Usenet Newsgroups

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Introduction

Usenet newsgroups have been around since the advent of the Internet. At first they were a virtual gathering place just for scientists and those in academia to exchange information and ideas. As the Internet grew in size and disseminated to a reach a global audience newsgroups exploded in popularity. Individuals came together to contribute or "post", and view each others responses to topics only limited by the imagination. As of this writing there are tens of thousands of newsgroups, covering subjects only limited by the human mind. This pathfinder is intended to help you find out about configuring your browser to read newsgroups, newsgroup netiquette, and conducting research using newsgroups. Since Usenet newsgroups are a phenomenon associated solely with the Internet, the resources used in this pathfinder consist solely of internet sources.

Newsgroups Introduction || Configuring Your Browser || Newsgroup Netiquette

Using Newsgroups for Research

Newsgroups Introduction:

This section includes an introduction to Usenet Newsgroups, internet links to help you find out more, and shows you how to access newsgroups using your browser. A Newsgroup: is defined as a place where people discuss a subject of common interest. Whether you're curious about what's happening in the news or interested in finding a new recipe for dinner or need help training your puppy, there's a newsgroup out there for you. If you're interested in how newsgroups originated, here are some excellent online resources. You can find out more about the history and development of Usenet Newsgroups by visiting these sites. Additionally, most of these sites provide excellent reference points for accessing newsgroups and participating in them.

  • Netizens: An Anthology (http://www.columbia.edu/~rh120/) This web book offers a significant amount of information on the history and development of usenet newsgroups. Chapters relevant to this topic are: Chapter 2-The Evolution of Usenet: The Poor Man's Arpanet, Chapter 3-The Social Forces Behind the Development of Usenet, and Chapter 4-The World of Usenet.
  • Living Internet: (http://livinginternet.com/u/u.htm) This site has many interesting pages on the history of usenets.
  • Learn the Net: an Internet Guide and Tutorial- Newsgroups: (http://www.learnthenet.com/english/index.html) On this site you'll find a tutorial to help you get started using Usenet newsgroups. It offers step by step instructions together with clear descriptions and colorful examples which help demystify the Internet and newsgroups.
  • What is Usenet?: (http://www.faqs.org/faqs/usenet/what-is/part1/) This online article describes the history and origins of Usenet. One of the interesting features of this article is it's list of what Usenet is not. It provides a helpful way to think about newsgroups.

Configuring your Browser to read Newsgroups:

In order to access Usenet newsgroups you have to have the appropriate equipment. Your browser uses newsfeeds to access the newsgroups it contains in its database. Newsfeeds are determined by your Internet Service Provider or ISP. Since the contents or subjects of some newsgroups contain salacious material bear in mind that not all newsgroups may be represented in your newsfeed. You will also need a newsreader which is the program your browser uses to allow you to view and "post" to newsgroups. If you are using versions 2.0 or higher of either Netscape Navigator or Internet Explorer, your browser is already equipped to read newsgroups. Since newsreader programs vary greatly from one to the next it is difficult to give standard instructions for all of them but here are some simple rules of thumb. Most of these steps can be completed as part of your initial setup routine

  • Specify your news server, your identity, and your email address.

    Netscape Communicator users please visit this site for a simple one step guide to setting your news server.

    Accessing Newsgroups Using Netscape Messenger (http://home.netscape.com/browsers/using/newusers/newsgroups/index.html)

    For Internet Explorer, you may find this site helpful in configuring your browser:

    How to Configure Internet Explorer to Read Newsgroups (http://www.microsoft.com/windows/ie/support/newsgroups/howto.asp)

  • Compile the list of Newsgroups available on your server.

    This process should happen automatically when you setup your news server but don't be surprised if it takes awhile to load. Remember because the number of newsgroups is so high it may take up to several minutes before the list is finished. Follow the instructions on your newsreader to compile your own list of newsgroups.

  • Choose which Newsgroups to subscribe to.

    The list that appears consists only of the name of the many thousands of newsgroups. The process of subscribing to specific newsgroups again varies depending on what your newsreader is but just follow the instructions or help files to make things simple. For help in deciding which newsgroups to subscribe to please see the section below on Using Newsgroups for Research.

