WWW FAQs: What is a UseNet newsgroup?

2007-03-12: UseNet (User's Network) is a collection of online forums, known as "newsgroups," that are automatically shared among many thousands of servers all around the Internet. These servers speak a protocol called NNTP (Network News Transfer Protocol) which allows messages to be shared with every server. Users post via their local NNTP server (provided by their ISP, if their ISP participates in UseNet), and that server talks to other NNTP servers which propagate the message outward to the world.

UseNet newsgroups are older than the World Wide Web. At one point they were the preferred means of online communication with the general public (as opposed to private email).

Today website forums have largely replaced UseNet, and most newcomers have never used UseNet. This is due in part to spam problems and an unenforceable moderation system which have made UseNet more or less unmanageable as the Internet-using public grows.

Also, in the early days of UseNet, the idea of thousands or millions of users contacting a single server to fetch messages was impractical. Internet links were slow - or nonexistent. Some sites on UseNet were not connected 24/7 to the Internet. And servers weren't able to handle connections from thousands of people at once. But today's most powerful web servers can handle thousands of forum visitors simultaneously, though this is still a challenge for the most popular social networking services. So the need to distribute messages to multiple servers has been greatly reduced.

However, UseNet newsgroups are still somewhat common today as a means of communication for smaller groups. For example: the Netscape newsgroups used to discuss the development of the Firefox web browser and related software.

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