Usenet

newsgroups

Netnews is a kind of online service that shares articles between a group of computers over a network. A popular type of netnews is called usenet, which was in use before the World Wide Web, and is still very active today. Usenet provided a way for people to write articles on many different topics and share them with people all over the world.

It is different from the web because articles are sent to all the computers in the community; whereas, an article on a webserver stays on one computer until a person requests it with their web browser.

Duke University graduate students Tom Truscott and Jim Ellis conceived the idea in 1979 and it was established in 1980. Users read and post messages (called articles or posts, and collectively termed news) to one or more categories, known as newsgroups. Usenet resembles a bulletin board system (BBS) in many respects, and is the precursor to the various Internet forums that are widely used today. Usenet can be superficially regarded as a hybrid between email and web forums. Discussions are threaded, with modern news reader software, as with web forums and BBSes, though posts are stored on the server sequentially. One notable difference between a BBS or web forum and Usenet is the absence of a central server and dedicated administrator. Usenet is distributed among a large, constantly changing conglomeration of servers that store and forward messages to one another in so-called news feeds. Individual users may read messages from and post messages to a local server operated by their Internet service provider, university, or employer.

The community of computers comprising a Usenet typically does not include those of end users, e.g. home personal computers. Rather, that community consists of a group of cooperating servers. End users must have access to a member of the server community to read and post. Such access is typically achieved through the news feature of their email program or web browser or through a special program that specializes in netnews. The servers in the Usenet community are independent in the sense that each gets to decide what portions of the Usenet they will serve to their users and how long postings will last on the server. For example, some servers may leave out the adult groups. Because postings have to be transmitted from computer to computer, a given posting takes some time to be available on all servers. Further, they may disappear from active groups on busy servers in a matter of days or weeks.

Because Usenet groups are frequently used to share large files, servers may have bandwidth and download limits. Commercial services offer a range of limits at different prices. A netnews service may not even be a community of computers. Any user could configure their personal computer to offer a netnews service. Organizations often offer their own netnews service independent of Usenet to support their customers and members. For example, news.microsoft.com is a very large community of Microsoft users and developers that help each other out. Groups may be moderated or unmoderated. There is a lot of off topic and potentially offensive material on the unmoderated groups, which are the majority of Usenet.

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