Introduction to Usenet
Usenet is one of the oldest computer network communications systems still in widespread use. Check the full description of Usenet on Wikipedia.com. It is a virtual peer-to-peer network for exchanging text messages or binary files with people all over the world. Text message files contain just that: text. Binary files can contain images, multimedia, programs or basically anything, all of which is broken down into its simplest format (binary). Each subject collection of posted messages is known as a newsgroup, which number at over one hundred thousand. Users can “post” these messages to the newsgroups for others to read and download. Was this ever handy back in the day! To be able to share files with someone and you didn’t have to copy them to a 5.25″ floppy disk first.
Personal Usenet Rant - Part I
We won’t go into great detail here about Usenet and newsgroups. Succinctly, it is a stagnating technology in terms of file transfer, as there are so many variables from one news server to the next. Technically, the annual traffic numbers for Usenet are on the rise, but this is not anywhere near in correlation to the rise of all Internet traffic, especially the peer-to-peer variety. There are so many new protocols for transferring data that solve most of Usenet’s shortcomings.
The two main problems of Usenet are access and file retention. And they both pertain to big money your ISP has to shell out to offer it, not including wasted dollars on tech support from people calling in asking about missing and deleted content (that wasn’t the ISP’s fault to begin with). Back to access, some ISPs have to pay an outside company to give you access - the more newsgroups: the more money. Some ISPs host their own news server, and this has its own set of expenses in maintaining the specific network, hardware, etc. File retention is how long the post is kept on a server. The longer the retention time, the higher the cost it is to keep it there, so most ISP-based news servers have a short retention time of just seven days (or less) on average. Seven days. To put it in perspective, that’d be like every single torrent expiring (and disappearing from all websites) after just seven days of activity (with the download stopping right in the middle, of course, leaving you stuck). Or imagine every file you’ve ever seen on Limewire just disappearing seven days later as if it never existed, *poof* gone without a trace, leaving everyone requesting everything again and again, over and over. That’s what it’s still like on Usenet today, everyone asking for RE-POSTS of this and that. It reminds me of the movie “Memento”. Or “50 First Dates”.
Another Achilles’ heel for Usenet is its’ high learning curve. Sure, these new newsreaders decode most of the posts automatically now, but you still have to know about repairing missing RAR files with PAR2 files that you had to download a few days later when the old posts dried up. I remember trying to figure that out for a long time before I learned the knack for it. I’d like to know if the new newsreaders do THAT for you now, too. Online news servers (like Giganews.com) do much of that kind of dirty work for us now, fortunately. And they do have a longer retention time than ISP news servers. I actually liked having a subscription to Giganews; but I couldn’t justify the extra money and I used up all my monthly bandwidth allotments too fast. The one upside to Usenet is its speed, whether you use a subscription service or the one that comes with your ISP. One can quite easily top out their maximum download bandwidth.
The Upside of Usenet
Since Usenet is open to the public, it is also highly unregulated and uncensored. And it becomes up to the service provider to filter what content is deemed inappropriate to its subscribers. The ISP can’t actually ‘delete’ the newsgroup, they can just choose to not include it or ban it from its list of available ones. Well, this is mostly a futile attempt at censorship because users can create NEW newsgroups, some specific to the ISP (look at all the AOL ones), and upload content there instead.
Getting Started with Usenet
Usenet users require two things: First; a newsreader (or news client) to load the newsgroups. If you run Windows, you probably already had that if you didn’t know - Outlook Express. Second; a news server to give you access to the newsgroups. Newsreaders can be found everywhere, usually free. XNews is probably the most popular, with so many features that make it easier to download and decode the binaries. News servers, however, are not so easy to come by. You may already have access to the newsgroups through your ISP, but more and more ISPs are dropping them from the service packages all the time. Even Rogers, a huge telecommunications company in Canada, dropped them entirely two years ago. If your ISP doesn’t carry the newsgroups and you still want access, you’ll have to pay for a separate news server that is Internet-browser based. And for that, my friends, you cannot apply a ‘crack’ or ‘patch’ to. The only thing you can apply there is your credit card with a less-than-nominal monthly fee.
You’ll have set up a newsreader if your ISP carries newsgroups. A newsreader is a program that connects to the news server and displays the newsgroups and their contents. If you choose to use a different newsreader, the steps to setting up the news server will be very similar. Here’s how to set up a news account within Outlook Express.
