What is Usenet

Usenet is older than the world-wide-web itself (much of the discussion to invent the world-wide-web took place through usenet).  Originally set up to allow academics and others in specialized fields to engage in group discussions with their peers across the globe, it has since evolved into an uncensored system of exchanging virtually anything that can be transmitted between computers.

Usenet functions a lot like email. Except that instead of addressing messages to an individual, they are addressed to a group. And anyone wishing to read or post messages in a particular group, does so by connecting to a Usenet server across a network connection and using their software to access the group. Special newsreader software is needed on the user’s computer to read articles and download attached files. You “subscribe” to a group by telling the software in your own computer to check the messages addressed to a particular group. (Don’t be frightened by the term “subscribe.”  Nowhere is there ever a subscriber list. The term “subscribe” is used in reference to how you set up your computer and software. Only you and your computer know which groups you have “subscribed” to.)

There is no “central” Usenet server. Rather there are thousands of servers chained and crosslinked together in order to exchange articles between them, and to keep the articles available for their own users to read for a period of time ranging from hours to weeks.

Like email, Usenet articles can have files attached to them. Thus, the Usenet protocol has evolved as a way of distributing files between users.    Groups each have their individual standards about how large files should be broken up into smaller pieces to make them practical to download., and the groups usually publish their FAQ every few days.   Users are free to download whatever they wish--nothing is expected from you in return--nobody even knows what you are downloading.  In fact you should become completely familiar with a group before attempting to submit anything yourself.

There are groups devoted to every imaginable interest. The groups fall under several hierarchies. The “alt” (Anarchists, Lunatics and Terrorists) hierarchy is the most controversial, because virtually anyone can easily  create a new group having this prefix.  The word ”binaries” in a group name means that the group is primarily devoted to exchanging files. (Although a number of “stealth” binary groups have emerged in non alt.binaries named groups, most notably the “” hierarchy.)