Usenet News

About Usenet News

Usenet News is a set of bulletin boards that allows users to discuss topics of interest regardless of time and location. Within Usenet News, the bulletin boards are referred to as news groups.

These news groups allow users to correspond with other Internet users with similar interests. Although Usenet News is not a part of the Internet per se, Internet connectivity does give the user access. It is considered by many to be part of the Internet, and for the purposes of this guide it will be considered a part of the Internet.

Accessing Usenet News is much like walking down a long hallway lined with thousands of bulletin boards, each bristling with messages about a specific topic. You are free to read and reply to messages, or post new messages relevant to the particular news group. The big difference is that messages posted to an electronic news group can be read and responded to by people all over the world, rather than just those who happen to pass along that hallway.

News Groups

Usenet News is comprised of more than 8,000 news groups that are used by more than 6 million people worldwide. They cover everything from art to zoology.

News group names are arranged in a particular hierarchy that indicates the topic of the news group. The names start with one of a series of broad topic names. These broad topic names are followed by more specific topic names. The greater the number of segments the news group name has, the more focused the topic of that news group.

The main hierarchies of news groups are:

bionet                  Research Biology
bit.listserv            BITNET originated news groups
biz                     Business
comp                    Computers and related subjects
misc                    Discussions that do not fit under other hierarchies
news                    News about Usenet
rec                     Recreational
sci                     Science (not including biology)
soc                     Social groups
talk                    Politics and related subjects
alt                     Controversial or unusual topics
There are also many local hierarchies, for example:

udel                    Specific to the University of Delaware
The following are examples of news group names and the topics of the news groups:   A news group that is a forum for buying and
                        selling music.
soc.culture.europe      A news group that covers European cultural
udel.priv.buad301-014   A news group that is private, that was set up
                        for the University of Delaware's BUAD301
                        classes to discuss class issues and
                        disseminate class information.

Accessing Usenet News

You can access Usenet News from your Unix account or from WWW.

To access Usenet News from your Unix account, you need to log-in as you needed to do for Email. Once logged-in, you need to access your "newsreader" program. At the University of Delaware you have the option of using rn ("read news") or trn ("threaded read news"). The Internet Tutorial on Usenet News gives you a hands-on tutorial for trn, including searching for appropriate news groups, reading a news group and posting a message to a news group.
You may also be able to use your web browser to access Usenet News. This is covered in the Tutorial on WWW and Netscape.

Netiquette (Network Etiquette)

There have been many articles posted to Usenet news groups discussing Usenet News etiquette (or "netiquette"), i.e., how you should behave in cyberspace (The indefinable "virtual" space that we all use to communicate with each other). Before you start posting to a public Usenet news group, you should become very familiar with its netiquette and the netiquette of Usenet news groups in general. One rule of thumb is to subscribe to a news group for a certain amount of time and read many of the discussions that take place to observe the "culture" of the particular news group. You will soon learn the difference between an acceptable post and an unacceptable post. You should also read the FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions Post) for that news group, before you begin posting. This will help you avoid the situation where you ask a question of the news group that has been asked frequently in the past. That is one of the many crimes, along with blatant advertising, that generates "flaming."

Since Usenet News is not governed by a central censoring body, its governance is controlled by its participants through two mechanisms. If someone violates netiquette, that person may be flamed by other Usenet News users. Flaming involves sending sometimes exceedingly rude and threatening messages to the violator (or posting these messages to the news group for all to see). It seems that people feel capable of being more aggressive using this form of communication than when using any other written or verbal form of communication. I hope you don't have to experience it! The second mechanism for controlling netiquette violators is to send a message to the violator's systems administrator, alerting him/her of the violation. The violator may then lose his/her account.

Uses and Benefits of Usenet


Traditionally, your opportunity to meet people with interests similar to your own has been severely limited by geographic location, mutually agreeable meeting times, expense of communication and actually finding someone with similar interests. You may live next door to someone who has the same hobby as you, but given the formalities that are needed before we can accomplish anything with face-to-face communication, you may never know it! Usenet news groups offer a meeting place for people with similar interests. These people are limited by their access to, and knowledge of, Usenet News and the Internet, not by the traditional boundaries of time, place and human behavior.

People who initially meet on Usenet News often pursue their communication through Email as their professional/private relationship develops.


Usenet news groups offer a tremendous learning environment for people with particular interests that are covered by a news group. Even a "lurker" (a Usenet News user that only reads the news group, but never posts) is kept up-to-date with current topics and ideas that are being exchanged over the Usenet news group forum.


Because Usenet News facilitates the meeting of people with similar interests, it can be used as a virtual office to solve work- or home-related problems. By asking a question of the readers of an appropriate news group, you can get responses from all over the world from people who may have had to deal with problems and issues similar to those that concern you. It's as if you were creating a temporary organization of experts to help you solve your problem.


Traditionally, we get our news from the various media that carry news. This may be your local or regional newspaper, your local TV station or a monthly magazine that focuses on your special area of interest. The information from these sources is necessarily driven by the owners of those media, the writers for those media as well as the organizations that finance those media: advertisers. Usenet News now offers another source of news that can supplement the traditional top-down model of disseminating news that we have become accustomed to. Usenet News is not owned by one particular entity; it is written by any member that wishes to contribute (CAUTION: you need to consider the source of the news before you accept the news verbatim); and is free to all that wish to read.

