What is a Newsgroup?
A Simple Newsgroup Tutorial
It’s hard to believe that there was an Internet before the World Wide Web, but there was. The earliest pre-web online community that played a significant role in shaping the Internet’s development is Usenet and its basic component, the newsgroup. The precursor to modern online forums and social media platforms, newsgroups laid the foundation for the interconnected global conversations we experience today.
Newsgroups and Usenet are a vibrant online community. Choose one of our best Usenet providers to see for yourself.
Defining Usenet Newsgroups
Usenet is a distributed networking protocol that predates the World Wide Web. It was created in 1980 by Tom Truscott and Jim Ellis and initially served as a way to transfer news articles and information between universities and research institutions.
A newsgroup, also known as a “Usenet newsgroup,” is an online forum and is the mechanism where users can exchange information, discuss various topics, swap binaries, and share ideas.
How do Newsgroups Work
Structure and Naming Conventions
Newsgroups are organized into categories called “hierarchies.” The naming convention for a newsgroup follows a hierarchical structure, with the names separated by periods. For example, “comp.os.linux” falls under the “comp” (computers) hierarchy, followed by the “os” (operating systems) category, and finally, the “linux” (Linux-related topics) newsgroup.
- At first, newsgroups were organized into what is known as the “Big 8” hierarchies.
- comp.* (For computer aficionados)
- humanities.* (The haven for arts and literature enthusiasts)
- misc.* (The melting pot of diverse, uncategorized discussions)
- news.* (Focusing on Usenet itself and related discussions)
- rec.* (Dedicated to recreational activities from movies to music)
- sci.* (A hub for the scientifically curious)
- soc.* (Discussing societal topics and cultural nuances)
- talk.* (The birthplace of many a heated debate)
Over the course of the 1980s and 1990s, Internet access grew, an influx of users led to an expansion of topics within the Big 8 hierarchies. The lesser-regulated alternative hierarchy, alt.*, emerged alongside, bringing with it a plethora of diverse topics.
The hierarchy system helps users find and subscribe to newsgroups that align with their interests. It covers an extensive range of subjects, including technology, science, arts, hobbies, politics, culture, etc. Users can join multiple newsgroups and participate in discussions related to their chosen topics.
Posting and Reading Messages
Users need newsreader software that connects to a Usenet server to post, read and reply to messages in specific newsgroups. The messages, also called articles or posts, are distributed to all servers connected by the NNTP protocol globally, so all Users have access to every article posted to the newsgroups, no matter which local Usenet server they are connected to.
Users also post larger files to Usenet called “binary posts” or “binary articles.” These files are divided into several different posts and the newsreader uses a special kind of file called an “NZB” to collect all the posts and reassemble them locally inside the newsreader.
Newsgroups have several advantages that contribute to their continued popularity:
- Decentralization: Usenet Newsgroups are not owned or controlled by any one entity like other popular social media platforms. Because NNTP is an open source protocol, it can be installed by anyone that wants to create a Usenet server and connect it to the global Usenet network.
- Global Reach: Newsgroups are a forum to connect and communicate with individuals worldwide on an uncensored discussion platform.
- Privacy and Security: Newsgroup Users can have a certain level of anonymity, which encourages open and free discussions.
- Myriad topics covered: Newsgroups allow people to engage in focused discussions and connect with like-minded individuals.
As the Internet evolved, new online communities emerged including: web-based forums, social media platforms, and instant messaging services. However, the impact of newsgroups on the development of online communities and the exchange of information should not be underestimated. They paved the way for all the subsequent online discussion and social media services we know today. Usenet was the first social network.
Today, millions of people post billions of articles every year to Usenet. New newsgroups are created regularly and flourishing.
As with all services on the Internet, bad actors may try to exploit Usenet in malicious ways. A benefit of Usenet is browsing in total anonymity. SSL connections and a VPN provide additional privacy and security.
We recommend using a VPN with Usenet, but it’s not required. A good VPN allows you to privately browse and download articles, both from an indexer and from your Usenet provider. It usually won’t slow download speeds either if connected to a low-latency server.
Enabling SSL encrypts your Usenet traffic. There’s really no reason not to connect to your Usenet provider’s SSL port, which most good providers offer for free.
You are likely to read discussions online about having one unlimited account and one block (or fill) account.
An unlimited account is a Usenet plan with a certain provider that gives you unlimited downloads for a monthly or annual fee. Download as much or as little as you want from that provider.
A block account is usually a certain gigabyte allotment that you purchase for a one-time fee with a different Usenet provider on a different Usenet backbone. For example, if you purchase a 100GB block with Tweaknews, you can download 100GB of files before you have to purchase another block.
While a block account tends to be less expensive for people with very limited usage, for normal or power users, a subscription is much more cost effective.