The History of Usenet & What to Expect in the Future

The history of Usenet predates the World Wide Web, making it an interesting piece of history. In addition to its historical significance and influence on the Internet as we know it today, Usenet continues to be an entertaining and educational tool used in 2023.

Usenet still maintains a high number of users, with new ones joining regularly. But how much do you know about Usenet?

So, in this guide, we will be taking a quick look at the history of Usenet, how it influenced the Internet as we know it today, and what you can expect in today’s times when using Usenet. Just keep reading!

A History That Dates Back to 1979

Usenet’s history began in 1979, over 40 years ago. In comparison, the World Wide Web wasn’t invented until 1983. This made Usenet extremely modern for its time.

Usenet was invented by Tom Truscott and Jim Ellis, two Duke University graduate students. The students designed a method of exchanging messages and files between their school computers.

They used the computers at Duke University to communicate with servers at UNC and Duke Medical School with the assistance of a third student’s written software program. Over the next decade, Usenet evolved into a database of discussion groups. These discussion groups were eventually referred to as newsgroups.

In 1987, Usenet underwent a restructuring. Through nominations and voting, Usenet users created the Big 7 Management Board. The board was responsible for overseeing the seven newsgroup hierarchies, which included:

  • Comp.* – Computer topics (software, hardware, browsers, servers).
  • Misc.* – Miscellaneous topics (any topics not covered under the others, including education or parenting).
  • News.* – News-related topics (Usenet news).
  • Rec.* – Recreational and entertainment topics (movies, music, games, books).
  • Sci.* – Science topics (research, chemistry, biology, nature).
  • Soc*. – Social conversations (culture or history).
  • Talk.* – Common, often controversial topics, with the purpose of talking (religion, politics, general interests, or other interesting tidbits).

When the news hierarchy was created, it was initially designed to cover news as it relates to Usenet, not general news. However, this evolved over time, and this section now also includes current news topics.

An Alt.* category was added a few years later and covered alternative topics in a group with less moderating and generalized rules. In 1995, Usenet traffic increased significantly, and the management board added an eighth hierarchy to cover this additional topic, which was named humanities.* The Big 7 of Usenet became the Big 8, which is what it still is today.

Today’s Usenet

Initially, Usenet’s system had a built-in newsreader, meaning users didn’t have to download a separate program. That’s no longer the case today. To access Usenet in 2023, you’ll need to choose an affordable Usenet provider and newsreader. However, the good news is that these add-ons are typically affordable and can improve your Usenet experience.

Usenet is still primarily made up of newsgroups, which are organized hierarchically. These hierarchies make it easy to search for and find relevant topics.

Today’s Big 8 Management Board is responsible for creating and moderating The Big 8 hierarchies. The original board was made up of 11 preliminary members but has more recently been reduced to just three members.

Today’s Usenet is also considered safe. Of course, as an added layer of safety, you might consider choosing a Usenet provider that offers built-in security features, such as a VPN. A VPN ensures safe browsing by creating a secure and private connection between your computer and the Internet.

How to Access the Big 8

The amount of information and articles available within the Big 8 hierarchy is endless. You can access the articles via Usenet with a few set-up steps. You’ll first need to choose a Usenet provider before accessing files.

A Usenet provider allows you to download articles using their servers. You will also need to choose a newsreader, which is what allows you to search for relevant files.

Today’s Usenet files are named in a conventional way that makes it easy to find what you’re searching for. The first part of the file includes the Big 8 hierarchy category, such as Comp.* or Misc.*.

The second part lists the purpose or file type. Binaries are one of the most common file types, and this means that the group is primarily used for sharing. The third part of the file lists the type of file, including audio or visual.

The fourth part is the file format, and the fifth is an additional classification, such as theme or topic. Each section is separated using a period.

Once you learn the basics of searching articles on Usenet, you’ll find the process and the site easy to navigate. This also allows you to expand your search further and find more topics of relevance and interest to you.

Of course, the Usenet provider and newsgroup you choose can significantly affect your overall experience, so make sure you take the time to choose the right one.