What is Usenet
A Simple Usenet Tutorial
An Introduction to Usenet
Usenet was the world’s first social network and a key backbone for data before the World Wide Web became ubiquitous. Today, it’s still one of the safest, fastest, and most secure ways to access information online.
Usenet was originally conceived as a way to send news and announcements between two universities in North Carolina. Based on a Unix protocol, it was able to send digital, text-based messages between the universities and share it with users. Within a short time, it grew into a wide-ranging system of different discussion groups.
It is now a global system of newsgroups with more than 120k different subgroups split into 8 main categories and millions of users around the world. It’s where terms like “spam,” “LOL,” and “ROFL” (just to name a few) originated.
The first discussion group on Usenet was simply called “news” and was designed to share updates on what was happening on both campuses. So today discussion groups on Usenet are called “newsgroups”. However, Usenet today is not really a news service (a way of making announcements to a wide range of people at once) at all. Rather, it’s a system used to facilitate discussions and user-generated content on an endless number of topics.
How Usenet Works
Like other familiar Internet services, Usenet uses a client/server system. A program (called a “newsreader”, which is the Usenet “client”) runs on your computer to request files from another program (called a “server”). It’s similar to the World Wide Web, but has its own ecosystem for search and browsing. The same way a web browser (Chrome, Firefox, Safari, etc.) communicates with remote web servers (i.e. views websites), Usenet clients get information from servers and bring it to you.
When a user wants to share on Usenet, they post to a related newsgroup where it becomes an “article”. Other users can then read/download and interact with that article.
Many articles posted on Usenet are in text form and are the building blocks of parts of focused discussions. Usenet is where today’s Reddit-style threaded conversations originated.
Users would download all the posts in a particular newsgroup, read through them, and then post contributions as a text article. It’s just like commenting on online threads today.
Other Usenet posts contain a file attachment, just like an email attachment. Most commonly, attachments are images, audio files, video files, and software applications. These Usenet posts with attachments are known as “binaries.”
How to Get Started with Usenet
Step 1 - Selecting a Usenet Provider
In order to get access to posts on Usenet, you generally need:
- Access to Usenet from a Usenet Provider
- Newsreader software
What is a Usenet Provider?
Commercial Usenet Providers provide access to servers that store files on Usenet and allow customers to download those files, usually for a small monthly fee. Different providers vary the bandwidth, connection limits, or the amount of time they store a file after it is uploaded to their servers. Some Usenet providers include bonus add-ons with their service, such as free newsreaders or VPNs. SEE OUR LIST OF BEST PROVIDERS Luckily for customers, the Usenet provider market is quite competitive, so prices are kept pretty low. Newshosting, our choice for Best Usenet Provider, is as little as $10 per month and it has more features and better speeds than any other provider. With our special Newshosting offer, that price drops to $5.99 per month for a year + 3 free months. When you choose a Usenet provider, there are five important things to consider:
- Retention: Retention is the amount of time (usually shown in days) that a Usenet provider stores files on its servers. For example, if a provider advertises “5506 days of retention,” that means they will keep a new file posted to its servers for 5506 days before it’s automatically deleted to make room for new files. People post so much new data to Usenet every day that it’s nearly impossible for a Usenet provider to store all Usenet posts forever. That’s why almost every provider limits their retention. However, some Usenet providers have more server space and capacity than others. Retention varies from as low as a few days to as many as 5506+ days, a difference that equates to having access to billions more files (yes, billions).
Some Usenet providers don’t even advertise how much retention they have. To keep operational costs low, lower quality Usenet providers who operate their own servers limit the number of days they store articles. Storing vast amounts of data is expensive, so these small Usenet providers limit retention to a few months. After those few months go by, they delete the oldest files to make room for newer articles posted to Usenet. This results in incomplete downloads and the inability to find the articles you want.
Always check how much binary and text retention a Usenet provider offers before signing up. If you can’t find the retention displayed on their site, consider it a red flag and move on.The best Usenet providers “spool” their retention, which means that their retention grows by one day every day. That means no file ever automatically expires. Newshosting, Eweka, UsenetServer, and Easynews have the best retention in the industry because they spool. They no longer delete posts based on how old they are.
- Completion: Completion (or “completion rate”) is the percentage of articles stored by a Usenet provider versus the total amount of available articles. A Usenet provider has 90% completion if it stores 90% of all available articles.
Providers with higher Retention also have higher Completion rates because they store more articles.The best Usenet providers invest in their server infrastructure so that they can offer both high retention and high completion.
Think of completion rate as how often your Usenet provider has all the articles you need to complete a download. Our top-reviewed Usenet providers generally offer greater than 99% completion.
- Connections & Speed: If you’ve never downloaded via Usenet before, prepare to be amazed at the speeds (if you have fast Internet speed and a capable computer). The best Usenet providers have powerful servers with high bandwidth connections to maximize download speed. Some providers allow uncapped download speeds while others might limit them.
Speed can be affected by the number of connections that you have, since each connection can grab a part of the article you want independent of the rest. One of the best parts of Usenet is that its unique protocol offers some of the best download speeds of any online service.
Keep in mind that increasing the number of connections does not guarantee an increase in download speed. If you’re new to Usenet, start with the pre-configured amount of connections. As you become more comfortable with your newsreader software, experiment with increasing the number of connections to see how it affects download speed. Generally, the process is this: start downloading a large file, and once the download speed stabilizes, increase the number of connections by one. Keep increasing by one until your download speed no longer increases. The goal is to get the fastest download speed with the least amount of connections. Choose a Usenet provider with multiple connections for the most flexibility.
Though using SSL connections does give you privacy and security, your everyday online browsing activity isn’t always safe. Providers like Newshosting and UsenetServer offer a free VPN add-on that protects all your Internet activity.Always choose a Usenet provider that offers SSL connections. It’s an added bonus if they also include a no-log VPN.
- Price: Finally, consider the monthly price of a Usenet provider when making your decision. Look carefully at service levels, retention, speeds and completion so you know what you’re paying for. Also, in almost every case, it’s less expensive to pay annually than month-to-month. We have chosen providers in our Best Usenet Providers article with unlimited download plans, but not everybody needs that. Many Usenet providers offer great limited time free trials. Test services with full access to all the included features. We recommend that you take advantage of Usenet free trials before committing to one or two providers.
Step 2 - Selecting a Newsreader
Usenet is a client/server system. To access Usenet, you run a client program called a “newsreader” on your computer. Your newsreader software connects to the Usenet news server and sends and receives data on your behalf.
Which newsreader software should you use?
There are many newsreader choices – some are free, some cost money. How do you know which one to download and use? It all depends on how you are going to use Usenet.
If you’re just getting started, simpler newsreader software is better. The more familiar you become with Usenet, the more you may want advanced features from your newsreader software, such as automation or plugin capabilities with other applications.
Some Usenet providers, like Newshosting, come with a free newsreader usable right out of the box.
For other providers that don’t provide their own newsreader software, you’ll need to download a 3rd party client like SABnzbd or NZBGet.
Easynews is unique in having a web browser-based Usenet access and doesn’t require additional software at all. The nature of Usenet does require a newsreader of some sort.
Summary: When it comes to choosing a Usenet service provider, the most important things to look for are retention, completion, connections & speed, privacy & security, and price.
Usenet is still a great way to participate in global discussions and download articles from all over the world.
Get Started with Usenet Today - Our Recommendations
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