Exploring Educational Opportunities: Learning with Usenet

The most amazing thing about the Internet is that the bulk of human knowledge is available to anyone who wants to learn at the click of a button. There’s a reason it was at one point called the “information superhighway”. The Internet provides more learning opportunities than any other medium in the history of human understanding and is the most important educational advancement since the introduction of the printing press. Usenet has countless educational opportunities that are largely ignored today. But Usenet has been around longer than any other Internet service, having been created in 1979 and gone public in 1980. Since then, it has featured countless posts on a wide variety of subjects.  Today, Usenet is host to millions of users having conversations on over 120,000 newsgroups. There are posts about almost anything you can imagine and you’re likely to encounter experts who are willing to share their knowledge and experience. Let’s look at how you can expand your knowledge on Usenet.

Dive Deep into Newsgroups​

Usenet is divided into a series of “newsgroups,” which are basically forums that are focused on a single topic. The largest division of topics is the Big 8 Hierarchies, a series of eight large categories that all Usenet topics fit into. From there, subjects become steadily more granular until you find the exact topic you’re looking for. This organizational structure makes it very easy to find information on a subject that you’re interested in. For example, if you want to learn how to program in C++, a great place to start would be comp.lang.c++. There are tens of thousands of articles about the programming language including tips, challenges, guidance, and questions that will help you get a better handle on how to code. If you change your mind and want to learn Javascript instead, it’s easy to switch over to comp.lang.javascript to find posts focused on that language. It doesn’t take a lot to find a newsgroup that will cater to your interests.

Find Experts on Usenet​

If there is one word that describes Usenet’s user base, it’s “passionate”. Keep in mind that these are people who have gone beyond the normal effort to access content on the Internet, generally pay an extra subscription fee, and use special software to be able to have unmoderated, uncensored conversations about their favorite topics. That’s dedication! Which means that you often find yourself talking with experts in a given field. Many of them work in the area of interest or have spent several years assembling and processing knowledge about a particular topic. That provides you the golden opportunity to ask questions and share ideas with people who are more knowledgeable, helping you expand your understanding. It’s like sharing a group chat with a bunch of professors who want to talk to you about their area of expertise.

Access to Unique Resources​

There are guides, news articles, and more available to Usenet users that simply can’t be found elsewhere. That’s because a lot of users will publish their research, concepts, fiction, or art directly to newsgroups so they can be shared. Keep in mind that Usenet started as a way for universities to quickly share information over large distances. That spirit of academic collaboration continues to run through the heart of Usenet to this day. Some newsgroups are sharing cutting edge ideas entirely free of charge, ready for you to jump into.

Getting Started with Usenet

When you’re ready to take advantage of the educational opportunities that Usenet provides, you’re going to need some help getting started. Fortunately, you can get going on Usenet in three simple steps.

1. Find a Usenet Provider

Usenet requires an additional subscription to access, so you’re going to need to find a Usenet provider. We’ve compiled a list of what we consider to be the best Usenet providers to make things easier for you, but if you want more detailed information, you can visit our provider reviews and get a better idea of what to expect from each service. We recommend looking for providers with high retention rates if you’re looking to learn on Usenet. More retention means more articles, providing you with a greater opportunity to find key information. Lower retention providers keep fewer posts on their servers, so you might not be able to find the article that you’re looking for.

2. Find a Newsreader​

A newsreader is a browser for Usenet. The same way you use a web browser like Chrome or Safari for web pages, you need a newsreader for newsgroups. There are several great newsreaders available, many of them absolutely free. We recommend that you consider one that has Usenet search built into it, or at least can be easily added. That makes it easier to search for the specific posts that you need on your educational journey and helps you avoid having to find a separate Indexer.  If your provider includes a free, pre-configured newsreader, you should start with that one, since it’ll shorten the time required to actually browse Usenet.

3. Find Newsgroups​

Once you’ve secured a provider and a newsreader, all that’s left is to find the newsgroups that speak to your interests. Because of the organizational structure of Usenet, it’s pretty easy to start at the top of a Big 8 Hierarchy and keep refining the results until you find a newsgroup that meets your needs.  If you have a search feature built into your newsreader, you can also start searching for newsgroups that are related to what you want to learn. Another way to use search is to query articles with relevant keywords, then see where they’ve been posted. Then it’s as simple as navigating there and seeing what else you can find.

Bottom Line​

There is a lot to learn on Usenet. In some cases, there are resources that you won’t be able to find anywhere else. Newsgroups are full of people who know what they’re talking about and look forward to sharing that knowledge with you. And with enough retention, you can be sure to find over a decade of discussions that will help you grow in your understanding. Join Usenet today and start expanding your horizons.