Usenet News has the ability to target its news to a specific audience, i.e., the subscribers to a particular news group. Traditional media cannot service the news requirements of all special interests and hobbyists as Usenet News can. Usenet News also has the ability to convey news in real time; print deadlines are not an issue.

Usenet News offers the subscribers of the news groups the power of the media, i.e., you can now be the reporter while concurrently being the recipient. Usenet News gives the power of the media to the experts of even the most remote/obscure subject, assuming there is a news group that covers that particular topic. Often, if a traditional form of media has to cover a particular news item about a subject about which they know little, they may just assign someone to the task without special concern for the accuracy of the news item.

Usenet News' ability to disseminate news to its subscribers can be seen in the following two examples.


There were reports from people "downwind" of the Chernobyl disaster on Usenet News before official acknowledgment (and therefore media reporting) that the disaster had actually occurred. The value of Usenet News was also seen with the Los Angeles earth quake during the Winter of 1994. First hand reports of the disaster were reported on Usenet News by those that actually experienced the earth quake.


A horse enthusiast, can subscribe to rec.equestrian. Through this news group one can find out when and where equestrian events are occurring and the results of the events as soon as they are completed with a couple of simple queries. There is no other medium that can give this type of coverage!


As you correspond through Usenet news groups, you are identified by the following two attributes: your Email address and the content of your messages. Your opinions and views are judged by their content, not by who is delivering them, until, over time, you create a reputation in your particular news group(s) as an expert or a jerk. In reality (non-virtual :-)) you are often judged first on the basis of a variety of surface factors (appearance, accent, age, clothes etc.), not necessarily by the content of your ideas, assuming you can get your views heard in the first place, which is no mean task if you do not have any preexisting credibility with the group/person with which you are trying to communicate. To summarize, first impressions are based on content (in Usenet News), not packaging (as in real life.)


Although the benefits of social interaction should not be a primary reason for your use of Usenet News, the news groups are an easy way to expand your circle of acquaintances and to expand the variety of people with whom you interact. This social interaction stems not only from the electronic discussions that take place in cyberspace, but also from the general cooperative culture that exists.

Usenet news groups are also a socializing option for people at work. It is easy to take a 2-3 minute "social break" by catching up on your news groups, and it is less intrusive to coworkers than making personal telephone calls (which are often not allowed anyway.) It is important, however, to be cautious of using Usenet news groups for social interaction, some users have become addicted (authors not included ;-)).


Because Usenet News facilitates the meeting of people with similar interests from all over the world, a cooperative culture exists that encourages shared ideas. To maintain the integrity of this culture it is vital that the growing number of new users become familiar with netiquette as they are introduced to the Internet.


A Usenet news group can be a powerful learning tool with benefits that are only recently being realized. Not only does a news group facilitate communication between the instructor and his/her students, but also among students, and between students and the instructor. Your instructor may need to give information to the whole class, whether it be the course syllabus, a job opportunity or a meeting time. By posting the information to a news group, it becomes available to everyone in the class, immediately. Unlike traditional announcements it does not take away any of the learning time at the beginning of class. As far as distributing class materials such as course syllabi, this is administratively very appealing, as well as being environmentally friendly.

If you had a question concerning class material you would traditionally attend your instructor's office hour(s) (maybe an obscure time of the week, but certainly not a time that you chose), and ask your instructor the question, assuming you remember the question that had occurred when it is time to go to your instructor's office hour(s). With a Usenet news group, you can simply post the question to the news group as it occurs to you. It is also likely that if you have a question regarding class material, then other students will have a similar question. One question posted to the news group may save twenty students from coming to the instructor's office hour(s), and another 20 students forgetting to come to the office hour(s). Other students now have the opportunity to answer your question (cooperative learning!!), or your instructor can answer the question. The answers are posted to the news group for all your fellow students to review. This question and answer session may develop into a discussion that evolves into other related topics; this would never occur outside of this environment.

You may know about a real life/time example of something relevant to the material that is being discussed in class. You can post this information to the news group. This is very beneficial given limited classroom time to cover all materials. Many students do not wish to raise issues in class for a variety of reasons. A news group allows you to relate materials to real life at your leisure. This may evolve into a long discussion that cannot occur in classroom time.

A class Usenet news group can be used for a number of other learning activities. At the beginning of the semester it can be used as an "ice-breaker." You and all your fellow students can each post a note to the news group that includes a brief bio about yourself. You also read the bios of all your fellow students. This will shorten the time needed for all students to meet each other. It is very useful for a part-time graduate program where networking is one of perceived benefits of the program and students are generally only at the University in the evenings during class time.

The instructor may also require you to write a paper. If the instructor required you to post that paper to the news group when completed this would give your fellow students the opportunity to learn from your own research (cooperative learning!); this will of course be reciprocated when your fellow students post their papers. You may also be able to post the paper in draft form, before the assignment due date, and ask your fellow students for their comments in order to improve the quality of your paper.

Email and Usenet News are tools that facilitate electronic communication among the users. The remaining Internet tools that this guide looks at are used for information retrieval.

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The University of Delaware
August, 1996