The cabal was created in an effort to facilitate reliable propagation of new Usenet posts: While in the 1970s and 1980s many news servers only operated during night time to save on the cost of long distance communication, servers of the backbone cabal were available 24 hours a day. The administrators of these servers gained sufficient influence in the otherwise anarchic Usenet community to be able to push through controversial changes, for instance the Great Renaming of Usenet newsgroups during the 1980s.
As Usenet has few technologically or legally enforced hierarchies, just about the only ones that formed were social hierarchies. People acquired power through persuasion, exerted both publicly and privately, public debate, force of will (often via aggressive 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.).
Credit for organizing the backbone about 1983 is commonly attributed to Gene "Spaf" Spafford, although it is also claimed by Mary Ann Horton. Other prominent members of the cabal were Brian Reid, Richard Sexton, Chuq von Rospach, Neil Crellin and Rick Adams.
In Internet culture
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.
- This article incorporates text from the corresponding entry in the Jargon File, which is in the public domain according to its Introduction.
- Henry Edward Hardy, 1993. The Usenet System, ITCA Teleconferencing Yearbook 1993, ITCA Research Committee, International Teleconferencing Association, Washington, DC. pp 140–151, esp. subheading "The Great Renaming" and "The Breaking of the Backbone Cartel".