What are Usenet Newsgroups
The simplest phrase that can be used to describe Usenet Newsgroups is “worldwide electronic discussion forums.” People can exchange information and participate in discussions on a wide variety of topics. They can even exchange pictures, music, and other multimedia content through the alt.binaries newsgroups.
There are newsgroups for jokes, cartoons, movies, serious scientific discussions, religion, and for almost anything else that you can think of. Some newsgroups are global, while others are geared towards specific countries, states, cities, or organizations.
The discussion topics are organized into trees called hierarchies. For example, the ‘rec’ hierarchy contains major collections of topics, featuring recreational topics such as hobbies, sports, and the arts. The ‘rec.arts’ newsgroups are a sub-hierarchy of ‘rec’ featuring artistic topics, including such newsgroups as ‘rec.arts.animation’ and ‘rec.arts.dance’, where you can find discussions and binaries (non-text articles) on animation and dance, respectively.
Help on Newsgroups
Most newsgroups’ content is in English, but there are many hierarchies in other languages as well, such as ‘fr’ for French newsgroups, ‘es’ for Spanish newsgroups, or ‘de’ for German newsgroups. Many newsgroups contain sets of frequently asked questions, which are posted periodically for the benefit of new readers.
These make an excellent introduction to the newsgroups, and can help new readers avoid repeating questions answered in the FAQ section. Many newsgroups have a charter which explains the purpose of the newsgroup and its acceptable uses. The charter is posted periodically, and can usually be found in the FAQ’s area. It is advisable to read a group’s charter before attempting to post anything to it, to avoid offending the group’s readers.
How to Use Newsgroups
It is a good idea to exercise appropriate Usenet netiquette and be aware of the acceptable forms of discussion before posting to a group. In particular, messages should be posted only to the appropriate groups, and off-topic posts should be avoided, as should commercial announcements in newsgroups where they are forbidden or unwelcome.
Posting messages primarily to advertise rather than to contribute to a group’s discussion, posting multiple copies of a message, and excessive cross-posting to multiple groups are all considered spam activities. Posting spam is a severe violation of most Usenet providers’ policies.
Moderated and Unmoderated Groups
Newsgroups may be moderated or unmoderated. Moderated groups have a person called ‘moderator’ who monitors them to ensure that all discussions remain focused and on-topic. Messages to be posted to these groups must be sent to the group’s moderator, who periodically reviews them and posts them to the newsgroup, if approved.
In unmoderated groups, each user is responsible for posting material appropriately, directly to the newsgroup, and no one monitors the posting in those groups. In general, moderated groups contain more refined, or filtered information so you will rarely find content that is irrelevant to the group’s discussion topic in those groups.
The creation of new newsgroups in each hierarchy is normally moderated, and often subject to a vote by newsgroup readers. The exception is the alt hierarchy, where no rules exist, and anyone with sufficient knowledge of the news system can create a newsgroup. Almost any topic can be found among the alt groups, including some with little or no content or interest.