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
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 news.yourisp.com.au.
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. alt.gay.leather
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
dont 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
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. Dont flame; it is a waste of bandwidth
and politeness shouldnt cost anything. There are plenty of
articles on "Netiquette" on the web (yes, the Net has
its 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
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
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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