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Tutorial Overview

Topics covered in this tutorial (click link to jump to topic):

1. Introduction 5. Flaming
2. Categories 6. Newsgroups
3. Subscribing 7. History of Newsgroups
4. Posting    



A newsgroup is like an electronic public notice board on a particular subject. Anyone can post a message or read a message. Newsgroups provide a way to communicate with people who share your interests from all over the world. You can read a newsgroup any time and anyone can participate in a newsgroup... though not all Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have a news server or offer access to every newsgroup.

There are literally thousands of newsgroups covering virtually every topic imaginable - from computers, social issues, literature and science, to recreation, entertainment, hobbies and current affairs. In newsgroups you can find job postings, business and health care advice, announcements about events, referrals, political and religious discussions - even photos you can download.

Reading newsgroups is easy. You can use a newsreader that is nested or bundled in your email program although a specialized newseader will allow you to manage the huge volume of information in most newsgroups.

You will need to set up your newsreader. This means "pointing" it at your ISPs news server. You will need to know the name of your ISPs news server. It will look something like


Newsgroups are divided into categories. The categories help you determine what kind of group and what kind of postings you will find there. For example, alt.bicycle.rec.oz means this is an alternative newsgroup for recreational cyclists in Australia. Be aware that some newsgroups are not for the faint hearted. would not be a place to read interesting stuff about spring flowers.

Some common examples are:

  • alt. means "alternative" and refers to newsgroups that are alternative (and sometime absurd), or simply that they don’t fit into other categories.
  • com. means "computers" and newsgroups proceeded with com. cover areas of interest to computer users or professionals
  • soc. means "social" and cover topics like politics, community groups and social policy
  • talk. Means "talk" and
  • sci. means "science" denotes more discussive newsgroups
  • rec. means "rec" and proceeds newsgroups that are not work related


You "subscribe" to newsgroups that interest you. To do this you first get a complete listing of all the newsgroups that are available from your ISP. It takes a few minutes to download because the list of newsgroups is very long - there are over 50,000 newsgroups and rising. Once downloaded to your computer, use the "search" or "find" functions in your newsreader to look for topics that interest you. You can build a list of subscribed newsgroups or just view a newsgroup once. When you subscribe to a newsgroup, your newsreader automatically downloads new messages or "posts" to that newsgroup each time you log onto your ISP's news server.


A message on a newsgroup is called a "post" or an "article". It may a response to a previous post or be a new post. People reading the newsgroup can reply to any post and in this way a discussion or "thread" is formed. It is often a good idea to read through a thread before posting your own ideas. When replying to a post, try to keep the information relevant and to the point.

You post a message in much the same way you create a new e-mail message. Click the "Post a new message" or "Compose a new message button", the name of the newsgroup appears in the "To:" line, put in your subject and type your comments or questions and then hit the "Send" or "Post" button. A few minutes later your message will appear in the newsgroup for everyone to see.

Similarly, you can forward a message from a newsgroup to a friend using the "Forward" function, or "Rely to the Author" to send your comments or questions directly to original author without your message going back to the newsgroup.

Note that some newsgroups are more active than others, just like some IRC channels are more active than others. If you go a newsgroup and there are only a handful of postings there, you are not doing anything wrong, there are just fewer people posting and reading that newsgroup. Also, note the dates of the posts, there is probably no point in posting a reply if the original post is more than a week or so old.

Some people just read the posting to the newsgroup, without posting their own message. This is called "lurking".


Avoid personal attacks or you will be "flamed" by one or more people. A flame is a particularly nasty personal attack on somebody for something he or she has written. It is usually a little hysterical. Don’t flame; it is a waste of bandwidth and politeness shouldn’t cost anything. There are plenty of articles on "Netiquette" on the web (yes, the Net has it’s style police as well).

What can I use newsgroups for?

  • Newsgroups are an excellent way to find out good web sites to visit in your particular area of interest or just pick up detailed information about your area of interest.
  • You can buy and sell stuff. People often advertise things for sale in some newsgroups.
  • Gauge public opinion or strength of feeling about certain topics or interest
  • Find out detailed information that the mainstream media tend to over simplify

The History of Newsgroups

Newsgroups had their beginnings in an academic environment in 1979, when a couple of Duke University graduate students connected some computers together to exchange information with the UNIX community. At the same time, another graduate student at the University of North Carolina wrote the first version of the software used to distribute news.

This network, called Usenet, grew into a voluntary, cooperative exchange of "newsfeeds", eventually evolving into electronic discussion groups. While there are some places that charge a fee for the newsfeed, Usenet continues to reflect its origins as an academic project designed to distribute information freely to anyone who wants it.

Newsgroups have been around almost since the dawn of the Internet, enabling scientists to post questions (and answers) to other scientists who were interested in the same subject. Today, newsgroups are like virtual coffee houses where people get together to discuss their mutual interests. Except with newsgroups, the communication is written, not verbal. Newsgroups revolve around specific subjects, such as the AFL or organic gardening.

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