Google Groups1 is the name of Google's internet discussion group search engine. Not only does it let you search recent postings from the so-called Usenet, it also contains a huge archive going back to May 11, 1981. And this is where the fun starts.

By using the Google Groups advanced search options, you can set a posting start and end date for every search query. This way you can go back in time to find the earliest mentions of a celebrity, an idea, a company, or anything else starting from the 1980s. (Like the first mention of pop singer Madonna, or a first discussion about New Coke.) Sometimes, the way people talked about this "new thing" back then is interesting in itself. Also, you can find out about popular misconceptions, or predictions which are extremely off-target in retrospect.

A while ago, Google presented a "best of" timeline showing off gems from the "golden age of Usenet." The timeline was created with the help of Jürgen Christoffel, Kent Landfield, Bruce Jones, Henry Spencer, and David Wiseman. Following are portions of this timeline and its postings as well as my own findings.

Working on Tron

We are currently working ... on the Disney/Lisberger production of TRON. This film will be a combination of computer animation, hand animation, optical image processing ("the Bob Able look") and live action. Only about 10% is live action. While the plot of TRON may be hard for hackers to take (its about computers, and so computer hackers will get picky about the details of the fantasy plotline) it looks like it will be very striking visually.
– Craig W. Reynolds via JPM, fa.sf-lovers, Jun 10 1981

Microsoft Not Downwards-Compatible

Several announcements have indicated that DOS 2.0 is compatible with DOS 1.1 ... In at least one instance, this is not true! In DOS 1.1, function 1Bh returns a pointer to …
– Cdi in net.micro.pc, April 9 1983

First Mention of MTV

You want to see re-dubs and lip-synchs check out MTV – if your ears can take it...
– Teklabs in net.music, Mar 22 1982

Star Wars: Return of the Jedi

"Revenge of the Jedi"... Episode 6 in the Star Wars saga, has just finished filming, according to some friends I have down in Arizona. ... The release date for us humans that want to see it is still the summer of 1983. I guess it takes that long to score all the music, do all the film-editing, prepare all the promo material, and all that junk.
– Azure in net.movies, June 9 1982

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

... appears weekly on PBS. (Fri in Toronto) very strange but enjoyable sci-fi.
– utcsstat in net.movies, August 6 1982

The C64 Computer

Any opinions on the new Commodore 64 computer. I've seen it and it looks pretty neat. (i) it comes with 64K of memory standard (ii) in highest graphics resolution it has 320 X 200 pixels.
– Doug in net.micro, Aug 21 1982

Madonna's Early Years

I have heard a song with some chipmunk-voiced woman singing ‘We're living in a Material World' ... Question: Who sings this?
– Bob Switzer in net.music, January 17 1985

The New "Terminator" Movie

‘The Terminator' is better than I thought it would be. The coming attractions made it look like a fairly standard action film emphasizing multiple deaths. Well, that element is certainly present, but there is more to the film than violent killings. Not an awful lot more, but more.
– Reiher in net.movies, November 5 1984

First Usenet Mention of the Y2K Bug

I have a friend that raised an interesting question that I immediately tried to prove wrong. He is a programmer and has this notion that when we reach the year 2000, computers will not accept the new date. Will the computers assume that it is 1900, or will it even cause a problem? I violently opposed this because it seemed so meaningless.
– Spencer Bolles net.bugs, Jan 19 1985

The New Coke

Okay.... I've endured a lot of abuse in my time, but this is the final straw! **** They are changing the Coca-Cola formula!!!!!!!!!! **** Is nothing sacred??!!! They might as well outlaw the Beatles, or change God's name, or reinstate prohibition.
– Gordon Howel in net.misc, April 26 1985

First Mention of Bruce Willis

You all out there have been talking about ABC and whether anyone actually watches it anymore. Well, there's a show on ABC called "Moonlighting" that is actually not half-bad. It stars Cybil Shephard (there aren't too many better looking women on television) and Bruce Willis (I know, who???).
– Jeff Gershengorn in net.tv, September 7 1985

