Google Group vs Usenet Newsgroup

Earlier today I got an email from a user that was wanting to know the difference between googlegroups and Usenet newsgroups.  They went on further to ask which was a better choice for them based on some criteria.  The were looking for images, so my immediate response for them was “go with a Usenet server”, but then I realized the reasons were as important as my answer.

Short History

Usenet newsgroups have been around since the late 70s/early 80s.  I have operated a server since just before the “great renaming” back in 1987.  My personal experience is that the Usenet has been a wonderful tool for sharing of all kinds from the beginning.

Close to the beginning some people got the bright idea to keep copies of all the articles posted to Usenet.  The Deja News archive of Usenet articles, allowed visitors to their website to perform extensive searches and people could sign up for a free account to post articles in text newsgroups.  It was a wonderful tool, until they tried to make money from it.  In about 1999 they tried to monetize it, and everything went sideways.


On Feb 12, 2001 Google bought the archives and other resources that were left to the, by then failed, Deja News.  Google used those archives to start Googlegroups.  Google groups are fundamentally the same as Usenet newsgroups, and many of the groups are still peered with Tier-1 providers on the internet.  So, users that post to a Google group about ‘dog behavior’ might get a response from someone using a Usenet server reading ‘rec.pets.dogs.behavior’, and vice versa.

Probably due to the governing board in charge of the “Big 8” hierarchies on Usenet, Google groups created by their users are not created on the Usenet.  Because of this, not all groups will get peered with Usenet servers.  This limits the amount of low-bandwidth or nonsense groups in Usenet, but also lessens the possible amount of content it could provide.

Okay… which is better

Neither, both, either… really depends on your needs.  All things being equal, either should work for someone that is just looking for a discussion group about a topic.  There are many considerations that can change that though.

Google Group Usenet Newsgroup
Create Group Y Y1
Subscription N Y2
Software Required N Y/N3
Mailing List4 Y N
Binaries (alt.binaries.*) N Y
Document Sharing5 Y Y

1 – It is possible to create a newsgroup in the alt.* hierarchy just by typing its name into the newsgroup field of your newsgroup client.  If you want to create a newsgroup in the “Big 8” hierarchies you have to prove there is need/interest through a vetting process.  Few new newsgroups are created any more in the “Big 8”.

2 – It is possible to get a free account from some Usenet providers, these are usually speed or size limited and do not have binaries, but if your goal is to join a discussion group, that would be sufficient

3 – there are a several options for reading the Usenet newsgroups

  1. You can purchase a newsreader for Usenet, typical cost is around $20 and some require a subscription for advanced search features.
  2. Some Usenet providers (such as EasyNews) have a web-based interface which is actually much more sophisticated than the one provided by Googlegroups, they support searching for and previewing binaries
  3. there are free newsreaders, but they are normally designed more for Usenet enthusiasts than for casual users

4 – there is no mailing list on Usenet unless you create one… which is very angrily frowned upon.  A posting to a newsgroup is visible to all subscribers; you probably have a better chance of someone reading a posting in a newsgroup than getting passed their spam filter for mailing them directly

5 – document sharing in Google groups is limited.  Although document sharing is not directly supported on Usenet, you can post binaries in some groups.  You could post a document in an alt.binaries.* group, then reference it in an article in a discussion newsgroup.  There is a program (called uBackup) which can be used to “store” documents on the Usenet.

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