Discussion Groups and Usenet: What's the Difference?

Discussion Groups and Usenet: What's the Difference?

Listserves (email discussion groups) are an old-fashioned form of social media. Usenet is an old-fashioned form of social media. If you didn’t live in the age of the Usenet or if you were never very computer savvy, you might be confused on what the difference is between discussion groups and Usenet. We’re going to address that. But first, we need to look at what a Usenet is.

What is Usenet?

Usenet really is old. Older even than the World Wide Web itself. In fact, Usenet is where the WWW was first announced. Usenet was established in 1980 and was the brainchild of Tom Truscott and Jim Ellis as a way of sharing information.

A Usenet is a web of copied information. Someone posts information at one point of the web. A new copy of that information is then sent to another point of the web (another server) and so on and so on. People then use special newsgroup readers to post to and read discussion threads on their local Usenet server or the one they’re subscribed to. Originally Usenets were hosted by ISP providers, but because of the high storage & low use, the growth of other social media (including discussion groups), and concerns over child pornography, most ISPs have shut down their Usenets within the last couple decades. Nowadays Usenet is still around, but it’s mostly hosted by private servers.

Even on those private servers, Usenet has become less a way to communicate and more a way to pass around dubious and illegally copied files. Kind of like FileTorrent, but with less publicity.

What Separates Discussion Groups and Usenet?

On the other hand, email discussion groups  are run entirely through email. Discussions are replied to through email and forwarded through email. You don’t need a special client to access them. Usenets are more publicly accessible (if you pay for the use of a Usenet server or use a not well-run free one), but listserves are more like a club or an interest group. Importantly, mailing lists don’t have a tarnished reputation, because they’re email-based so they can’t be used to move around a lot of large files. You can start your own discussion group for free on Yahoo or Google or you can go with a more controllable private host. (Yes, like us.)

My take on discussion groups and Usenet? If you’re looking for reliable, solid, proven technology to host your community or if you’re looking for a plain, old-fashioned discussion, use a discussion group.

Did you use Usenet in the good old days? Which do you like better discussion groups or Usenet? Tell us in the comments below.

P.S. Wondering about the difference between listservs and Twitter? Or listservs and message boards?