A newsgroup is an online public bulletin board on the World Wide Web where you can post comments as well as read and reply to other peoples’ comments. They are neat places where you can meet others who share a common interest with you. For example, if you were interested in smoking, you could exchange messages with people in the newsgroup alt.support.smoking. Newsgroups are based on a particular theme or topic. Many newsgroups will restrict messages to the topic at hand while other newsgroups may let members post of any topic of their choice. The administrator of the news server, also called the news admin, is the one who runs a particular newsgroup and they moderate the messages to be sure that all rules are being followed.

There are 2 different types of newsgroups in general: binary or text. There is no really difference between the two except the different names allows users and servers with limited facilities the ability to decrease bandwidth usage. Many people relate newsgroups to public message boards. For those who have no clue what I am talking about, think of corkboard that is placed at the entrance to your local grocery store. People place messages on them right? Well newsgroups are that same thing except in an electronic form. Newsgroups frequently have problems with flame wars which are outright arguments between opinionated people and trolling which are people just browsing the messages without leaving any of their own. But newsgroups are a place of helpful information, support and friendship.

Today there are over 100,000 Usenet newsgroups but only about 1/4th of those are actually active groups. Each newsgroup will vary in how popular it is. It can be from just a couple of posts a month to several hundred a day. Newsgroup servers are hosted by several organizations. Most internet service providers such as Comcast and AOL have their own newsgroup servers. When it comes to how newsgroups work, there is a great explanation from Wikipedia. It states that “every host of a news server maintains agreements with other news servers to regularly synchronize. In this way news servers form a network. When a user posts to one news server, the message is stored locally. That server then shares the message with the servers that are connected to it if both carry the newsgroup, and from those servers to servers that they are connected to, and so on.”

Newsgroups are controlled by hierarchies. The hierarchy is defined by the prefix before the first dot. There were originally 7 major hierarchies or Usenet groups. Comp* are discussions of computer related topics, news* are Usenet discussions, sci* deals with science areas, rec* has to do with stuff like games and hobbies, soc* discusses social issues, talk* deals with topics such as religion and politics and misc* was everything that didn’t fit into a category. Now they also have alt* which deals with all types of subjects.