Because many people weren’t happy with the way the BIG-8 newsgroup hierarchy works, a Usenet administrator one day started the alternative groups (which are alternative to the BIG-8 groups). Basically, he tried to create certain groups as BIG-* groups, but the main Usenet provider at that time refused to carry his groups, so he created them on his own and used an “alternative” backbone to distribute messages for those groups.
The alternative groups have only one hierarchy, alt.* and the rules are: there are no rules! Anything goes in them, because the rules of the other hierarchy do not apply. Basically anybody can create a new group there or try to remove an already existing one. Because there isn’t a centralized supervision of the alt.* groups, most ISP’s and news services trust nobody there. Control messages can be sent out to create a new group and it will be ignored, same as if you try to remove an already existing group, it too will be ignored.
Creating a new alt.* group is easy, it is hard however to have other news services or ISP’s carry it, since there is no control on how the groups are handled. The largest amount of alt groups and most popular seem to be the alt.binaries hierarchy which carries the binary groups. These are the frequented groups for people looking for large files such as video, and software.
Mostly alt.* posters use screen names instead of their real names, you should also uphold newsgroup etiquette in alt.* but the groups are not as strict as the BIG-8 ones, so don’t expect the newsgroup etiquette back. Most often, however, if you treat other users friendly, they will treat you the same way.
So next time you are downloading from an alt.* group, stop and take a minute to think about the history of these groups and remember to watch your newsgroup etiquette.