Microsoft hitting 'unsubscribe' on newsgroups

Starting next month, the software maker will phase out support for the older discussion hubs, pointing users instead to its various Web-based forums.

Updated 1:40 p.m. with more background and history on Microsoft's newsgroups

Microsoft said it plans to end support for more than 4,000 old-style newsgroups starting next month, pushing users instead to discussion forums such as those found on the Microsoft Answers, TechNet, and MSDN sites.

Although venerable, Microsoft said that so-called NNTP newsgroups are past their time in terms of being usable and secure.

"Newsgroups run on an outdated and discontinued platform that is no longer supported, making them vulnerable to spam and other usability issues," Microsoft said in a statement. The company said that its forums get 15 million visits a month and have been growing, on average, 12 percent each month. By contrast, it said that participation in newsgroups has dropped nearly in half over the past year.

Still, at last count the company had 2,000 public newsgroups and another 2,200 private groups focused on specific communities such as partners or its MVP (Most Valued Professional) program.

"Moving to forums aligns the end user experience with current market trends, reduces the number of redundant support resources with centralized, searchable content, allows users to identify content contributors across forums, and makes contributions more broadly available and impactful," Microsoft said. "Forums are also moderated by Microsoft to ensure content is accurate and to encourage richer conversations. This will (ultimately) offer a better customer experience and is in step with the broader industry trend toward support forums that fully leverage search and social media functionality."

The newsgroups made their debut in April 1996, replacing the Microsoft-sponsored discussion forums on CompuServe.

Among those who have posted over the years is Robert Scoble, who participated in the newsgroups before joining Microsoft in 2003 and technical fellow Anders Hejlsberg, who frequented the newsgroups back around 2000 when he was the lead architect for Microsoft's C# development effort.

Microsoft said it will be taking a phased approach to the shutdown, starting with the least-used newsgroups first. The company said it will also be posting notices on each newsgroup in advance of its closure and linking to relevant forums.

There are some differences between the old newsgroups and the forums, Microsoft said, noting that newsgroups are unmoderated, while Microsoft moderates its forums. Also posts to the Web tend to live forever, whereas newsgroup postings were deleted after 90 days.

OK, so now the obvious question for you readers. Who out there still uses the newsgroups and for what? Sound off below or drop me a note at Ina dot Fried at CNET dot com.