Usenet News: what, where, who

What is Usenet?

Usenet is a world-wide system allowing discussion on an astoundingly wide range of topics. It consists of a collection of "newsgroups", each of which focuses on one particular topic. Each newsgroup is, in turn, a collection of individual messages.

Most of the major newsgroups have a charter, which lays down the purpose of the group and some guidelines for the discussions. This charter generally specifies the topics for discussion, any topics which are considered unacceptable, and the moderator (editor) if any. Most newsgroups are unmoderated, which means that anyone may submit messages; some, such as groups devoted to announcements or discussions relevant to a specific group, may be moderated, which means that all messages are screened and/or edited before they are submitted to the group.

The newsgroups are arranged hierarchically; there are eight major hierarchies.

humanities:the social sciences
news:generally informative postings
rec:recreation activities; sport, music, food, crafts
sci:"hard" science
soc:"social" newsgroups, especially those for special-interest groups and minorities
talk:general chat groups

Along with these, although less widely propagated, are the "alt" hierarchy, which is the anything-goes area of Usenet - anyone may create a group to discuss anything at all - and the "biz" hierarchy, which is the best place to post commercial advertising. Some other hierarchies exist, most of which are specific to a region or to a particular Internet provider.

Example groups:

The names of the newsgroups are chosen to reflect the hierarchical nature of Usenet. For example,
is a group about setting up Microsoft Windows (comp = computer group, os = operating system-related),
is a group for business to post advertisements about sales of PC-related hardware and software, and
is a group for cat-owners and cat-lovers to swap tips and stories.

Advertising on Usenet:

Historically, advertising on Usenet has been frowned upon. This is, at least in part, because many of the early sites carrying Usenet discussions were academic sites, whose acceptable use policies forbade the use of their computers for commercial purposes. Some early commercial users of Usenet also posted to many different newsgroups without regard to whether their advertisement was relevant to those groups or not (sometimes known as "spamming").

There are many groups that include "forsale" or "marketplace" within their names, which will tolerate varying amounts of commercial advertising. Hype or overblown ads are the quickest way to turn people off; the best idea is to post a short, informative announcement about your service or product, and an email or Web address where people can find out more.