What is Usenet? The unrestricted, worldwide forum

Anton P. | August 31, 2021

Usenet is like the grandfather of the World Wide Web. It entered the stage in 1980 before the general public even obtained access to the internet. Thus, some users might have never heard of this pioneering technology. However, at some point, it was the first channel to unite users digitally. To this day, Usenet is alive and kicking, with various newsgroups bonding like-minded individuals. Hence, let’s find out why netizens still flock to Usenet and share their insights outside popular platforms like Reddit.

What is Usenet?

Usenet is a network where people share ideas, news, opinions, and insights. You can imagine it as a bulletin board with different topics broken down into newsgroups. There is no shortage of active discussions on basically any subject you can imagine. Some newsgroups tackle controversial matters, while others are more carefree, like pop culture or gossip. Thus, Usenet is essentially a predecessor of forums like Reddit.

Since its inception in 1980, Usenet was open to anyone wanting to join. It was different from ARPANET, which required financial resources and, allegedly, political connections to participate. Thus, Usenet became the “poor man’s ARPANET.”

However, some requirements did exist for users wishing to contribute to the ever-growing Usenet. First, they had to own a Unix operating system (which was quite obtainable at the time). Secondly, they had to cover the cost of equipment and the telephone calls to receive or send news.

Jokingly, many enthusiasts described Usenet as a town meeting of the common folk.

How does Usenet work?

Usenet is all about sharing information. Initially, the system focused on plaintext-only content. However, this limitation quickly became an obstacle, with users wanting to share more than text. Now, you can post audio, video, and image files without any issues.

Here is a rundown of Usenet under-the-hood operations, structure, and usage:

  • Newsgroups are active online discussions accessed via Usenet.
  • There are hundreds of thousands of newsgroups available. Again, everyone can join and respond.
  • Any user can show initiative and create a new newsgroup.
  • The majority of these newsgroups get hosted on servers connected to the internet. However, it is not the only option. It is possible to host newsgroups from other servers (not connected to the internet).
  • Initially, Usenet relied on Unix-to-Unix Copy (UUCP), a protocol allowing computers to exchange information. However, as new standards and technologies emerged, UUCP began to die out. Now, Usenet applies the Network News Transfer Protocol (NNTP).
  • There are moderated and unmoderated newsgroups. Thus, some groups might be spam-free, while others can contain irrelevant or offensive content.

Of course, Usenet struggles to compete with platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, etc. Netizens quickly turned to channels that are easy to access and contribute. However, even with the smaller community, Usenet managed to survive, with many providers still offering their services.

How can you use Usenet?

You cannot access Usenet like other platforms. Before visiting and participating in various newsgroups, you need to select a particular Usenet service provider. Here are the steps you need to take to join one of the oldest discussion systems alive today.

1. Select a provider

There are multiple options for Usenet service providers. Most of them offer free trials for curious netizens wishing to explore this mysterious channel. Small note: all the options provide full SSL encryption, which is a must for any Usenet provider.

  • Newshosting. According to reviews, Newshosting is the leading provider. It supplies extensive access privileges with both US and European server networks. Additionally, Newshosting offers a convenient search engine and flexible subscription options. You can become a proud Usenet member for only $10 per month. The prices of different plans seem to differ according to the data transfer limits. The more you pay, the more data you will have.
  • Eweka. This provider is also one of the popular options. Its advantages include fast downloads, access to over 100,000 newsgroups, and unlimited data transfers. However, one downside is that Eweka offers EU-based servers. When it comes to price, the cheapest plan is €7.50 ($9.12) per month.
  • Giganews. The third option offers thousands of newsgroups, incredibly high speeds, and unbelievable content retention. It also does not seem to impose any data transfer limits. The Giganews subscription prices vary as well. At the time of writing, you can purchase a monthly plan for $9.99. The downside is that Giganews does not support anonymous payment methods, which might be something you prefer.

2. Set up and indexer

After picking a provider, follow the instructions to set up everything necessary. This includes getting an indexer. After all, your provider might not give you an easy way of searching for the content you want. An indexer is like Google for Usenet. Through it, you will be able to find everything quickly. The best options include NZBGeek and NZB.su.

3. Newsreader software

You are almost done with the setup. You have a provider that offers the content and a way to find it. Now you need a tool to download those files. A more sophisticated newsreader might also provide you with a search engine. Additionally, your provider will likely give you free access to a newsreader. However, you can use an independent one as well.

4. Start diving deep into Usenet

Finally, you are ready to start your journey. Use the indexer to find articles and obtain an NZB file for that content. Then, you give it to your newsreader, and it will download the file and show it on your screen.

Is Usenet safe?

The dangers in Usenet are no different than in the traditional web space. Netizens first encountering this system might treat it as unfamiliar and, in turn, menacing. However, retrieving certain content might even be safer than in some shady websites. After all, Usenet has fewer visitors, and many providers safeguard their clients’ privacy as much as possible.

Should you use a VPN for Usenet?

Some might assume that Usenet is a more secure place to visit. However, your identity plays a role in this vintage discussion system. For one, your IP address is visible every time you obtain NZB files and download content. Thus, while Usenet seems miles away from digital surveillance, similar privacy issues exist there as well. Another downside is that some Usenet service providers do not accept anonymous payment methods. Hence, pay attention to this variable when choosing a provider.

Overall, a VPN is a tool that you cannot go wrong with. It protects your privacy, lets you blend in with the crowd of other users, and hides your IP address. Some Usenet service providers might include VPN subscriptions into their plans. However, it might lack modern security protocols or offer unfavorable conditions (like retaining logs of your activities). Thus, you can trust Atlas VPN to safeguard your identity, be it the traditional web or the mysterious Usenet.

Anton P.

Anton P.

Former chef and the head of Atlas VPN blog team. He's an experienced cybersecurity expert with a background of technical content writing.

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