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Summer has come and passed

The innocent can never last

Wake me up when September ends
Green Day, Wake Me Up When September Ends[1]

Back in the old days, few people could access The Internet, even if they'd somehow heard of it and wanted to access it in the first place. One of the few groups that could was college students: universities were among the very first Internet adopters, and college-affiliated people, especially students, were one of the main demographic groups on the Internet through the first half of The Nineties.

The upshot was that every September, there would be a large influx of new users: college students accessing the Internet for the first time. These newbies were not privy to the manners and folkways of Internet discussion, let alone the technical side of it. Established netizens took it upon themselves to teach the n00bs the netiquette, and within a few months the Internet would go back to being a place for sensible and intelligent discussion[2].

Then, in 1993, AOL opened up the then-dominant forum of the 'net, UseNet, to every customer, and Usenet was overrun. The social structure that had worked fine to incorporate a relative handful of newcomers was ineffective in a world where the newcomers vastly outnumbered the old guard. Worse, for every newbie that could be civilized or driven off, more and more took their place immediately. This is the Eternal September, the age the Internet now lives in; most of the old guard are gone, vanished, or formed more minor net societies within the larger Internet as a whole.

Eternal September can be used to refer to drastic changes in any forum or community where some event causes the newcomers to suddenly outnumber the existing population.

Since the local culture is too overwhelmed to pass on its customs and social structures, what most often happens is that the old society vanishes and chaos reigns for a while until a new society, with its own rules and customs, can form. A comparison may be drawn to the Old West in general, and Deadwood and Red Dead Redemption in particular.

See also Newbie Boom and It's Popular, Now It Sucks.

Works published on the Internet before it became mainstream:

Notes

  1. The song does not actually address the Eternal September itself; It was about Billie Joe Armstrong's father, who died in September when the guitarist was still ten years old.
  2. Stop laughing. We may not have had BitTorrent or Twitter, but the early Internet had its charms: spam hadn't been invented yet, and trolls could literally be shamed off the 'net.
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