Usenet: Exploring the Internet's First and Original Online Platform

Are you curious about what is Usenet? Heard about this term recently and want to know what it is? Delve with us in the history, development and the current state of Usenet and get your knowledge bank updated with us.


In the past 20 years, a tremendous number of social media platforms have come and gone on the internet. Some have lasted much longer than others (i.e., Facebook and YouTube) by keeping up with the current trends, while others have only lasted a few years due to failure to stay current. There is, however, one particular platform that has been around much longer than Facebook (and the internet in general) and it is still around today. This 40-year-old communication platform is thriving today, packed with thousands of users and a massive database of user-generated content. What is it called? It's called Usenet.

History of Usenet

Back in 1979, two college students in North Carolina wanted to be able to send information back and forth to each other using their computers, much like we do every day with ease today. However, back then there was no internet and computers weren't household electronics--- they were mainly available in libraries and on college campuses. Still, Duke University students Tom Truscott and Jim Ellis were determined to find a way to send information between their computers and their friend Steve Bellovin, who was attending the University of North Carolina. Using telephone modems, they were able to achieve this, and Usenet was born.

In its early years through the 1980s, college students created and maintained Usenet to share information between academic institutions. It's similar to the forums and blog sites of the early 2000s, and each of these discussion forums (known as newsgroups) were centered around a particular topic, such as political science, literature, etc. for students to share information. Soon, Usenet began to expand beyond the college scene and more people began using the platform, which led to the creation of non-academic newsgroups, discussing things like music and other popular culture. There wasn't anything like it at the time, and even today, nothing can quite compare to Usenet.

Usenet Today

Usenet is not like any other discussion forum; while it had humble beginnings as a network only linking three computers, it has evolved into much more today. For instance, there are well over 100,000 newsgroups on Usenet that will cover any topic you could imagine--- and you can create your own newsgroup if you can't find what you're looking for. You simply use the search engine that comes with Usenet (called a newsreader) to search through thousands of newsgroups to find content on the topic you're looking for.

Back in the day, these newsgroups only consisted of text posts, but today you can find text, photo, video, and audio files (called binary files) created by users and posted in forums covering a variety of topics. The best part is that Usenet has what is called retention, meaning that you can find content that was posted on Usenet years ago.

While you're searching for content on Usenet, you can also post your own original content to share with others as well. You can use Usenet to your advantage by creating infographics, audio recordings, videos, and blog posts on particular topics you're passionate about and information you want to share with others.

Another advantage to using this platform is that all user-generated content is not censored, much like a lot of content is on your traditional social media platforms. Usenet allows for much more freedom to post and securely download user-generated content right on your computer. All downloads are completed at a fast speed— even older content that was shared years ago.

How to Get Started with Usenet

Usenet isn't like Facebook or Instagram where you can log onto a website on your computer or download an app on your phone. Instead, you must obtain a Usenet service provider in order to access this world of endless content. In many cases, you're required to purchase a newsreader (the search engine tool) separately, so you'll want to choose a provider that offers a newsreader for free with your subscription. You will also need to determine if you want space for unlimited downloads (you never know what type of useful information you'll find and want to keep your hands on), or if you think you'll need less than that.

You'll also want to look into purchasing a virtual private network (VPN) to avoid any security concerns while surfing Usenet, though many providers come with the added benefit of ensuring that all of your downloads are secure. Tier-1 providers are your best bet, as you'll be able to download user-generated content at faster speeds than you would if you did not buy from a Tier-1 provider.

Usenet isn't a new tool, but it is something new to a lot of people, so make sure you're able to get a free trial period from your Usenet service provider. You can try out Usenet during your free trial and see if it offers the information you're looking for and if it's the right kind of platform you want to share your content on. Usenet service providers typically charge a small monthly fee in exchange for you using the service.

A Thriving Network of Dedicated Users

Usenet may be the oldest "social" platform to have ever existed, but it has definitely evolved with the times to stay active, even if it is the internet's "first and original platform." Anyone can benefit from using Usenet, whether you're a creator looking for a platform where you can be more vocal and look for new ideas for inspiration, or if you just love learning and discussing interesting topics with other people.

It's interesting to think that a simple idea to create a way to share information back when there was no World Wide Web has now evolved into Usenet as it is known today. Even if you're one of the few people who had the fortune of using the original Usenet back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, you should definitely take a look at Usenet today. You'll be pleased to find that you can access much more information and content, all with the original format remaining quite the same.


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