What is Usenet?

What Is Usenet? Newsgroups?

Usenet is a Worldwide bulletin board system that predates the Internet. Usenet was originally established in 1980 by Tom Truscott and Jim Ellis. Users are able to post messages to over 120,000+ different subject based discussion or binary forums known as newsgroups.

Since its creation in 1980 Usenet has been provided to users via Colleges, Universities, Internet service providers (ISPs) and commercial services such as Fast Usenet.

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Usenet vs. Internet Forums

Usenet is similar to the modern forum systems that you find on the Internet, but unlike the forums Online today, Usenet newsgroup posts sync with newsgroup providers all over the World. For example, when a user submits a post to an Internet forum that message will only appear on that website. With Usenet, when you post a message it’s transferred between the different Usenet services that have a peering relationship.

Let’s say you post a message to Fast Usenet. That message will then appear on thousands of different Usenet systems around the World. That’s what makes Usenet a great communication tool, you aren’t limited to just one web service, your questions, posts, comments, ideas will be seen by people accessing the newsgroups all over.

Usenet Access Software - Newsreaders

Usenet can be accessed via the command line for tech savvy users, but for everyone else there are programs called newsreaders. Newsreaders are software applications that make Usenet easier to use. As an example, we offer a newsreader called GrabIt. GrabIt allows you to easily view the newsgroup list, subscribe and post to newsgroups and offers a global search feature which works as a search engine for newsgroup content.

There are three different categories of newsreaders. Newsreaders that are text only, newsreaders that process binaries (data files) only and newsreaders that work for both. Popular programs such as Mozilla Thunderbird do text only, while newsreaders such as SABnzbd and NZBGet work just for binaries. GrabIt works for both binaries and text.

Usenet and Binary Files

Usenet was originally used for text only. It wasn’t possible to share binary files such as images, audio and video on the newsgroups. That all changed in the late 1990’s with the help of 8-bit value encoding using ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange). Usenet could then be used for encoding and transferring data files, and due to the nature of the NNTP (network news transfer protocol), Usenet is very efficient when it comes to transferring data. Users where then able to encode and upload binary files to the newsgroups. Over the years the encoding process has changed from ASCII 8-bit to yEnc which is about 30% more efficient when it comes to data transfer.

Usenet Data Storage - Retention

Retention, a common term used when discussing Usenet service. Retention is the amount of time a service provider can store files. File storage can differ greatly between providers as it’s directly related to the amount of hardware the provider has available. For example, if 1 day of newsgroup storage is 9TB (terabytes) then 10 days is 90TB, and 3000 days is 27,000TB or 27PB (petabytes), which is a lot of storage. Hard drives storage is needed to house all this information. Thus, providers need to invest heavily in storage infrastructure to provider higher levels of retention. For more information about retention please visit our Usenet retention page.

Freedom of Speech

The very nature of Usenet has always been inter-human communication among a large group of users. In its simplest form, Usenet represents democracy, or the right to share almost everything that could be possibly shared from a computer. Most of the material in Usenet is contributed by the same people who actively read Usenet. Thus, the Usenet audience chooses the content and subject matter to be thought about, presented, and debated.

Exchanging of Ideas

Early Usenet users had one thing in common – their passion to discuss a broad range of topics and ideas from science and technology to philosophy, science fiction, literature, or politics. People would meet in various newsgroups to freely voice their opinions, ask for advice, and interact with other users who share the same interests. This trend has not changed much but the functionality and resourcefulness of Usenet has increased tremendously.

In this way, Usenet is a worldwide unrestricted access forum for debate and informational exchange where many sides of an issue come into view. Rather than being force-fed by an uncontrollable power, the participants set the tone and emphasis of the different groups in Usenet. Without the time and effort put in by its users, Usenet would not be the democratic and resourceful informational forum it is today.

Newsgroups History

The basic concept of the newsgroups and their history are pretty interesting. The idea of Usenet and its environment evolved from a basic existence. Usenet is now worldwide and fully functional across many platforms and computers.

The basics of newsgroups and message trading came from what was known as a BBS or Bulletin Board System. This system was created so that users could dial-up and connect usually using a telephone modem. Once dialed into the BBS, users could mainly post messages under created topics. When somebody would log off of the BBS, someone else would have the ability to log in, read what has been written and reply accordingly. These messages were stored and were only made available to users with a username and password to the BBS.

With the idea of the Internet and the World Wide Web, BBS providers wanted to expand their posts and replies for their dial-up users. Soon the BBS computer was connecting with other computers over the Internet and trading topics, posts, and their replies. Those computers in time traded with other computers, creating a vast network of message and topic trading. Hence, Usenet’s concept has evolved. Once Usenet was in full force, the newsgroup was made as a standard. Newsgroups as a history is basically a labeling structure for topics that people can read and reply to.

Newsgroup Names and Organization

As there are over 120,000+ newsgroups to choose between, there needed to be a way to organize them. There are 9 hierarchies, 8 of which are under strict control and must follow the guidelines when created. The 9th is called the alt.* hierarchy and isn’t subject to the naming standards the big 8 are under. The newsgroup hierarchies are:

  • comp.* – computer, technology discussion (comp.mail.sendmail, comp.os.linux)
  • humanities.* – fine arts, literature, and philosophy (humanities.philosophy.objectivism)
  • misc.* – miscellaneous topics (misc.business.marketing)
  • news.* – discussions and announcements about news (news.admin.peering)
  • rec.* – recreation and entertainment (rec.models.rockets)
  • sci.* – science related discussions (sci.geo.geology)
  • soc.* – social discussions (soc.college.admissions, soc.culture.ireland)
  • talk.* – talk about various controversial topics (talk.politics)
  • alt.* - not restricted to any specific subject or type (alt.linux.redhat)

For more inforamtion click on the specific hierarchy name above or visit our Newsgroup Hierarchies (Categories) section.

Downloading from Usenet

As mentioned above, newsreaders are the easiest method for accessing the text and binary newsgroups. We recommend GrabIt as we offer a customized version which is already configured to work with our service. We also offer different tutorials on how to setup the most popular newsreaders which can be found in our “Learn How” section.
Fast Usenet works with any newsreader that uses the standard NNTP protocol, so basically we work with all newsreaders.

Usenet Today

Usenet connects tens of thousands of sites around the world, from mainframes to PCs. With more than 120,000 newsgroups available and millions of readers, it is perhaps the world’s largest computer network. The Usenet network connects millions of users from around the world and brings them all together to exchange ideas and engage in discussions easily.

Fast Usenet continues the legacy of the Usenet network today. We continually update our equipment so our users’ experience with Usenet can remain superb at all times. We bring the Usenet network home to you and make it easy to use, even for the most inexperienced beginners.

Additional Information

We could write about Usenet forever as there is an incredible amount of information about it. Different newsgroups, different technologies, the list goes on. We have articles about: Retention, SSL Security, and GrabIt. For additional information we suggest doing a little digging around the Internet.

We hope that this article was informative and you now have a better idea on what Usenet is. If you are interested in getting started please checkout our free trial offer.

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