Often when I’m asked where I learned so much about computers, I mention that I’ve long been a reader of Usenet.
Usually, I get a blank stare and a "What’s that?" in response.
Usenet has been around for a long, long time. Many people have heard of bulletin board systems (BBS’s) and forums. Usenet is their grandfather.
Now, often called Net News or just News, Usenet is a massive, distributed system of bulletin-board / forum-type postings that get circulated across the Internet. It uses a defined hierarchy of newsgroup names to keep control.
Think of Usenet as a massive forum with some 11,000+ individual forum areas. Historically, the top-most groups in the hierarchy were “sci” for science, “rec” for recreation, “comp” for computers, “soc” for societal/sociology, and “alt” for a more open category.
From a start in the late 1970’s (I think), Usenet passed from computer to computer via a unix-based communication protocol for dialup called uucico (unix to unix copy in copy out).
As the network that was later to be known as the Internet was formed between colleges and universities (not to mention the Department of Defense),
I was introduced to Usenet back in 1986, when a local electronic bulletin board, that I used to call, got a partial newsfeed. I was immediately fascinated.
The system that enabled Usenet also enabled electronic mail! Not only could I get access to computer newsgroups that had lots and lots of active members (for the time), I could send and receive emails, too.
Back in the early 1990’s, I used to run a Usenet system via a MS-DOS-based program called Waffle. It ran well under DOS 5, then DOS 6, DRDOS, Windows 3.1, OS/2 2.0, and later systems.
In today’s world, Usenet newsgroups are widely available. There are sites that maintain a historical archive (e.g., Google Groups). Unfortunately, many ISP’s have discontinued their Usenet services. However, there are independent companies that make Usenet news available via web access or for download by Usenet-reading programs like Agent (which I use).
I have chosen and use GigaNews for my Usenet news source (I’ve got their Diamond account, which is fantastic, although they’ve got packages as low as $4.99 per month). With Agent (www.forte-inc.com), I am able to download the news postings to read at my leisure.
That’s right — with many Usenet newsreaders, you can download and read later, just like with an email program. That makes it suitable for dialup connections, too.
If you still use Outlook Express, you can read Usenet with it, too.