usenet newsgroups during most of the 1980s.

Credit for organizing the backbone about 1983 is variously claimed for Mark Horton[1] or Gene "Spaf" Spafford,[2] in an effort to stabilize the Usenet propagation. While many news servers operated during night time to save the cost of long distance communication, servers of the backbone cabal were available 24 hours a day.

During most of its existence, the cabal (sometimes capitalized) steadfastly denied its own existence; those involved would often respond "There is no Cabal" (sometimes abbreviated as "TINC"), whenever the existence or activities of the group were speculated on in public. It is sometimes used humorously to dispel cabal-like organizational conspiracy theories, or as an ironic statement, indicating one who knows the existence of "the cabal" will invariably deny there is one.

This belief became a model for various conspiracy theories about various Cabals with dark nefarious objectives beginning with taking over Usenet or the Internet. Spoofs include the "Eric Conspiracy" of moustachioed hackers named "Eric"; ex-members of the P.H.I.R.M.; and the Lumber Cartel putatively funding anti-spam efforts to support the paper industry.

The result of this policy was an aura of mystery, even a decade after the cabal mailing list disbanded in late 1988 following an internal fight.[3]

As Usenet has few technologically or legally enforced hierarchies, just about the only ones that formed were social hierarchies. People exerted power through force of will (often via intimidating flames), garnering authority and respect by spending much time and effort contributing to the community (by being a maintainer of a FAQ, for example; see also Kibo, etc.).


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