Usenet / Newsgroups

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The Usenet is a huge collection of discussion forums, the newsgroups, set up for discussion, knowledge sharing, and entertainment on all sorts of topics. At Usenet weddings, the system comprised over 10,000 newsgroups and distributed 500 MByte daily.

Structure of the Newsgroups

The Usenet has a hierarchical structure in which the individual newsgroups can be identified with their own names. Since the Usenet is an American invention, most newsgroups are identified by English names and abbreviations. The structure is divided as follows and is provided with abbreviations.

In addition to this English-language structure, there is also a country-specific or language-specific structure, which usually begins with the top-level domain. E.g. “de” for Germany or German.

Structure Description / Contents

  • comp via networks, computers and software
  • sci Science and Technology
  • rec Hobby, Literature
  • soc social topics, culture
  • talk all possible topics
  • news about the Usenet
  • misc which could not be assigned to any category
  • old sex, politics, entertainment, alternative topics

Usenet protocol

The transport protocol for the individual messages and posts in the newsgroups is NNTP. It is used to transfer messages between the servers and from the server to the client and vice versa.

NNTP – Network News Transfer Protocol

Usenet architecture

For each Usenet structure there is a responsible server on which all newsgroups are set up. All new posts are forwarded to this server. This server ensures that these new posts are forwarded to other servers. At some servers, the clients then fetch new contributions or send new contributions back to the server. The server then forwards them to its parent server. Until then a contribution arrived at all servers, it can last few minutes to some hours. Some servers are so badly connected that they receive new posts only after a few days.

Since there are many thousands of newsgroups, not every newsgroup is available on every server. The admin of a server selects only a few thousand newsgroups with much requested topics.

Postings and Threads

Every message or post is read and written like an e-mail. Only the name of one or more newsgroups serves as the address. A newsreader is used for reading and writing.

Although each contribution is sent as a kind of letter to the newsgroup, no mail is said about it. It is rather an article or contribution to a discussion forum called a post. So the correct name for such a post is the posting. A post to several newsgroups is called a crosspost. This is useful if the topic of the post fits into several newsgroups.

Like every e-mail, every posting contains a subject and the text. If someone writes a posting without specifically replying to another, a new thread is created, a red thread is attached to the new postings that refer to it.

Application programs and newsreaders

As a rule, any user who uses a browser such as Internet Explorer and Firefox can also read newsgroups. “Google Groups” is one of the more popular web interfaces for accessing newsgroups. Some email clients can also be used as newsreaders. There are also some standalone newsreaders such as the freeware Xnews and some commercial newsreaders. Under Unix the program TIN is recommended.

If you only want to search or read from time to time, you can also access the newsgroups via Google.
Rules and etiquette

The Usenet is basically a pretty funny bunch, sometimes a funny bunch of small-minded, better-knowing and arrogant assholes, but always funny somehow. (Oliver C. Thornton)

The people who exchange ideas in Usenet are all an idiosyncratic bunch who pay meticulous attention to rules and etiquette and insist on their observance. So it is usual to give his real name (full name and surname) as name and not any pseudonym. Nameless contributions are ignored and overwhelmed with rebukes.

Friendliness is assumed and also the “Quoting” has to be learned, if you don’t want to be called a “full quotel”. The complete reciting (full quote) of the previous message at the

The end of a posting is considered to be indelicate. Anyone who does should expect comments. And before writing, you should not let yourself be taken away from looking for whether the same topic has not already been discussed in detail before.

Postings that are thematically in the wrong group are called OffTopic (OT) and usually remain unanswered. The author of this aberrant is kindly referred to another newsgroup.