2. Click TOOLS > ACCOUNTS… (You should now see this window):
3. Click ADD > NEWS…
Now enter your name, click NEXT, then enter your email address, click NEXT (Your name and email here are arbitrary and don’t make any difference to the service - don’t enter your real information). This should take you to this window:
4. Enter your news server name. If you got it from your ISP, it will be a name very similar to this: “nntp.broadband.rogers.com” (without the quotes). Click NEXT. Click FINISH. Click CLOSE. You should now see this window:
5. Click “YES”. If you successfully entered a “valid” news server, then you will get this next message. You’ve done it correctly if you’re this far. NOTE: If you are setting up an account from your ISP’s news server, you will probably get another screen that asks for your Username and Password.
And you should see this screen after it’s finished downloading the list of newsgroups:
Now you are able to browse the newsgroups available to you.
Some of the most popular group abbreviations are as follows:
- alt - just about any topics you can imagine, the general majority of all ‘binaries’ posts - this is where most of the movies, images, songs, softwares are posted.
- aol - articles of interest to AOL users
- biz - business-related news and discussions
- comp - all things computer
- misc - topics that don’t seem to fit under other headings
- news - network news and discussions about the Internet itself
- rec - sports, hobbies, recreations, etc.
- sci - science and technology discussions
- soc - social and political issues
- talk - just what it says
Free (Public) Usenet News Servers
With great conviction I can assure you that the content on any free news server will be meager at best. But you never know. With a little research you may be able to find an unscrupulous website that has listings of private news servers that require no password (corporate security flaws, etc.). You likely won’t be able to use a news server from a different ISP (not yours) that doesn’t require logging in. They’ve all but patched up those little flaws. That is, unless, of course, you have a really nice friend who’ll give you his username and password.
Here are a couple of sites that offer searching for FREE news servers:
www.binaryfeeds.com (Just click the name of the server, it should automatically enter this data into Outlook Express and search for newsgroups).
www.newzbot.com (Here you’ll have to click the “news server hostname” link and it’ll open a new page. You want to copy the top number - i.e. 220.127.116.11 - this number is actually the News Server Name. Go back to STEP 1 and enter the number when Outlook Express asks for a server name). TIP: If you find some dead links where the news server doesn’t work, you should delete them from your newsreader. In Outlook Express, go to TOOLS > ACCOUNTS then click the NEWS “tab”; this will list all news servers. Highlight the one(s) you want to delete and click the REMOVE button to the right. If you’re searching through public news servers, they’re sure going to add up and you will forget the good ones from the bad. Do that as you go along.
And here’s a list of some subscription-based (not FREE) newsgroup servers:
www.Giganews.com - Great place for everything: Movies, music…you name it
www.usenext.com - Another highly-esteemed site.
And here’s a link to a helpful Usenet tool:
GrabIt v1.7 - Download and decode multiple files at once, without having to download headers. You still need a viable news server to use it, though.
Personal Usenet Rant - Part II
There was a time when Usenet access and content were the sole basis for my decision to subscribe to one ISP over another. If you already have access to newsgroups, it’s not a bad idea to utilize it. The upside? There’s a multitude of diverse newsgroups covering everything and anything. And I do mean anything. And it’s all wildly uncensored! Well that’s not entirely true, your ISP is apt to have blocked access to many newsgroups. The public news servers will be even worse (unless you get lucky). The downside? You’ll find plenty of new viruses in the software (and old ones), phishing scams, phrackers, posts from people outright begging for cash for their sick children, pyramid schemes, verbal obscenities from one user to the next, pornography that will make a jaded whore blush, and anything that will try to separate you from your money. And spam. You haven’t seen spam until you’ve seen it on Usenet. Usenet is that piece of plywood covering over that closed store window downtown; it is that drunken obnoxious uncle who shows up late for your sister’s wedding; it is the complete personification and poster child for the dark side of the Internet. Just don’t spend sleepless nights looking for a missing *.RAR file or trying to figure out how to repair them with all those *.PAR files, you’ll pull your hair out in frustration, like I did. So to quote Bob Dylan, “The Times Are A Changin’”. Use P2P/BitTorrent technology instead.
But then again, what do I know? I haven’t had access to Usenet in two years.
IPv6 newsgroup access is free! and its working a treat for me right now:
if you use newsleecher
it deals with the repair and extract process for you
Todays Usenet & clients make a world of difference in how user friendly Usenet now is. Encrypted transfer, no peerlists for anti filesharing organizations to use to locate participants. Four hundred plus days retention is far more access than can be expected from most torrents.
Internet Banking Says:
I was just talking with my coworker about this the other day at dinner . Don’t know how in the world we landed on the topic really, they brought it up. I do remember having a wonderful steak salad with cranberries on it. I digress…
Sal Ocallaghan Says:
magnificent write-up and some exciting views !!
This article is obsolete. Retention, one of the stated “two main problems”, is now over 700 days on most decent usenet providers. Hardly a problem”.
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