What is a newsgroup

I have seen a lot of discussions on forums and even on Usenet itself starting with questions like “what is a news group”, “what are newsgroups” or more commonly “what is a newsgroup”.  A Usenet newsgroup is a discussion group for a specific topic, which is shared on Usenet.  It is not a forum, or a blog, or even a file-sharing or online storage application, although it can look like any of those depending on what newsgroup you are reading. There are big differences between Usenet and other types of discussion sites and file-sharing applications.

A forum is typically hosted on a single web server, in order to post to that forum you typically have to sign up for an account to post questions or answers. Usenet is hosted on literally thousands of newsservers around the world, each server has it’s own copy of articles that it carries.  Most servers require users to sign up for an account, but there are some with free accounts and a few that still allow anonymous connections.  If a persons Usenet account allows posting, they can post questions and answers to a newsgroup and it is copied to all the servers in the network.  This gives excellent redundancy, which is a definite benefit, but there is a lack of control that most forums allow, such as being able to block some discussions or delete certain comments.

A blog is also typically hosted on a single web server using software like wordpress. Usually the blog owner is the only person allowed to post, although many sites allow others to leave comments. Bloggers typically post discussions about topics they are interested in, such as how their day went or what their cat is up too, or in this case “what are news groups”. A person could do exactly the same thing in a Usenet newsgroup, with all the same Usenet benefits and concerns listed above. One big difference between a newsgroup and a blog is that once an article is posted, you cannot edit it, and sometimes getting it deleted from all those servers is difficult, many servers ignore cancel requests for various reasons, including prevent vandalism.

File-sharing applications allow people to host binaries on their personal computers and share them with other people over the internet using a p2p (peer-to-peer) connection so users can copy files to and from each others machines.  Although Usenet was not originally designed to share  binaries, it was not long after its inception that people figured out how to use it for that.  There are a couple of glaring differences between Usenet and P2P, the biggest being the distributed way it stores files.  Although P2P usually has good distribution of files, if everyone with the binary you are interested in has deleted it from their PC or are simply not running the application, you cannot download the binary.  Another issue can be if the person that has parts of the file you want has a slow connection, it can take a very long time to download it. Getting a binary from a Usenet servers is easier and usually faster, if the binary is listed you can download it all from your newsserver, and the download speed is constant.  Most modern Usenet providers have very fast internet connections and can feed binaries to multiple users at the same time without any significant loss of download speed.

Online storage applications allow a user to securely save a backup copy of files to the providers server.  The provider usually has redundant servers and performs backups to protect the users data so they can recover at any time in the future.  They also usually have applications for many different devices including PCs, Macs and Smart phones. Online storage is really geared towards allowing a person or a company to backup their files somewhere else so they won’t lose them in the case of a fire or other catastrophe. Usenet allows users to post files, and due to its distributed nature it seems like a fairly safe way to store your personal information, but there is no inherent security; a file posted to a newsgroup can be viewed by anyone with a newsreader.  Users can encrypt their postings to prevent prying eyes from looking at personal information, but some servers may delete your files automatically based on a normal expiration schedule.  Because of the lack of security and guarantee of data retention, Usenet cannot be relied on as a file storage medium for critical data for an extended period of time.

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