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A Little-Known Network: Three Things You
Probably Don’t Know About Usenet

You’re probably wondering, what in the world is Usenet? You’re not alone because many people have never heard of it.

Usenet is a network of servers that allow people all across the globe to share information and ideas with each other. This sounds very similar to the internet as we know it today, but Usenet is very different from today’s internet. In fact, it predates the internet because it was one of the first ways people with computers could chat with each other.

#1: It Was One of the First Live Networks Online

As mentioned above, Usenet was around long before the world wide web. It was created in 1979 by two Duke University graduate students named Jim Ellis and Tom Truscott. They were able to use telephone modems to get one of their computers to send information to a friend’s computer at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. Throughout the 1980s, several colleges and universities across the United States created their own newsgroups, and Usenet was popular among college students. Students were able to share information and have discussions in forums called newsgroups, where topics such as science, history, politics, mathematics, social issues, and literature were discussed.

By the time the internet was created, internet service providers (ISPs) were offering their customers Usenet as a part of their package. This led to newsgroups becoming less academic and more focused on pop culture topics. Usenet was truly the first form of an online chat room, though many people moved away from it once sites like AOL came about.

#2: Several of Today’s Terms Originated From Usenet

Some of the most popular online and text terms we use today originated from Usenet users in the 1980s and 1990s. The purpose of Usenet is to exchange information, so naturally, there were a lot of people asking the same questions. This resulted in ‘FAQ’ (frequently asked questions) being seen all across newsgroups on Usenet. After a while, there were newsgroups labeled “.answers”, “sci.answers”, and “misc.answers” for all of those FAQs. Other acronyms that can be attributed to being first seen on Usenet include “WTF” and “ROFL”.

Emoticons (the precursors to emojis) were also widely used on Usenet. If you can remember the early days of social media, you might remember typing “:-)” to create a smiley face or “:-(“ to represent a sad face. Scott Fahlman first used these emoticons at Carnegie Mellon University to let other Usenet users know when he was making a joke or being sarcastic. Nowadays, we just use emojis or other forms of shorthand due to our technology's impact on our lives.

#3: It’s Still Around and Available to Use Today

As long as Usenet has been around, it has never gone away like many past social media platforms. The number of people using it may have significantly decreased at the turn of the century, but its user base has definitely increased within the last decade. Today, you can find over 100,000 newsgroups on Usenet, all discussing thousands of different topics. You’ll also now have the ability to access binary files (audio clips, pictures, and videos) in addition to text files. Because Usenet is separate from the internet, all browsing and downloads are secure.

The only way to access Usenet is through a Usenet service provider. When searching for a provider, make sure to look for ones offering great packages and rates in order to get the most out of your monthly subscription. Some providers will also offer you a free trial so you can try out Usenet before you commit to a subscription package.

It’s interesting to know that an entire social world existed on computers long before social media and even the internet. And if you’re one of the lucky ones who got a chance to experience Usenet in its early days, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to see how much it’s the same, yet updated to offer you more information.

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