First rule of Usenet, Dont talk about Usenet?
April 15, 2008 6:10 PM   Subscribe

Can someone explain Usenet to me? Specifically how to use it and read newsgroups.

How do I connect to newsgroups? A google search for "usenet" pulls up many providers charging for access to usenet. Do I have to pay to get on? Sorry I'm sort of clueless about this.
posted by Funky Claude to Technology (18 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
oh wow... flashback!

There are free usenet servers I think... or at least their used to be. Check with your ISP; you may have access at part of your account.
posted by Doohickie at 6:17 PM on April 15, 2008

If you are just looking to read usenet, there's plenty of free ways to do it. Google Groups has all of it, for example. You can post from there too.

It's a different story if you're looking to use Usenet for "downloading files" (piracy!), which I think is the primary usage nowadays. Your ISP may have a usenet server you can use. I think a lot of them stopped carrying usenet, but I'm not sure. You can also pay for a service which would probably be more reliable.

You'll need software if you go this route, search for "usenet reader" and you'll see a lot of results. After that, you connect the software to your news server, and you're all set. Don't expect it to be super user-friendly, this is the pre-web internet you're dealing with.
posted by malphigian at 6:18 PM on April 15, 2008

As far as reading it, you either use a web based front-end, or you can use a program on your computer to read it (for instance, the "News" setting on Outlook Express).
posted by Doohickie at 6:18 PM on April 15, 2008


Many ISP's offer newsgroups. It depends on your ISP if this is included with your internet. Many do offer some sort of newsgroup access.

Usually you use some sort of newsreader to download messages.

Messages can be text-discussion of a topic or something else.

Many newsgroups have billions of binary encoded messages that are actually files in which a newsreader can reform them.

Usually your ISP has more specific info on how to use newsgroups.
posted by andryeevna at 6:20 PM on April 15, 2008

Check with your ISP first,.. they probably provide free Newsgroup access (and instructions on how to setup typical newsreader such as Outlook Express or Thunderbird) I recommend using a newsreader program instead of trying to sort through groups using a web-browser. Sure, it can be done (with a browser), but its not very effective/easy.

Here's the caveat though.... Your ISP probably only subscribes to a limited set of discussion/binary groups ---and--- they probably only hold ("retention") those messages for a short amount of time. This is why there are pay services (such as Giganews,etc). Pay services are generally much higher quality, and the retention is much much longer.

a Free service should get you up and running enough to figure out if you like it enough to pay. I have a pay subscription to Giganews, I think it costs me something like $25 a month, but its unlimited transfer (comes in handy for those (legal) binary groups for things like documentaries or freely released indie albums.
posted by jmnugent at 6:53 PM on April 15, 2008

Here's an interesting guide to the dark side:
posted by sockpup at 7:04 PM on April 15, 2008 is a good free usenet server, at least for the low impact stuff I do on it.
posted by Rumple at 7:24 PM on April 15, 2008

malphigian's answer was spot-on. I'm amazed he's the only one who mentioned Google Groups... you should start there.
posted by Perplexity at 7:49 PM on April 15, 2008

For a pay Usenet provider, I like Power Usenet. They resell Giganews's service, but have an unlimited package for $14.95, which is $10 cheaper than buying it directly from Giganews.
posted by kindall at 7:50 PM on April 15, 2008

Don't use Google Groups. It will scare you off. It's a crappy way of reading Usenet. It's useful for searching posts and for finding groups that interest you, but it's a clunky interface, and snobs will judge you and find you lacking when they see you're posting from there.

You need a newsserver, the tube that brings the Usenet posts to your house. I pay a few bucks a year to Individual.Net, and it's worth it. When I've used the newsservers supplied by my ISPs I've missed posts or been overwhelmed by spam. There's more spam than there used to be on Usenet (shakes tiny fist at Google Groups), but it's not too bad.

You also need a newsreader, the program you use to read the posts. I use MacSOUP and like it. I've tried many other programs but always come back to MacSOUP. It's not perfect, but it's very good.

