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Usenet newsgroups are Internet 'discussion groups', and are similar in scope to Internet discussion boards. There are more than 100,000 newsgroups; with additional groups being added daily. To access, read and add content to newsgroups, a 'newsreader' is required: which is a application program which connects to Usenet news servers. Newsreaders access newsgroups using protocols like: NNTP (Network News Transfer Protocol).

As the number of newsgroups began to expand, the administrators of the system grouped all the newsgroups together to form a hierarchy known as Usenet. The concept of Usenet was developed by Jim Ellis and Tom Truscott in 1979 (students at Duke University). To begin with, Usenet, and the newsgroups, were just text based communities (7-bit ASCII). Newsgroups then began to support binary data; which allowed the transfer of files across newsgroups. Present day (2014), newsgroups are either one of two types: text or binary.

Usenet is, by nature, is primarily a text-based system. Binary posts, which includes files such as movies, pictures, music files, and software programs can be shared; but, Usenet tends to restrict binary posts to selected newsgroups. Illegal binary posts have caused legal issues: when users have shared files which are copyrighted material.

Newsgroups were one of the first ways in which students and scientists (using ARPANet, an early version of the Internet) could share their opinions, interests and hobbies online. Present day (2014), newsgroups are not as popular as other communication systems - most notable discussion boards. This is probably due to the fact that most online users have a browser installed - and can access discussion boards - but do not have a newsreader.

How to post and read on Newsgroups

To post and read on newsgroups you need a newsreader program. A news reader program allows you to collect articles from newsgroups, and display them in subject and date order. A newsreader will allow users to send posts to a newsgroup. The help file that comes with a newsreader program should explain how to download posts from a newsgroup, and how to read, subscribe and unsubscribe to a particular newsgroup. Below is a list of newsreader programs:

Newsgroup Commander - Easy to use news reader program where you select COMMUNICATOR from the tool bar, and choose the option NEWSGROUPS from the submenu.

Outlook Express - Email program that also allows you to access Usenet. Select TOOLS from the tool bar, and choose the Option ACCOUNTS from the submenu.

Agent 7 - Compatible with Windows 8, and can store 64-bit article numbers. Can access binary newsgroups and download files.

Types of Newsgroups

Newsgroups are listed in a hierarchy that goes back to the early 1980's. The different types of newsgroups are shown by a extension; an example of some of the different types of extensions and meanings are below (for Google newsgroups)

  • alt. - Any conceivable topic.
  • biz. - Business products, services, reviews
  • comp. - Hardware, software, consumer info
  • humanities. - Fine art, literature, philosophy
  • misc. - Employment, health, and much more
  • news. - Info about Usenet News
  • rec. - Games, hobbies, sports
  • sci. - Applied science, social science
  • soc. - Social issues, culture
  • talk. - Current issues and debates.

Newsgroup Netiquette

When posting on newsgroups, users should try to follow a few basic guidelines, often referred to as "Newsgroup Netiquette", below is a list of some of these guidelines:

  • Posting Emails - Posting private email messages on newsgroups is seen as bad etiquette.
  • Test Messages - If you are new to posting, its a good idea to post a "test" message, or a welcome message.
  • Hoaxes - You should take posts with a pinch of salt - especially if they are about a celebrity or famous person.
  • Summaries - If somebody has posted a summery, a user should respond by email rather than post a reply - otherwise this defeats the intention of the author.
  • Responding to posts - Avoid trying to tedious 'pick apart' another user's post; address it in parts or as a whole - not word by word. Picking apart an article 'word by word' can be view as harassment.
  • Spelling and Grammar - If your spelling and grammar is poor: then you should check your posts with a dictionary or spell checker first.
  • Subject Lines - Makes sure it describes your post.
  • Racism - Avoid any posts that are abusive.
  • Spam - Spam is when a user sends an identical message - usually commercial in nature - to a large amount of newsgroups. Obviously it is not a good idea to engage in such a practice.

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