Newsgroups Part 1: What are they and where did they come from?
This is a four part article on Newsgroups – covering their history, evolution, what they can do for you now (and why things like Bittorrent are a bad idea to use for some people), and exactly how you can use Newsgroups today.
This is written for normal people – not nerds. So if you have heard about it and want to give it a go, reading these four articles will give you all you need to know.
Best of all, I will enable you try Newsgroups out for free so you can gain an understanding of how they work and why they are so cool. They are not really mainstream at the moment, but have capabilities far in excess of alternatives – which is why at the moment mostly more hard core Internet users use them.
Part 1: Newsgroup History
Newsgroups are a very old part of the internet and also often referred to as UseNet. In days gone past they were one of the main ways people with things in common got together to discuss their favourite topics. Like a bulletin board or forum, people posted things, others replied, and often robust, challenging discussions resulted – occasionally not for the faint hearted!
A user posts a message to their newsgroup server, and soon that message is spread across the world’s newsgroup servers which are constantly updated and sharing content.
They run on servers just like websites do, but you can’t directly view them in your internet browser like a website. (Well strictly speaking it is technically possible, but not a very good user experience) . Some internet service providers (ISPs) provide their users with free Newsgroup access, however in the vast majority of instances they provide only a tiny glimpse at what’s available and only more recent things, and you simply cannot see most of what’s out there. This is where Newsgroup providers come into play, and for a small monthly fee you gain access to much, much more and often much higher bandwidth which means you can download things faster.
Newsgroups are divided into “Groups”. The name of a group tends to follow a set standard so people can guess from the name what it’s about. For example alt.autos.toyota is a newsgroup for those interested in cars – specifically Toyotas. There is also an alt.autos.ford, and a multitude of others that can be specific (ie focus on one manufacturer) or more generic to chat about anything to do with cars, eg alt.autos
There is a naming hierarchy which includes the first word of the group name being:
• comp.* — Discussion of computer-related topics
• news.* — Discussion of Usenet itself
• sci.* — Discussion of scientific subjects
• rec.* — Discussion of recreational activities (e.g. games and hobbies)
• soc.* — Socialising and discussion of social issues.
• talk. * — Discussion of contentious issues such as religion and politics.
• misc.* — Miscellaneous discussion—anything which does not fit in the other hierarchies.
(Reference: the above list was obtained from Wikipedia)
alt.* groups I mentioned earlier are more modern groups with fewer limits of what can be discussed.
There are well over 100,000 newsgroups now. The exact number will depend on your Newsgroup provider and how good they are – but more on that in the next parts!
Coming soon: Part 2: Newsgroup Evolution