What’s Usenet? The most apt modern comparison might be to forums or message boards. Usenet is a collection of ‘newsgroups’. Newsgroups are simply sections of Usenet where users can post messages (articles) according to a certain theme. In the newsgroup alt.music.rush, it’s about the band Rush. In rec.sport.tennis, the discussion is tennis and in comp.lang.php, it’s the PHP programming language. There are over 100,000 newsgroups covering almost any topic you can think of.
Here then, are five things you don’t know about Usenet.
1. It exists. Statistically, you have likely never heard of Usenet or newsgroups, or if you have, you’ve never used it. With the emergence of the World Wide Web in the early/mid-90’s, the text-based Usenet became secondary to the multimedia-based WWW. Usenet has been around since 1979.
2. It’s faster, on the whole, than the World Wide Web. When connecting to Usenet, you’re connecting to a single server. That server has all the articles available on Usenet (each server on the network has a copy of all the articles). Since you’re not bouncing from server to server all over the world, sometimes loading from dozens of servers for a single web page, the experience can be much faster.
3. It’s almost completely unmoderated. The various newsgroups are not controlled by anyone. Users make liberal use of a “kill file” to deal with spam. The kill file is easily managed in most Usenet clients and is as simple as using rules in your email program. The lack of moderation makes for discussions that are open and honest, without users having to worry about angering an overly-agressive moderator. Trust me, speaking from personal experience here, dealing with an egomaniacal, paranoid forum owner or moderator is not a fun time.
4. You are safe and anonymous. This is another benefit to only connecting to one server. Most Usenet providers do not track or log what newsgroups you read, post to, or download from. By comparison, every website you’ve ever been to has as much information about you as it can collect. With Usenet, nobody knows so much as your IP address except for your service provider.
5. Many terms you’re familiar with originated with Usenet. FAQ’s. Trolling. Flaming and flame wars. Godwin’s Law. Then there’s my favorite, and one I used to participate in back around 1992, MSTing. Even email signatures have a history in Usenet.
Interested in Usenet? You’ll need a couple of things to get started. First, a provider. I’ve been an affiliate and user of Giganews since February 2010. They’ve got plans from $4.99/month Pearl to the $29.99/month Diamond. Diamond pricing is going up to $34.99/month beginning March 31st for new sign ups, so sign up today to lock in the current lower price! I’ve got a Diamond account and it’s fantastic. It also comes with VyprVPN, a personal VPN that encrypts all your computer’s web traffic.
Next, you’ll need a client. For Mac users, it’s hard to beat Unison. On Windows, give GrabIt a shot. If you sign up with Giganews, they’ve got a client that bundles for free with their Diamond-level service. With access and a client, you’ll be ready for everything Usenet has to offer.