Usenet is a massive online community. To engage with that community, you need to navigate newsgroups. There are over 100,000 active newsgroups containing even more articles and binaries. So, what are newsgroups and how do you navigate them? We explain.
What Are Newsgroups?
Newsgroups are discussion groups on Usenet. Each newsgroup focuses on a specific topic. Newsgroups are categorized into large subsections called hierarchies.
Hierarchies are top-level categories in which newsgroups are organized. There are more than 600 hierarchies, but many of those were created to represent specific geographical regions. In reality, there are only a handful of notable hierarchies.
Notable Newsgroup Hierarchies
|alt||alternative, unmoderated posts|
|comp||posts about computers|
|humanities||posts about humanities|
|misc||posts that don't fit any of the other categories|
|news||posts about Usenet and newsgroups|
|rec||posts about recreational activities and hobbies|
|sci||posts about science and technology
|soc||posts about social and cultural issues
|talk||posts related to debates or other conversational topics|
Newsgroup Naming System
Along with hierarchies, there is also a newsgroup naming system used to categorize newsgroups. All newsgroup names consist of at least two parts, though sometimes there are more than two. Periods separate each part of a newsgroup name.
The first part is the hierarchy. The next part is the general topic. Sometimes, extra parts are added if the discussion of a topic is more specific than the second part indicates.
An example of a newsgroup is alt.gossip.celebrities. The alt in the first part of the name indicates that this newsgroup belongs to the alt hierarchy. The second and third parts state that the topic of discussion is gossip, specifically celebrity gossip.
As established by the name, alt.gossip.celebrities includes gossip posts about celebrities. If you enjoy celebrity gossip, you know that regular celebrity news coverage is predictable. All tabloid sites and magazines run similar articles. The alt.gossip.celebrities newsgroup is different. What sets it apart is the fact that content in newsgroups is user-generated. Usenet users find weird celebrity gossip news and then provide their own spin on it.
The alt.gossip.celebrities group receives regular updates. This is a crucial. Retention capabilities continue to grow, but servers only host messages for a finite amount of time. So, successful groups need active users who are willing to post and maintain popular articles.
Administrators moderate some, but not all newsgroups. Many, like those belonging to the alt hierarchy, are unmoderated. Because of this, it is necessary that newbies learn some basic Usenet etiquette. Here are some good habits to practice in newsgroups:
- Only quote posts when necessary
- See if a question has been asked and/or answered before you ask it yourself
- Make sure there is not a more appropriate newsgroup for your message before you post it
- Do not post the same message multiple times
- If you are posting to a moderated group, make sure to brush up on the group’s rules before posting
- Do not post flame bait or engage in a flame war