Starting with Usenet? 10 Essential Things You Need to Know

Getting into Usenet is exciting. There is a whole new world to explore and new users can sometimes feel overwhelmed trying to figure out exactly how to access it all. Fortunately, we’re here to help, so take a breath and read on. These are 10 things you should know that will make your Usenet journey a little easier.

Usenet is Not the World Wide Web​

While a lot of what most people think of as “the Internet” started on Usenet, the World Wide Web is not Usenet and trying to treat them the same isn’t going to be helpful. First of all, you need a special Usenet browser, called a newsreader, to access Usenet newsgroups and articles. Similarly, you can’t search Usenet on the search engines that you’re used to: you need to either use an independent Indexer or find a newsreader that comes with Usenet search built in. These aren’t difficult hurdles to overcome, but it can be frustrating if you don’t know what to expect.

Retention Rates Are Incredibly Important​

Since Usenet data is stored on servers hosted by Usenet companies, most have a limit of how long they will keep a particular post. This limit, measured in days, is called the “retention rate” and it is the most important metric to consider when you choose a Usenet provider. The higher the retention rate, the more content you have available to you. There are also companies that utilize what’s called “spooling retention,” meaning that their retention rate increases by one day every day. The highest retention providers are Newshosting, Eweka, Easynews, and UsenetServer, who all have a retention rate of 5818+ days.

Usenet is a Decentralized Platform​

Unlike Google, Instagram, TikTok, etc, Usenet is not owned by a single company. It is a communication protocol (Network News Transfer Protocol or “NNTP”) that is operated on servers around the world owned by different companies, using different equipment, and having different rules. What this means in practice is that Usenet is not monitored or controlled by the companies that provider access. Moderation is left to the community and censorship is a lot lower than on centralized platforms like most modern social media, where discussions can be subject to the whims of a single individual or driven by advertiser demands.

Usenet is Organized into Newsgroups​

Discussions on Usenet happen in forums called “newsgroups” that are organized based on topic. The highest level of organization is called the “Big 8 Hierarchies”, which filters all newsgroups into eight broad categories, and from that point newsgroups become more granular.  The format for a newsgroup name starts with the Big 8 category, then adds more specificity after a period. So all science-based newsgroups are in the “sci.*” category. From there you might find “sci.physics”, “sci.astronomy”, “sci.geology”, etc. Newsgroups can keep getting more specific, for example “sci.physics.computational” and even “sci.physics.computational.fluid-dynamics.” Whatever your interests, there is probably a newsgroup for it.

Use the Security Features​

Most Usenet providers include at least SSL security as an option on all their connections, but many users don’t actually utilize this. In order to use SSL, it’s important to check the settings of your newsreader and make sure that you’re connecting to the Usenet servers on the encrypted ports. In most cases this means simply checking a box or, at most, changing one number to another (your provider will tell you which one to use). It’s a few seconds of your time that will drastically improve your online security. Beyond SSL, a lot of modern providers also include additional security solutions as part of their subscription. VPNs, antivirus software, and ad blockers are popular features that might be included with your Usenet service. If you have access to any of these features, use them. You’re already paying for them and they will protect you from malware, data theft, and other cyber threats, so you might as well.

Usenet Doesn’t Serve Ads​

Unlike the Web, Usenet isn’t based on an advertiser revenue model. Online ads are the main way that websites make money, so you see more and more of them. It’s getting so bad that search engines are becoming less reliable because advertisements take priority over relevant, organic results. Usenet works on a subscription basis, so once you’ve signed up for a plan, you no longer have to worry about ads intruding on your browsing and slowing down your connection. There are no reputable “free” Usenet providers, though there are several with excellent free trials. Even better, since Usenet companies don’t need to track your activity to serve you relevant ads, they don’t have to keep logs of your activity, making your time on Usenet safer than surfing web pages.

Usenet Doesn’t Have to Be Expensive​

Just because Usenet requires a separate subscription from your regular Internet service doesn’t mean it has to be expensive. In fact, there are a lot of great budget providers based out of North America and Europe that can get you started on Usenet for only a few dollars or euros a month. And even top quality providers will offer great deals on a regular basis to make their service as affordable as possible.

You Can Automate a Lot of Usenet Tasks​

The difference between Usenet newbies and advanced users is generally that those who have been using the protocol for longer know how to automate a lot of the most common tasks. Newsreaders and Usenet Clients often have extensive, built in automation for operations like scheduled searches, article updates, and notifications. Gone are the days of constant refreshing to see if there’s been new activity.

Consider Speed and Download Limits​

There are a lot of factors to consider when signing up for a Usenet provider, and one to look out for are limitations placed on your speeds or the amount of data you can transfer per month. These restrictions are not necessarily bad things. You can save money by signing up for a plan that provides slower speeds or less monthly data if you don’t think you’ll use them. We recommend starting with a provider that gives you unlimited speed and data, then evaluating your needs from that point.

It’s Ok to Ask Questions​

Beyond anything else, Usenet is a community. It can be particularly tight knit in some newsgroups. You’re talking about a lot of savvy people who are passionate about the topics they engage with, and they want you to join the conversation. So if you’re unsure about something, don’t be afraid to ask a question. You’ll find a lot of people who are not only willing, but excited to help you get more out of your Usenet experience.