The USENET (User's Network) is a collection of over 30,000 topics (called Newsgroups) through
which users can exchange messages. Topics range very widely, covering computers,
music, sports, business and much more. Newsgroups can be freely accessed using most
browsers, such as Microsoft Explorer and Netscape.
Messages are posted for later reading and response by other users (the USENET does
support real-time chat). There are even online search capabilities, such as
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USENET Newsgroups Overview
The USENET (User's Network) is a collection of over 30,000 topics (called Newsgroups) thru
which users can exchange messages. While many of the topics are computer-related, the vast
majority of Newsgroups cover non-computer topics such as music or business.
There is no cost to use the USENET and it may be accessed using free software such as
Microsoft's Internet Explorer and Netscape. My personal favorite newsreader is called
'Free Agent' from Forte. There are many others, including some commercial versions which
provides special features.
You can also freely search the USENET online - most notably
However, the USENET is not a real-time conversation tool such as today's Internet Chat programs.
The USENET allows individuals to send in a message (called posting) and have that message
displayed along with other messages on the same topic. A person may post a new message or reply
to a message that has already been posted. Sometimes a message can generate many replies, all
of which are collectively called a thread - a chain of messages on the same topic.
There is no central repository of Newsgroup message traffic. Messages sent in by an individual
go first to the ISP. The ISP then broadcasts the message to all interested ISPs. No ISP is
required to provide USENET services and an ISP may also decide which of the approximately
30,000 Newsgroups to make available to his customers.
Some Newsgroups have only a few messages a day while many others may have hundreds of messages
a day. In general, from the time a person posts a message to the time it is available for
review is just a day or two.
Newsgroups are identified by a hierarchical naming system. For example,
most well-known, top-level Newsgroup hierarchical names in the next table. The approximate
Newsgroup count for each of these hierarchies is also given.
- alt - alternative, popular topics (~ 9000 Newsgroups)
- comp - computer science subjects (~ 2000 Newsgroups)
- humanities - humanities subjects (~200 Newsgroups)
- misc - miscellaneous groups (~200 Newsgroups)
- news - news topics (~50 Newsgroups)
- rec - recreational subjects (~ 1000 Newsgroups)
- sci - science topics (~300 Newsgroups)
- soc - sociological subjects (~300 Newsgroups)
- talk - controversial topics (~100 Newsgroups)
As you can see, these top-level hierarchies comprise only about half of the available
Newsgroups. You can use your newsreader to see a complete listing of all Newsgroups available
from your ISP. If you are interested in how Newsgroups are formed, check out the FAQ in
the news.newusers.questions Newsgroup.
In the earlier days of the USENET, the alt category did not exist. Because of the
controls that were being placed on the creation and content of the other categories, a more
flexible category called alt was created. Newsgroups in the alt hierarchy
can be more easily created and content is broader ranging.
Most Newsgroups allow anyone to post messages. However some Newsgroups are 'moderated',
which means that someone (or a group of people) review each message to make sure that it
is on-topic (not an advertisement or a flame) and not a duplicate of other messages. Many
people prefer these moderated Newsgroups as a means of maintaining high-quality postings.
The first USENET software was written in 1979 by two Duke students (Tom Truscott and
Jim Ellis) at a time when there was no Internet to facilitate the exchange of information.
The capabilities of their software were strongly welcomed by users and a number of updates
and changes we made and released to the user community. Finally, in March of 1986, software
was released using the Network News Transfer Protocol (NNTP) that is the basis for the
USENET of today. This protocol allows hosts to exchange articles via TCP/IP connections,
which is also the protocol for today's Internet.
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