Usenet Newsgroups and Their Workings

Usenet newsgroups can be termed as repositories within the Usenet system to store and display the messages and articles posed by the various users of the system from different locations. Even though the functional features of Usenet newsgroups are similar to the discussion forums on the Internet, technically they differ from such forums. These groups use special newsreader software for posting and reading the messages.

This software is freely available as Usenet download from several websites.

The newsgroups are individual in their characteristic, since they generally focus on one particular topic or subject of interest, though a few newsgroups allow a variety of themes so that free discussion on any kind of topic is possible. However, majority of the newsgroups of the Usenet servers frown on postings on topics other than those specified. One of the most avoided subjects in the Usenet newsgroups is child pornography, which is kept away on an international basis through a voluntary consent.

The retention time of the messages and articles also vary with each newsgroup. The newsgroup administrator decides the period of storage of such materials on the free Usenet servers of that particular group. While some newsgroup servers retain the messages only for a week or two, others keep them in their servers for several months. The messages are stored either in the binary or the text format, though there is not much difference between these two formats technically. The intention is to keep the Usenet network traffic and usage of resources to the minimum, so that the Usenet servers are not overloaded.

It is estimated that more than 100,000 Usenet newsgroups exist on the Internet but only about 20,000 among them are currently active. The popularity of the Usenet newsgroups also vary widely, with some newsgroups getting hundreds or thousands of postings everyday, while a few others receive only a handful of messages in a whole month. Basically, the Usenet newsgroup servers are provided by several institutions and organizations, along with majority of Internet service providers or ISPs. However, a few ISPs rent the access to their subscribers from other dedicated Usenet newsgroups. While most of the newsgroups offer Usenet free of cost, several companies and websites host premium news servers and access is charged according to the type of newsgroup and the quality of services.

Since there is an unwritten agreement between the various news servers to synchronize their services periodically, the Usenet network functions in a smooth manner. To search Usenet, the user should first resort to Usenet download of the newsreader software. Once the software is installed in the system, the user can post news, which is shared with other servers in the network. This enables others to read the posting. Similarly, the user is also able to read the messages of other users of that network through the newsreader software.

The big eight hierarchies are the main free Usenet servers network, functioning as major newsgroup providers. If you wish to create a new newsgroup in one of the big eight, then a request for discussion or RFD should be posted initially into news.announce.newsgroup. The creation of the new group will be discussed next in news.groups.proposals. The management board of the big eight will vote on the creation of the new group, after the proposal of the new group, its name, charter, and description had been formalized. The group can start functioning once the approval is granted by the management of the big eight. Removal of any newsgroup is also carried out in the same fashion. However, any person can create a newsgroup in the alt.* hierarchy or remove them but the local administrators will generally ignore such requests unless the request is made by a local user for the creation or the deletion of a particular group.

Among Usenet newsgroups, comp.*, humanities.*, misc.*, news.*, rec.*, sci.*, soc.*, and talk.* are termed as the big eight hierarchies, while the ninth and the largest is alt.*. However, several country-specific and language-specific newsgroups exist all over the world, using local free Usenet server networks. Some of them are aus.* for Australia, ca.* for California, de.* for German language discussion, fr.* for discussions in French language, hp.* created by Hewlett-Packard as an internal newsgroup, Microsoft.* for discussions on Microsoft products, etc. Even though these are restricted or local Usenet newsgroup networks, most of them are free Usenet services and they can be accessed if the Usenet download software is installed in the system and search Usenet process is initiated.

By Stuart Frew