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Home » Internet Newsgroup


A newsgroup is a depository, usually within the Usenet system, for messages posted from many users at different locations. The term somewhat confusing, because it is usually a discussion group. Newsgroups are technically different from, but functionally similar to, discussion forums on the World Wide Web.

Usenet newsgroups are arranged into Usenet hierarchies, theoretically making it simpler to find related groups. The term Top-level Usenet hierarchy refers to a Usenet hierarchy defined by the prefix prior to the primary dot. For instance newsgroup would be in the rec.* Usenet hierarchy, where asterisk (*) is defined as a wildcard character.

There are eight most important hierarchies of newsgroups.

->comp.* Discussion about computer-related topics
->news.* Discussion about Usenet itself
->sci.* Discussion about scientific subjects
->humanities.* Discussion about the humanities (e.g. literature, philosophy)
->rec.* Discussion about recreational activities (e.g. games and hobbies)
->soc.* Socialising and discussion about social issues
->talk.* Discussion about contentious issues such as religion and politics
->misc.* Miscellaneous discussion anything which doesn't suite in the other hierarchies.
->The alt.* hierarchy has discussion of all kinds of topics, and many hierarchies for discussion specific to a particular geographical area or in a language other than English.

Typically, a newsgroup is focused on a particular topic such as 'shellfish'. Some newsgroups allow the posting of messages on a wide variety of themes, regarding anything a member chooses to discuss as on-topic, while others keep more strictly to their particular subject, frowning on off-topic postings. The news admin (the administrator of a news server) decides how long articles are kept before being expired (deleted from the server). Usually they will be kept for one or two weeks, but some admins keep articles in local or technical newsgroups around longer than articles in other newsgroups.

Newsgroups are likely to come in two types, binary and text. There is no technical difference between the two, but the differentiation means that users and server who only have limited facilities can avoid downloading huge binaries. Newsgroups are greatly like the public message boards on old bulletin board systems. For those readers not familiar with this concept, imagine an electronic version of the corkboard in the entrance of your local grocery store.

Newsgroups frequently become cliquish and are subject to sporadic flame wars and trolling, but they can also be a valuable source of information, support and friendship, bring people who are interested in specific subjects together from around the world.

There are presently well over 100,000 Usenet newsgroups, but only 20,000 or so of those are active. Newsgroups differ in popularity, with some newsgroups only getting a few posts a month while others get several hundred messages a day.

Web logs have replaced some of the uses of newsgroups because, for a while, they were less prone to spamming. A website called DejaNews began archiving Usenet and also provides a searchable web interface to it in the 1990s. Google bought the archive from them and also made efforts to buy other Usenet archives to attempt to create a whole archive of Usenet newsgroups and postings from its early beginnings. Google also has a web search interface to archive and also allows newsgroup posting.

How Newsgroups work

Newsgroup servers are hosted by the various organizations and institutions. The majority Internet Service Providers hosts their own News Server or rent access to one, for their subscribers. Every host of a news server maintains agreements with other news servers to frequently synchronize. This way news servers form a network. When a user posts to one news server, his message is sent to the servers that are linked with the one he is connected to, and from those servers to servers that they are connected to, and so on.

Binary Newsgroups

While Newsgroups were not created with the purpose of distributing binary files, they have proven to be quite an effective for this. Due to the way they work a file uploaded once will be spread and can then be downloaded by an unlimited amount of users. More useful is the fact that each user is drawing on the bandwidth of their own news server.

Files can be attached to a post, but very small limit in the size of the file which can be attached. As such people have come up with some methods to encode a file into text which is posted as a post rather then attached to a post. There is a limit to how large a single post may be as well, so methods were developed to chain numerous posts together. The News Client then cleverly joins the posts and decodes it into a binary file.

Two main issues that pose problems for transmitting binary files over Newsgroups. The first one is Completion Rates and the other one is Retention Rates. The business of premium News Servers is generated mainly on their ability to offer superior Completion and Retention Rates.