What is Usenet?


Permission is granted to reprint the following article as long as no changes are made and the byline, copyright information, and the resource box is included. Please let me know if you use this article by sending an email to dje@newedisongazette.com.

What is Usenet?

Copyright © April 24, 2016 Douglas W Jerving.
All Rights Reserved.


Most people have never heard of it. And that is a good thing. The more who know about it the more it becomes a target for government and corporate interference. If Al Gore created the Internet (Hah!) Usenet preceded him, and is still the greatest source of information on any subject you want to learn about. It may at times require more work, and sometimes a lot of patience, but eventually anything you want is available there.

Usenet is also known as News servers on your email. Most of the older email programs gave the user the ability to access news servers, but 99 percent of email users never knew it was available. Outlook Express was how I first learned about news servers about eight years ago. At first it was all text based, but like email, the digital format soon became capable of anything modern email is capable of doing. Usenet is basically a dedicated email service. It is not based on the internet at all.

The internet and usenet are based on completely different ways of doing things. Internet, or the World Wide Web, is an application based on HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) language. Usenet is based on NNTP (Network News Transfer Protocol) which is really nothing more than an email service. Because of this, it is inherently more private, personal, and capable of far deeper encryption and protection than anything on the Web, which is inherently public.

Basic NNTP (usenet) service is still accessible using many of the email servers available today. For instance, I have Windows Live Mail on my computer, and I can set up a news server account in it. I click on Accounts, then Newsgroup, and the program walks me through the steps, including adding the NNTP server provided by my ISP. Then the program will populate a very large list of news network sites that are available, and I choose the ones that I am interested in following.

While any email server is capable of accessing usenet, the email program you use for regular email is limited to those provided by your Internet Service Provider. There are also a whole lot of other limitations because typical email is not designed specifically for news, but for, well, email! Another problem with typical email news servers is that they are closely watched by the ISP you are using. They are not as private as you might wish. That has recently become quite obvious by the intrusion of government entities forcing ISPs to make their servers available for government surveillance.

Because of the afore-mentioned problems with ISP based email, it has become very important for many information seekers to graduate up to dedicated programs separate from their regular ISPs. Most regular usenet users attend their needs through programs that are specifically designed around their needs for very high end encryption and privacy, including Virtual Private Networks (VPN). The best dedicated NNTP email servers all use VPN and the highest form of encryption technology available. Often times the servers’ technology exceeds that of the US government, and is based in places that snooping government “authorities” have little or no access because they lack jurisdiction or clout in those places.

So what sort of stuff is really available on usenet/NNTP servers? The best way to find out for yourself is to set up a News account on your home email, and then do a search for some things that interest you. Are you interested in pictures of classic autos? Or eastern European classical music? Want to learn more about or even try working with Photoshop? Or maybe technical books on hydrology, chemistry, electronics, guns, etc. Maybe you only want to find old movies, or 1950’s pin-up art. Maybe you just want to follow Britney Spears in all her wacky incarnations. Or you might even want to see what the big deal was about Dallas for Debby (gag reflex). Enough said.

Usenet is the best kept secret of those looking for source material on any subject a person chooses. It is relatively seeker friendly, well protected, and a pretty fun way of just digging around for interesting diversions. It is a great place to anonymously find those movies you thought were long lost that you will never again see on TV. And for posterity’s sake, it is the best way to begin archiving the stuff that will to soon be lost to future generations apart from the help of bootleggers (and archivists like you and me).


Notes for 2016 repost: This article was written in 2013. I thought it was published on the website www.newedisongazette.com at that time, but I have not found it in those files. In any event, it is reproduced here with a few minor changes. For all practical purposes the news servers are now ghost towns not worth your time. When I was using them they were still the best source for many things; my favorite links were to technical ebooks: anything from The Anarchists Cookbook to all 12 volumes of the Cambridge Ancient History. I still have not found a new source for such materials, but I have not spent time searching very deeply. I no longer use NNTP servers at all, and the information presented here is just intended for archival purposes.


Doug Jerving is the publisher of the NewEdisonGazette.com. You may contact him at dje@newedisongazette.com.


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