The Unknown King of the Net

usenet_hornMost casual Internet users do one of three things; send and receive email messages, surf the web and download audio and video files. The first two are relatively straightforward but the third can still be somewhat of a challenge for those dependent on web sites and peer-to-peer file sharing systems such as Limewire to find music and video.

There’s something called BitTorrent that’s quite popular but it’s dependent on users leaving their computers running and files available for download (reducing everyone’s bandwidth in the process) which can be problematic when you’re trying to download large files. It’s good in a pinch but there’s something much better out there that most are completely unaware and offers a rich bounty of information and files. It’s called UseNet and it’s something you should use.

Usenet is one of the earliest tools available on the internet (predating the world wide web!) surviving today as one of the best and least understood resources for discussion, information, software, music, video, clipart and photos on the Internet. Originally designed as a discussion bulletin board for universities during the Internet’s infancy, it evolved from simple chatter to an organized system of data submission and retrieval. Here’s my best attempt at a simple explanation of how it works:

Most Internet service providers (Shaw, Telus etc.) offer their users access to a dedicated computer called a News Server. This computer contains literally millions of submissions from usenet users all categorized into groups (referred to as newsgroups) which allows users to peruse each newsgroup for information and files. As an example, if I was interested in rock music I would use the search engine available in all UseNet software programs and select one of the available groups such as alt.binaries.sounds.mp3.rock.full-album (to download MP3 files) or (to discuss British rock music with other enthusiasts).

Each newsgroup can contain thousands of discussion threads or music files and is just one of hundreds of thousands of newsgroups available for end users. It’s a massive resource but requires slightly more than the typical point-and-click usability of the web and needs dedicate software to access and use the newsgroups available via your ISP (Internet Service Provider) and some files are compressed, spanned or encoded which may require more software to convert. Most programs are available free and once you’ve done it once or twice it’s actually quite straight forward so don’t be put off by the fear of nerd.

There’s also the issue of your ISP’s news server and it’s retention (the amount of time newsgroup posts are available on the server and the number of posts available) which makes the difference when downloading large movie files or software programs. I use a server called SuperNews available out of the U.S. which offers the availability of unlimited newsgroups (some ISPs limit the number of groups due to server space and blatant censorship) and is available for a monthly fee. It’s well worth the minimal expense and is one of the best resources when looking for detailed information, music files and everything else.

There is one caveat however. UseNet is free-wheeling playground, regulated by those that use it and contains pornography, illegal audio, video and image files, viruses and all the other wonderful stuff that’s part of this digital wild west. Tread lightly and trust your instincts when downloading files or posting information about yourself, your family or any other personal information. There’s lots of cockroaches on the Internet and lots of them hang out on Usenet.

There are literally thousands of web sites dedicated to UseNet and offer great information on how it works, free software to view and download files and the best UseNet server companies (if you decide to go that route). Have a look and feel free to drop me a line if you need help because once you use UseNet, you’ll never look back.

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