Early Review of Back to the Future

Let me be the first to recommend Back to the Future. There's life yet in the Steven Spielberg's little world, which had started to get a little shopworn with Goonies. All the familiar Spielberg elements are there: popular non-science, whacky nuclear family, small-town America, heartwarming twists of plot ... Yet three things save this one, in high style: 1) Robert Zemeckis' direction. I don't know how he does it, but somehow, without any particular style you can point your finger at, he has developed the lightest touch in movies, and I now believe that this man can put ANYTHING over on you, and make you love it. 2) The performance of the lead actor, whose name I don't even know. He now joins Tom (Risky Business) Cruise and ... (The Sure Thing) ... as the most appealling young comic actors in America.
– Steve Upstill in net.movies, June 30 1985

First Mention of IRC

I have recently got ahold of a program called irc (Internet Relay Chat) Each machine runs its own server and the servers are link in a tree fashion to a master server. I've only messed with it a little, but it appears to be a good program.
– Todd Ferguson in comp.sources.d, February 10 1989

AOL Disks?

has this happened to anyone else? I have received 4 of those AOL disks over the last year or so, and I have never once taken them up on their free offers.
– Scott, via Bruce Fletcher, around 1994

Seinfeld

For those interested, Jerry Seinfeld's show has been renewed for the fall season. A good move by NBC, IMHO. If you haven't seen the show, check it out.
– Brian Boguhn, via Larry Setlow, around 1990

The World Wide Web Is Announced By Its Inventor

The WWW project merges the techniques of information retrieval and hypertext to make an easy but powerful global information system. ... The project started with the philosophy that much academic information should be freely available to anyone. ... The web contains documents in many formats. Those documents which are hypertext, (real or virtual) contain links to other documents, or places within documents. All documents, whether real, virtual or indexes, look similar to the reader and are contained within the same addressing scheme.
– Tim Berners-Lee in alt.hypertext, August 6 1991

Douglas Adams Discovers the Net

Yeah, having jut discovered the Internet, I'm anxious that I'm going to be spedning far too much time on it!
– Douglas Adams in alt.fan.douglas-adams, October 5 1993

Amazon CEO Looking for Help

Well-capitalized start-up seeks extremely talented C/C++/Unix developers to help pioneer commerce on the Internet. You must have experience designing and building large and complex (yet maintainable) systems, and you should be able to do so in about one-third the time that most competent people think possible.
– Jeff Bezos in mi.jobs, August 22 1994

Friends, the New TV Show

This show is about 6 young friends living in the city. Time will tell how much they are individuals and how much they are merely caricatures. TV Guide tends toward the latter view and also suggests it is, like ‘Ellen', somewhat of an attempt to copy ‘Seinfeld'. There may be some truth to that statement (part of the opening credits sequence is similar in style to ‘These Friends of Mine') but Friends is not a clone of either of those shows and I think TV Guide was overly pessimistic. There is plenty of room for several shows in this genre.
– John F. Carr in rec.arts.tv, September 26 1994

What's Yahoo?

I have heard mention of a search utility called ‘yahoo' on some of my lists. Can anyone tell me what this is and where I can find it?
– Ktrent in bit.listserv.help-net, January 17 1995

EBay Founder Promotes New Site

...www.ebay.com/aw/ ... All items are offered by the individual sellers, and anyone is free to bid on any item, or to add items, free of charge.
– Pierre Omidyar, misc.forsale.non-computer, September 12 1995

Google Too Cluttered

Google replaces the simple vote-count with an opaque percentage, adds an unhelpful bar-graph for each response, etc etc etc. ... Also, Google's search-page is bogged down with ridiculous amounts of history/ theory/ acknowledgements, making it load much slower, and menus that aren't really relevant for me.
– Jorn in comp.infosystems.search, April 1 1998