What Is Usenet?
Usenet is a network connecting over 10,000 independent Usenet servers worldwide. Usenet was started in 1979 by two Duke University students. Once the server software was made public other locations around the world were added to the network. Initially these were mostly other Universities. Usenet pre-dates the Internet by a decade and is one of the oldest forms of computer network communications still actively used today. Over time commercial Usenet Providers have come into being, and some Internet Providers (ISPs) also provide Usenet access as part of their service. These days most Usenet traffic is exchanged via the Internet.
What Are Newsgroups?
Newsgroups can be compared to the Bulletin Boards of old, or the Internet Forums we have today. Each group contains messages about a particular subject. The name of the group reflects the contents. For example, the group ‘alt.tv.x-files’ contains messages about the TV series X-Files. There are over 100,000 groups, covering a wide variety of topics including TV shows, musicians, actors, celebrities, models, music, musicians, rock bands, politics, religion, sports, sport teams, hobbies, food, health and lots and lots more.
What Are Posts?
Originally, a post was merely just a text message written by someone. But nowadays it can also mean a binary file (and accompanying information) that has been uploaded to a newsgroup.
In order to take part in discussions on Usenet, or to upload or download binary files, you’ll need a Newsreader. These come in two flavours: a binary reader (downloader), or a traditional text reader. Note that most modern text readers support downloading of binaries as well, but miss the features you find in a dedicated binary reader.
Some popular text Newsreaders
- Forte (Free) Agent
- Microsoft Outlook Express / Windows Live Mail / Windows Mail (free with Windows)
- Mozilla Thunderbird (freeware)
- Google Groups (web based)
Some popular binary Newsreaders
- Newsbin Pro
- GrabIt (freeware)
- Spotnet / Spotlite (free / open source)
- Panic Unison (Mac OSX) (free since it was discontinues in 2014)
- NZBVortex (Mac OSX)
By far the easiest to use is Spotnet, but you are dependant on ‘spots’ made by other people. Note that the interface is in Dutch, as are most of the spots. Note that Microsoft Outlook does not support Newsgroups – News in Outlook is in fact just a shortcut to Outlook Express / Live Mail / Mail in read-only mode.
For more Newsreaders see the short comparison available on Wikipedia.
Tier 1 Usenet Providers
There are a small number of companies that own and run Usenet servers.
- Altopia (Backbones: Altopia)
- Giganews (Backbones: Giganews)
- Highwinds Network Group / UNS Holdings (Backbones: HNG, Base IP, Eweka, Readnews)
- Searchtech Ltd (Backbones: Astraweb)
- Cheapnews (Backbones: Cheapnews)
- XS News (Backbones: XS News)
There are a few other smaller independent companies, but almost all other parties that provide Usenet access are Resellers of the ones mentioned above. The reason to get a subscription with a Reseller may be the price, the method of payment and the types of subscriptions that are available.
Popular Usenet Providers
The following Usenet Providers were nomiated by readers of Lifehacker in Juli 2014.
- Newshosting (Highwinds reseller) – 29% votes
- EasyNews (Highwinds reseller) – 24% votes
- UsenetServer (Highwinds reseller) – 23% votes
- Astraweb – 16% votes
- NewsDemon (Highwinds reseller) – 7% votes
Usenet Access Through Your Own ISP
Initially most Internet Providers provided access to their own Usenet server as part of their service. But because of the huge amount of traffic and storage involved most decided to either (i) only grant access to text groups, (ii) severely cap the download speed and amount of connections you can make to the server, (iii) enforce a download quota, (iv) severely limit the retention for binary groups, (v) outsource to a Tier 1 Usenet Provider, or (vi) do away with Usenet altogether.
What Is ‘Retention’?
Retention is the termed used to indicate for how long a message will stay on the server. This can vary from Newsgroup to Newsgroup. Text groups usually have a large retention, having a history going back several years. Retention also varies between servers, with most commercial servers going back 900+ days (2.5 years) and some even 2600+ days (7 years).
Different Types of Subscriptions
There are two main types of subscriptions based on (i) speed, and (ii) quota. For the first one you pay monthly or yearly for a certain download speed (10Mbps, 50Mbps, etc. or Unlimited). For the second you purchase a ‘block’ (10GB, 50GB, etc.) which expires when you’ve reached the purchased amount.
Index Sites / Usenet Search / NZB’s
Index sites are websites that keep track of material posted to Usenet, together with the accompanying information. These sites usually have a large community of users attached to them. As this involves copyrighted material almost exclusively a number of these sites have been closed down due to legal actions by Hollywood studios. Examples of closed sites are NZBmatrix.com and Newzbin.com.
Popular Index Sites
Note that some Index Sites are private, and you will need an invitation to join. Check the usenetreviewz.com site for a more comprehensive list.
Popular Usenet Search Sites
Usenet Search sites do not provide a ready made overview of material posted to Usenet, but instead allows you to search much like Google allows you to search the Web.
The people at newzbin.com came up with a smarter way to download binaries. Instead of users downloading all headers from a Newsgroup and going through thousands of Subject lines trying to find what they’re looking for they came up with NZB files. An NZB file contains all necessary information for a Newsreader to download a certain post. The required NZB file can be downloaded from an Index Site or a Usenet Search site.