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Some Usenet Basics

To get your Usenet education off on the right foot, this section looks at a few crucial concepts that will serve as the base from which you can explore the rest of Usenet:

  • hierarchy— Usenet divides its discussion groups into several classifications, or hierarchies. There are several so-called mainstream hierarchies:

    compComputer hardware and software
    miscMiscellaneous stuff that doesn’t really fit anywhere else
    newsUsenet-related topics
    recEntertainment, hobbies, sports, and more
    sciScience and technology
    socSex, culture, religion, and politics
    talkDebates about controversial political and cultural topics

    Most Usenet-equipped Internet service providers give you access to all the mainstream hierarchies. In addition, a huge alt (alternative) hierarchy covers just about anything that either doesn’t belong in a mainstream hierarchy or is too wacky to be included with the mainstream groups. There are also many smaller hierarchies designed for specific geographic areas. For example, the ba hierarchy includes discussion groups for the San Francisco Bay area, the can hierarchy is devoted to Canadian topics, and so on.

  • newsgroup— This is the official Usenet moniker for a discussion topic. Why are they called newsgroups? Well, the original Duke University system was designed to share announcements, research findings, and commentary. In other words, people used this system if they had some news to share with their colleagues. The name stuck, and now you’ll often hear Usenet referred to as Netnews or simply as the news.

  • newsreader— The software you use to read a newsgroup’s articles and to post your own articles. In Windows Vista, you can use Windows Mail as a newsreader. Other Windows newsreaders include Agent (www.forteinc.com/agent/) and Usenet Explorer (www.netwu.com/newspro/).


    Instead of using a newsreader, you can access all the newsgroups through your web browser by using Google Groups (groups.google.com). This is useful if your ISP does not offer newsgroup access or if you would like to read particular newsgroups without having to subscribe to them. However, if you want to post messages to a newsgroup, you must register with Google.

  • news server (or NNTP server)— A computer that stores newsgroups and handles requests to post and download newsgroup messages. There are four types of news server:

    ISP news server— Most ISPs supply you with an account on their news server in addition to your email account. Your news server username and password are usually the same as your email username and password, but check with your ISP. You should also confirm the Internet name of the ISP’s news server. This name usually takes the form news.ispname.com or nntp.ispname.com, where ispname is the name of your ISP.

    Commercial news server— If your ISP does not offer newsgroup access, or if your ISP offers only a limited number of groups, consider using a commercial news server, which offers newsgroup access for a fee. Two of the largest commercial news servers are Giganews (www.giganews.com) and Newscene (www.newscene.com).

    Public news server— If you are on a limited budget, try a public news server that offers free newsgroup access. Note, however, that most public servers restrict the number of users on the server, offer a limited number of groups, or place a cap on the amount you can download. For a list of public news servers, try Newzbot (www.newzbot.com) or Free Usenet News Servers (freenews.maxbaud.net).

    Semi-private news server— Some companies maintain their own news server and their own set of newsgroups. For example, Microsoft maintains a news server at msnews.microsoft.com that runs more than 2,000 groups related to Microsoft products and technologies. Windows Mail sets up an account for this server automatically.

  • post— To send an article to a newsgroup.

  • subscribe— In a newsreader, to add a newsgroup to the list of groups you want to read. If you no longer want to read the group, you unsubscribe from the group.

  • thread— A series of articles related to the same Subject line. A thread always begins with an original article and then progresses through one or more follow-ups. Note that Windows Mail calls a thread a conversation.



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