If you don't have access to Netscape Navigator or Internet Explorer you may want to use a stand alone newsreader. Use the following links to find other alternatives:

Newsgroup Netiquette:

Now that you're able to access newsgroups you can begin to participate in online discussions. The ways to do this are by viewing the messages others have written on a particular topic and by posting your responses. Before you can actively contribute to any newsgroup however there are certain things to consider. The following are basic terms used in newsgroups:

Post: posting is the act of responding to a message on a newsgroup. It functions just like an email message. When you post a message to a newsgroup you'll see it immediately on your screen but it may take longer to appear in the newsgroup. How long your "post" takes to appear depends on the length of time it takes for the server to register your response. This may happen immediately but will take longer if your newsgroup is moderated (if someone reads the messages before they are posted).

Thread: A thread is simply a new subject that pertains to a relevant topic. Every time a new subject is raised it becomes is own thread. Anytime a reply or response is given to this new subject it adds to the thread. One of the neat features of Usenet newsgroups is that you can chose to follow threads of discussion that interest you in a particular topic.

Reply: Instead of choosing to "post" to the entire newsgroup you can also directly reply to the sender of a particular message. Every newsreader program allows you several reply options.

Lurker: Someone who views or reads newsgroups but doesn't actively participate in them.

Flame: A message that personally attacks someone or a whole group of people.


Before you post a message to a discussion group consider the following points carefully. These points and other helpful information on Usenet Newsgroups can be found by reading The Internet : The Rough Guide by Angus J. Kennedy:

  1. Make sure you're posting to the right newsgroup. Since almost every newsgroup comes with its own faq or constitution, read these first before you decide to post. Context is very important to newsgroup participants and they may get annoyed if you decide to post a message that doesn't correspond to the specific purpose, theme, or content, of a particular group.
  2. Keep your cool. Even if the topic you're writing about is an emotional one that you have strong opinions about never post a message in anger. Remember your audience is composed of people that you don't know and since there's a good chance that many others could read your responses later you don't want a bad response to follow you.
  3. Don't over use smileys :) or other emoticons. Once in a while it's ok to use these expressions but over use of them can be annoying. Also try not to use ALLCAPS unless you really want to emphasize a particular point. In netspeak using caps is called shouting.
  4. Use a short signature file. If you're signature file is busy and has a lot of text graphics make sure to simplify it before including it in all your postings. Using it just once may be ok but repeated use which takes up space for others may not be well received. Consider this carefully when making and using your signature files.

To read further quidelines about Newsgroup Netiquette please consult the following online sources. These will help you gain a better understanding of how to participate in online discussion groups and give you a good frame of reference before you start posting.

  • The Internet FAQ Consortium: (http://www.faqs.org/) This comprehensive and extensive site contains faq's from Usenet and features a searchable database. Whatever questions you have to ask about Usenet newsgroups can be answered here.

Using Newsgroups for Research:

Before beginning your research using Usenet newsgroups, it's helpful to get some background on how to navigate through the vast world of Usenet. Usenet newsgroups are divided into hierarchies. Like regular domain names they also have dots seperating the different parts of their hierarchy. One example of this is the newsgroup alt.pets.ferrets. In fact one short cut you can use to access the newsgroups of your choice to type news: in place of http:// in the helm of your browser. If you wanted to access alt.pets.ferrets for example you would type news: alt.pets.ferets.

This table illustrates some of the main hierarchies in Usenet newsgroups and what they stand for:

alt alternative
biz commercial
comp computers
misc miscellaneous
rec recreation
soc social
talk discussions

For a comprehensive listing of Usenet Hierarchies please visit the following sites:

  • The Master List of Newsgroup Hierarchies: (http://www.magmacom.com/~leisen/mlnh/index.html) In addition to listing the Hierarchies in alphabetical order this site features hierarchies that are now obsolete.
  • The Daily News: (http://www.newsguy.com/hier.htm) Just click on any hierarchy that appeals to you to view the newsgroups in this chart.

With the virtual plethora of experts and novices conversing on such a variety of topics there must be someone out there who can help you answer your particular research questions in the world of Usenet Newsgroups. The trick is how to find them. Fortunately the following links bring you to sources uniquely designed to search across Usenet Newsgroups:

  • Google Groups (http://groups.google.com/) By far the best one stop source to search across the wide world of Usenet Newsgroups. Also a place to view and post messages to newsgroups. Google Groups is easy to search and also maintains what is currently *THE ONLY LONG-TERM ARCHIVE* of Usenet posts.
  • Yahoo: (http://dir.yahoo.com/Computers_and_Internet/Internet/Chats_and_Forums/Usenet/) Visit this Yahoo directory for more resources and a search engine that will help you in your quest to find information. Yahoo also includes links to other sites of interest.

This pathfinder created by Valerie Gibson