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The Basics

Newsgroups are analogous to a bulletin board where someone can post a question. Others can post replies to this question. The original posting and subsequent answers or comments thus form a "thread." There is a newsgroup for everything under the sun. If you have a question, someone out there can answer it for you. Try searching the newsgroups with www.google.com and click on the "Groups" tab. Or use Outlook Express which has a very good newsgroup reader. Newsgroups are not websites. They are a completely different entity. And they are an incredible source of information.

The Specifics

Note: Do not use your real e-mail address if you post to a newsgroup. This is where the spammers get their e-mail databases.

There are over 30,000 newsgroups where people post messages and othe people post replies.

Where did Usenet come from?

Long before the Internet and e-mail became household terms — Usenet was actually started in 1979— electronic bulletin boards were used as a means for people with similar interests to communicate over computers. Nowadays, we call them discussion forums or newsgroups instead of bulletin boards, and there are thousands of them, hosted all over the world, covering every topic under the sun.

In 1995, Deja News was created to provide a user-friendly interface to Usenet. Now, messages are archived, indexed, and can be searched, with an extensive array of searching and sorting options. This turns what was once an encyclopedic, but all too ephemeral and unmanageable, resource into a broad based reference tool that can provide maximum information for the investment of minimal time. Deja News is now part of www.google.com

Class Exercise:

  1. Try to stump the newsgroups. Search for something you're sure no one is discussing using www.google.com.
  2. Search for your keywords to see what newsgroups are relevant to you.

The Usenet hierarchy

Usenet is like a tree with thousands of branches. The large branches are top-level discussion categories, such as alt (see Deja.com's Usenet Discussion Service homepage for descriptions), which contain the smaller branches, such as alt.animals, which contain messages and / or divide into even more specific branches, such as alt.animals.dogs, which contain messages from people who are interested in that topic.

The different parts of a discussion forum's name are always separated by a period, a traditional subcategorization symbol in the computer world. Each discussion forum contains threads which contain messages (also referred to as 'articles' or 'postings') — they look like e-mail between one user and another, but instead of just being sent between people, they're available for anyone in the world with access to read!

Some example discussion forums are given below. You can click the forum name to see current messages:

Discussions of Macintosh-related matters, containing dialogues among both advocates and heretics.

Communists, the CIA, LBJ, or something more esoteric? This group has the best in grassy-knoll discourse.

Topics surrounding science curricula in Kindergarten through 12th grade education. Bless the little tykes, they're our future.

Formulae for gastronomic creationism. From Quiche Lorraine to Baked Alaska to Eel Soup, all your favorite(?) recipes are here. Yum.

These are just a few examples. The actual list is virtually endless -it is said that the sum total of human knowledge is posted to Usenet every two weeks.



Marketing Opportunities

One must tread very lightly when trying to sell something in a newsgroup. Commercial solicitations can be met with incomprehensible hostility. You should, by all means, participate in a newsgroup and get a lay of the land before attempting to post a commercial solicitation.

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