What is 'Usenet' and 'News Groups' and 'E groups' and alt.this.that ?

I keep hearing all of these things but what are they and how do they work? What are they used for? How do I join one?

“What is Usenet?” is a highly debated topic, but is usually boiled down to mean the collection of newsgroups and the servers they reside on. I’ll stay away from the more esoteric stuff for now, but think of it as an idea instead of a technology.

A newsgroup is a single discussion group within the Usenet framework that is generally focused on a specific topic. Your example of “alt.this.that” would likely be a newsgroup about “this and that”. The “alt” group is for topics that weren’t originally carried by all the servers within Usenet. They were often times used for content that might not be welcome by all institutions that housed the servers, the whole “alt.binaries.pictures.erotica…” groups come to mind. Other groups have headers like “comp” for computer related topics, “sci” for science topics, etc.

I have never heard the term E group.

To access a newsgroup, you need a newsreader. If you use Internet Explorer, it uses Outlook Express as it’s newsreader. I believe Netscape has a built in newsreader. In Internet Explorer, go to the Tools menu, select Mail and News, then select Read News. This will launch Outlook Express in News mode. If it doesn’t work, you might not have your ISP’s News servers set up correctly. You’ll want to contact them directly for help with that.

If you would like some help finding groups of interest to you, just give us an idea of what you are looking for.

Thanks DMC, but exactly how do they work?

Does someone send a newsletter to you every so often which is a collection of things emailed to them? Are they like an internet message board? Are they like ‘Listbot’ where everyone can send an email and it goes to everyone?

They actually work a lot like an internet message board, except that they are propagated across numerous servers. You post a message to a specific newsgroup. At periodic intervals, updates made to individual servers get sent to other servers, thus updating the whole network.

For more info, try this link

Usenet messages propagate from server to server - there are no master servers (unlike The Straight Dope Message board, where everyone connects to the same server). Any server is theoretically able to give a Usenet feed to either another server or a client (although most restrict access to users within their domain to prevent server overloading and spamming). These days, most, if not all, Usenet servers communicate with one another (and their clients) using NNTP - Network News Transport Protocol (compare HTTP, FTP, SMTP, etc). NNTP corresponds to a specific TCP/IP port (#119, if you’re interested) that Usenet servers hold open, allowing other servers and clients to open connections and grab messages using NNTP. In the Old Days[sup]TM[/sup], with many people using UUCP (Unix to Unix Copy Protocol) over dialup lines, propagation of messages could take many days. Propagation these days takes probably only a few hours to get to 99% of all sites receiving Usenet.

There are probably over 50,000 newsgroups now, covering every conceivable topic (such as alt.fan.cecil-adams), and many inconceivable ones (e.g. alt.suicide.methods). I won’t even get into the hundreds of bizarre sex-oriented ones (although I will mention in passing that if everyone knew how much free porn was available via Usenet, 99% of all sex sites would probably go out of business).

One of the nice (and not-so-nice) things about Usenet is that due to its decentralization, for the most part censorship is impossible. The exception to that last statement is moderated newsgroups, where each message has to be approved by the moderator before it can be posted. The most popular moderated newsgroup (if not the most popular newsgroup, period) is rec.humor.funny. Another nice feature is that if you have a newsgroup reader that supports it (most do) you can download a bunch of messages to your laptop and them browse them at your leisure when you’re not connected.

If you’re not sure if you have a Usenet feed available to you, you can browse newsgroups on deja.com. To find out if you have a feed, contact your service provider. They may need to give you access. Typically, the news server resides on a server named news.domain.name (e.g. news.msn.com), so you can try that first, then contact your ISP if that doesn’t work. The best (IMHO) Windows-based newsreader is Forte’s Free Agent, which you can get from download.com. It is true freeware.

I don’t think you guys have quite got the essence of usenet, so I’ll give it a whack.

This “board” a/k/a The Straight Dope Message Board is a type of “bulletin board” software. You call up one computer, type in messages, other people type back messages, and it’s all sorted by category or most recent. It’s a classic BBS (bulletin board system), there were thousands of these in the early days before the internet was so prevalent. You just called from your computer to the BBS computer and read and wrote your messages.

But Usenet is like a big BBS distributed across the net. To you, reading “news” on usenet on your local server, it looks like a BBS. But when you post a message to your local system, it is also sent out across the world to tens of thousands of other BBS systems. People all across the world read the usenet newsgroups and the audience is much wider.

I use a special high-performance Usenet provider, and they carry something like 50,000+ newsgroups on different subjects. Your local ISP admins can advise you better on what software to use, and how to connect to your local news server.

EGroups is another thing entirely. EGroups runs a “listserv” or in other words, a mailing list server. People run mailing lists on the EGroups server. You sign up for a mailing list, and you get the list’s contents by email. When someone posts a message to the mailing list, everyone who has joined the group gets a copy by email. Some lists are live and high traffic, so you get tons of constantly incoming email discussions, some are moderated and you need permission to post, or only come out once a week/month etc. Some are only used to send urgent messages and you won’t get a message but once a year. And some rogue companies run spam mailing lists, which are horribly annoying. There are all sorts of mailing lists, because they’re so easy to run and can serve a small group or a large one with nothing more complex than a basic email message.
EGroups does archive some lists online, you can check their website. Some of them are private and you must be a member to read them, but you’ll still get an idea of what kind of lists are available. There are many other listserv organizations besides EGroups but that’s a good place to start. I used to read one listserv (the Dead Fukuzawa Society, a group of Japanese economists and sociologists from UCSD) that disbanded due to spam and abuses, and moved over to a private EGroups discussion list.

If you are using Netscape, just click on communicator then Newgroups.

YOull be reading in no time. But free agent from forteinc.com is a better reader.

I use AOHell as my ISP. But I use Netscape as my browser. I wanted to read Usenet newsgroups (and e-mail) off of Netscape Communicator.

Oh my brothers. I went nuts trying and trying to configure the d*mned servers every which way, until I inquired on Netscape and AOHell message boards and an AOHell help line, and was informed that AOHell’s proprietary software will not allow you to connect to any newsgroups or e-mail through Netscape. The TCP/IP or whatever it is is incompatible and they are keeping it that way on purpose so that you can only access them through AOHell accounts.

That doesn’t stop me from using Netscape for web-based e-mail and http://www.deja.com for web access to newsgroups. So there. Nyah-nyah, nyah-nyah.

yeah, it looks like Deja.com sold off its other online businesses and is going back into the usenet business. I like the web based news systems, I use newsguy.com for usenet and their web news interface is excellent. And I can always use NNTP if I want.

You can’t use AOL with a seperate newserver because no one on the planet knows what their newserver address is.

However, with AOL you can use any of the AOL newservers & there are a lot of them.

Dejanews doesn’t get the binary newsgroups, which is where all the fun is.