You can find newsgroups on just about any subject under the sun. I've been a regular in alt.usage.english for over a decade. If you're a sports fan, or like cooking, or are breastfeeding, or write mystery novels, or like Terry Pratchett, or are curious about urban legends, or have a shed in your backyard, or like Full English Breakfasts, there's a group out there for you.

I like that Usenet isn't about profit, that it's text-only (as far as I'm concerned), and it's pleasantly anarchic. I'd be happy to try to answer any questions you have -- I'm a bit of an evangelical when it comes to Usenet, but it's time to put the kids to bed...
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:02 PM on April 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

I used to do a lot of Usenet. Short answer - almost the same as POP email. Outlook and Entourage can do it, to start, though if you do it a lot you'll want something better as a newsreader app.

Get the settings for the news server from your ISP, or subscribe to a pay news server. Let it download a list of groups (takes a long time). Enjoy.

Google news has the web-page front-end, but I don't like it for more than the one-off lookup.
posted by ctmf at 8:04 PM on April 15, 2008

You need a Usenet provider, a way to find your movie/music/game/whatever, and a newsreader (A program used to download the actual files).

My process for downloading files is:
1. Log on to Newzbin, find the movie/music/file I'm looking for, and download its corresponding NZB file. NZB sounds scary, but from a user perspective, it's the torrent-file equivalent of Usenet.
2. Open the NZB using Newsleecher, which is my newsreader of choice. I've set it up with all my Usenet server details already, so it connects to the servers and starts downloading.

The process for downloading files is pretty simple; you just need to configure your newsreader correctly.

I chip in with two other friends for an unlimited GB account. Our account has 10 simultaneous connections, so we get three each. The more connections you use, the better you'll be able to leverage your internet connection. I can get 1 megabyte/sec pretty reliably with 3 connections.

Erm, on preview, I may have answered the wrong question. All of this stuff applies only for downloading media from Usenet. If you're reading text, then it's a lot simpler.

The aforementioned post and the postforementioned user do not condone the use of Usenet for piracy or illegally downloading illegal files in an illegal fashion. Usenet does not exist. Use a nonexistent protocol at your own risk. Therefore, wherein the protocol technological server provider malfunction terms of service at risk therefore herein, copyright trademark licensing wherefore art thou romeo.
posted by theiconoclast31 at 8:12 PM on April 15, 2008 [5 favorites]

To expand on your first question more, think of Usenet as a gigantic bulletin board with subjects on just about everything. It's been a long time since I've checked out a full list but there are well over 10,000 groups if not over 20,000 groups. If you belong to any Yahoo groups, that'll give you a taste of what usenet is like.

Using usenet basically goes like this: subscribe to a "newsgroup" that sounds interesting. Read postings. Reply to postings. Yeah, Google Groups is a decent way to dip your toes, but it's really clunky for any serious user. Personally I like Xnews for Windows, which might not be the best for a beginner. For Macs, I use MT Newswatcher.

Also, more info at wikipedia.
posted by edjusted at 8:15 PM on April 15, 2008

If it's binaries you're after, the above nod to is spot-on, but look to SABnzbd to complete the loop. It integrates with newzbin, downloads the files, par checks them, assembles the pieces, un-rar/zips them and deposits the finished file in the directory of your choice. All you have to do is click the link in newzbin. It's nothing short of a revolution in the binary newsreader world.

Oh and also, there are plenty of files on Usenet that are perfectly legal to download and share. Don't blame the protocol for the actions of some of it's users.
posted by bizwank at 8:40 PM on April 15, 2008 [2 favorites]

I think the comparison between Usenet and email is not a bad one; when you start reading it, you'll see the similarities. Both have headers, bodies, and signatures, can have attachments, and can be written in plain text (yay!) or HTML (boo!). The structure of the messages themselves is quite similar. From a user's perspective, the main difference is that on Usenet, you browse 'groups' rather than mailboxes, and you send your messages to a particular group rather than to a specific user.

Like with email, you can use either a Web interface like Google's, or you can install thick-client software on your PC, if you want more features. I recommend going the latter route.

Again like email, just downloading the client program to your computer won't do you a lot of good; you need permission to access a Usenet server somewhere to get the content. If all you care about is text-based discussion groups, there are lots of free options. If you want binaries, you'll either need to use whatever your ISP provides (assuming they provide anything at all), or you'll need to pay for service from one of the many commercial providers.

