A Newbie's Guide to USENET: 1

Shery Ma Belle Arrieta

Message Boards are typically the venue of choice for Adult Webmasters seeking information on their trade, but there is another valuable source of information – one that is nearly as old as the Internet itself, and frequented by countless users: USENET. If you’ve never made use of this resource, here’s how…

USENET is a world wide distributed discussion system that is organized like the classified ads found at the back of newspapers. Within USENET you will read articles that are organized under categories. Each article is created by an individual or company that has something to say. While USENET is a world wide discussion forum, it was not created to be an advertising medium.

USENET is a lot like the Internet: It is not exclusively owned by one person or group. Rather, it is a collection of computers all over the world sharing information electronically. When you post an article on USENET, it circulates around the world. After a time it 'expires' and is then removed from circulation. While it is circulating, anyone can read your article and respond to it. Responses may take the form of a follow-up article or an e-mail sent to you. Articles usually contain only text but may also contain programs, pictures, documents, or any other type of computer file.

The people in USENET are able to exchange articles when they are with one or more universally recognized labels called "newsgroups" (or "groups") for short. USENET is made up of well over 40,000 different categories of articles. They range over every imaginable topic - including sports, employment opportunities, computer software, TV shows, hobbies, international news, trade information, politics, personals, and much more. As diverse as the topics are, USENET also encompasses government agencies, high schools, businesses of all sizes, home computers and a lot more.

To be able to participate in USENET newsgroups, you should have a screen-oriented news interface called a newsreader. A newsreader is somewhat similar to an e-mail client. There are a number of newsreaders available such as FreeAgent and Microsoft News. You should also ask your ISP for the details of your specific setup. Although newsreaders may differ, there are still some standard features are common to most newsreaders that provide the capability to read, reply to, discard, post and process articles based on user-definable patterns.

Some newsreaders also provide the capability of blocking (or killing) the newsgroup postings by topic or poster (the person doing the posting). This feature is very helpful when dealing with undesirable article topics or certain individuals that the reader finds offensive in some way.

Newsgroup Categories
Seven broad classifications of newsgroups are generally circulating around the entire USENET. Each of these broad categories is further organized into groups and subgroups according to their topic. The seven major categories are the following:

• comp
These groups discuss topics in computer science, software sources, information on hardware and software systems, and other topics of interest to both computer professionals and hobbyists. Included in this category are groups like comp.protocols.tcp-ip, which deals with Internet protocols, and comp.infosystems.wais, which discusses the Wide Area Information Server.

• misc
These groups address hard-to-classify topics. Here is where groups that feature themes on multiple categories. The newsgroup (fitness), misc.job.offered (job-hunting), (law), and misc.invest.real-estate (investments) belong in this category.

• news
These groups are discussions about news network, group maintenance, and accompanying software. New users can get helpful hints from the group news.newusers.questions.

• rec
This category includes groups discussing arts, hobbies, and recreational activities such as sports. The group discusses all aspects of stage work while the group talks about all aspects of golf.

• sci
The focus of these groups are discussions that relate to research in or applications of the established sciences.

• soc
These groups are concerned with social issues and socializing. Some discussions in these groups relate to world cultures. The soc.culture.brazil discusses the people of Brazil, while soc.women discusses issues relating to women.

• talk
Here is the category where on-going debates and open-ended discussions on many inflammatory topics such as politics (talk.politics.drugs) or controversial topics (talk.abortion) could be found.

Aside from the seven official categories, USENET may distribute many other Internet newsgroups that may be of local or regional interest. Here are some of the nontraditional groups:

• alt
This category comprises of alternative newsgroups that focus on a wide variety of topics.

• bionet
Topics found in this category are generally aimed for biologists.

• bit
The Bitnet LISTSERV mailing lists are redistributed through these newsgroups.

• biz
These newsgroups are concerned with business and computer products or services.

• ClariNet
These newsgroups are obtained from commercial news services and other official sources. A site must pay a license fee in order to receive this category.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers distributes these newsgroups to any site that wants to carry them.

• inet/ddn
This is another alternative or miscellaneous category which consists of Internet discussion lists.

Now that you know a little about USENET, you’re almost ready to venture out on your own, but first you need to understand a few basic rules, which we’ll cover in our next installment…

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