What are newsgroups?


Internet newsgroups originated as Usenet (users network) discussion groups way back in 1979 as an experimental electronic bulletin board between Duke and North Carolina universities. During the 1980's and 1990's the growth of the internet led to these discussion forums expanding into a vast, global, network for exchanging information and ideas on any subject imaginable. Today there are tens of thousands of specific news group 'topics' to which anyone with an internet connection and news client (news reader software) can participate. News reader software is commonly built into most popular email clients these days (e.g. Microsoft Outlook Express and Netscape Communicator), however, one can still obtain specific news readers such as Free Agent for the Windows operating system or rn and tin for Unix systems.

The subject matter of Usenet newsgroups is structured in a hierarchical fashion. For example:-

comp: computers and computing

misc : miscelanious subjects

news : news broadcasts

rec : recreation

sci : science

soc : social

alt : alternative

Each hierarchy (see above) is split into any number of sub-hierarchies. For example:-




Newsgroups are of two basic types: moderated and unmoderated. Moderated newsgroups are one's where a newsgroup administrator overseas and monitors postings to a specific newsgroup. The newsgroup administrator is authorised to delete postings that might be considered off-topic or inappropriate to the purposes of the newsgroup. Most internet newsgroups are, however, unmoderated. This means that everyone and anyone can post a message to the newsgroup without it being 'checked' or 'filtered' first. Unmoderated newsgroups may sound like a recipe for anarchy and disaster, however, certain well established guidelines within the Usenet community are generally upheld by contributors to the newsgroup(s). These guidelines are found in what are known as FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) which newsgroup adminstrators maintain and post to a newsgroup on occassion. Where established newsgroup etiquette fails peer group pressure generally keeps a newsgroup in check (along with the occassional "flame war" where disagreements and animosites tend to burn themselves out).

Posting a message to a particualr newsgroup is similar to composing and sending an electronic mail, however, rather than sending a message to a particular individual it is forwarded to a news server. Each ISP (Internet Service Provider) usually runs and maintains their own news server. A newsgroup message is first posted to a particular news server and then replicated to other news servers across the internet. This allows Usenet readers and contributors across the globe to view and respond to identical message postings.

Recently, the volume of newsgroup traffic has caused system adminstrators some concern as this now amounts to several Gigabytes of traffic swirling around the internet every day. This has led to a number of web based newsgroup servers which tend to cut down on data traffic while still allowing messages to be read and responded to by everyone on the internet. Take a look at Talkway, for example.

Click here to return to the Main Menu