I'm kind of a non-fan of Google Groups; although it's a very neat service if you want to search old posts (they have the most comprehensive archive going -- all the way back to the early 90s I think), their interface doesn't make it entirely clear when you're browsing and posting to Usenet, and when you're only looking at a Google Groups internal board. Also, a fair number of people killfile (supress from their viewer) all posts coming from GG because it's an origination point for a lot of spam and low-quality posts.

Just as an unasked-for point of advice: do not use your real email address in Usenet postings, at least not without some level of obfuscation. If you do, you may notice your spam volume go up dramatically, since Usenet posts can be trivially harvested for emails.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:42 PM on April 15, 2008

Usenet... before internet (as most people know it). I was doing it in 1987 or so My early postings are not in Google Groups, they've been lost (until somebody finds an old backup tape).

It's like a web page group except that it is global and goes around the world and has been around for 20+ years. It's still there!

Google Groups has a bunch of the older stuff, but not all... I've looked.

(yes I've been around for 20 years and have looked for my old stuff, it's not there)...
posted by zengargoyle at 4:01 PM on April 16, 2008

Start with the wikipedia article on usenet.

There are about 30,000 usenet servers on the internet.

One key difference between usenet and other message systems is that on usenet each user reads from their local server, rather than getting their information from a single "place" (such as a website or a mailing list). Each server carries a different selection of groups, gets messages in a different order, some servers do a better job than others at filtering spam, occasionally messages are missing, etc. To avoid social gaffes, don't write something like "the previous message" because the message that is "previous" in your reader is not likely to be previous in anyone else's reader.

Basic rules for usenet discussion groups:

1) QUOTE and attribute the relevant part of any message you are replying to. Use software that does correct quoting (inserting > before quoted text). If you are using Outlook or Outlook Express, get OutlookQuoteFix.
2) Do NOT quote the entire previous message unless this is the convention for the particular group you are reading (rare, but it does happen).
3) Avoid top-posting - inline replies are the norm on usenet (unlike many email groups where top-posting is accepted).
4) Don't post in HTML - use plain text only.
5) Don't post or attach binaries in text-only groups.

Some ISPs offer a usenet server, some don't. Ask your ISP's support desk. If they don't have a usenet server, you can use a free usenet server or a paid service, or Google groups. There are advantages and disadvantages of each system. If you could explain a bit more about what you want to do on usenet, it would be easier to advise you on which system would be best for your needs. Do you want to download software, download images, or engage in discussion? Do you anticipate using it daily, or just every now and then?

BE VERY CAREFUL about installing anything you download off of usenet. Usenet is a major source for infected software. If you are trying to save money by getting free software off of usenet, consider the cost of losing all your data (important files, photos, music, etc.) if you end up with a zero-day exploit/trojan/virus and your anti-virus software doesn't catch it (because you are one of the unfortunate first victims). There are free open source alternatives for most expensive software programs such as Microsoft Office (Open Office, Neo Office), Photoshop (The GIMP) etc. so you gain little by pirating these programs, and risk losing everything.
posted by jcdill at 9:10 AM on April 17, 2008

For usenet discussion boards, I think many ISPs may still offer access free, but the alt.binaries.### groups are probably gone. For discussion groups, I use google groups, or use my easynews subscription and thunderbird to read.

For binaries downloads, I like easynews. They are affordable (I pay 9.99/mo.), they have a good retention time, and they have a web interface with a "Zip manager" to collect files and combine into a zip file for downloading.

I was a long time usenet user that used OE, and then newsbin pro to download from binaries groups, but a friend turned me on to easynews. After a bit of retraining myself away from the stand-alone NNTP client (newsbin pro), I got the hang of easynews' ugly, but usable, web interface.

I still have a subscription, but I do not use it much these days. Back in the day (like 2001) I used to get a bunch of music from usenet (alt.binaries.punk, baby!), but I think these days the activity is a bit diminished. I think easynews may have a cheaper plan that you could try out for a month and see if you like it.
posted by glycolized at 2:24 PM on April 18, 2008

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