| HOME |

Usenet offers all the news you can use -- and then some

Feb. 4, 1996


Two aspects of the Internet that have the greatest appeal are e-mail and the World-Wide Web.

The appeal of e-mail is simple Ï there's no cheaper way to send a message to another person with Internet access anywhere around the world.

And the World-Wide Web lets you use a mouse and point-and-click your way through thousands of sites around the world. Developed in 1989, the Web was a major advance because it moved the Internet out of the days when it was a text-only, and navigating it required knowing Unix, the computer language often used by computers linked to the Net.

But another popular portion of the Internet -- one that has been in the news lately -- is Usenet.

Usenet -- often referred to as newsgroups -- can be compared to your office or school bulletin board where announcements and information can be posted.

Usenet is the electronic equivalent -- allowing Internet users around the world to post messages and read them.

The newsgroups available are divided into many different topics. At last count, more than 24,000 newsgroups are available worldwide.

Messages posted in newsgroups are not private Ï they are available for anyone with Internet access. And there's a certain etiquette -- known as "netiquette" -- about using Usenet and proper ways of posting information.

Accessing Usenet newsgroups is relatively easy and painless. Most Internet providers include some sort of software to access newsgroups. Some Web browsers also have the ability to access them as well (though their performance may be a compromise).

Newsgroups have their own hierarchy of how messages are arranged by topic. For example, newsgroups dealing with computers will have names beginning with "comp.'' This category is further subdivided with additional short descriptive names, all separated by periods.

An example would be "comp.os.ms.windows.announce,'' a newsgroup for announcements ("announce'') related to the Microsoft ("ms'') Windows ("windows'') computer ("comp'') operating system ("os'').

The naming format looks a little odd at first, but once you become accustomed to using newsgroups, it isn't hard to figure out.

Some of the main topics available include:

sci. -- postings deal with the sciences.

rec. -- recreational newsgroups.

soc. -- topics on social interests and just plain socializing.

misc. -- miscellaneous topics.

alt. -- alternate newsgroups, including the strange and weirdness that's found on the Net.

And the topics vary widely within the major topic areas, from soap opera updates to debates on religions to criticism of a certain purple dinosaur.

Newsgroups raise a lot of eyebrows around the world, primarily because many of them are unmoderated; in other words, there's no one around to make sure things don't get out of hand. And while freedom of speech is guaranteed by our own Constitution, the same freedom isn't available to all countries. And governments around the world -- including our own -- are grappling with this issue.

USING USENET. If you want to try scanning newsgroups sometime, you'll need to be sure you've got the software to do it. Check the software you receive from your Internet provider; if you have Internet access, try a Web site called Shareware.com. You should be able to find a newsgroup reader for most computer platforms there.

To read newsgroups on the PC, I use WinVn, but there are a number of others that will work as well. For the Mac, newsgroup readers include NewsWatcher, InterNews and others.

My advice to newcomers to newsgroups? Read, read, read. Read a newsgroup's list of Frequently Asked Questions (also know as FAQ). And always read the posts for a time before contributing to get a feel for the discussion.

Proper "netiquette" asks that you respect the opinions of others posting in the newsgroup. And if you have a response to a newsgroup posting and don't want the entire world to read it, use e-mail instead. Breaking these rules, and others, such as typing everything in capital letters, may get you "flamed," or subject to postings or e-mail critical of your break with netiquette. Resist the temptation to get in a war of words Ï a "flame war" Ï with critics. It wastes everyone's time and precious bandwidth.

FEELING BETTER, THANKS. Fort Knox Schools have been recently dealing with computer viruses that were creating havoc on their new computers as received from the manufacturer.

It's unfortunate but viruses have become a fact of life in on-line computing. Virus-detection software is available, and from personal experience, I'll have to say it works quite well.

The first sign of trouble on my PC was when my hard drive, and floppy disks had extra "garbage" files show up in the directories. Eventually, the virus my computer picked up worked to destroy the boot sector on my hard drive.

By the time I discovered the virus -- and was ready to disinfect my hard drive with the appropriate software -- my hard drive crashed. The drive was still good, but all those precious megabytes of information were now cyberhistory.

The lesson? Check your system regularly for virus, especially if you access the Internet or computer bulletin board systems (BBSs). Shareware virus-detection software is available over the Internet, or check with your favorite computer retailer.

Comments and questions about this column may be sent to jbrooks@myoldkentuckyhome.com, or visit www.myoldkentuckyhome.com on the World Wide Web.

| HOME |