For most people, Usenet is an entirely foreign word. Even those who consider themselves well-versed in Internet history might not know what Usenet is. It’s understandable, as many of the original Usenet users were on the ground floor of the Internet that we know today.
Usenet is one of the ancient relics of the Internet, but it’s far more than a piece of Internet lore. Even if you’re one of the people who used Usenet back in the day, you may find it surprising to know that the newsgroups are still bubbling with activity.
Ahead, we’ll give you a rundown of everything you need to know about Usenet, as well as the reason it’s still a preferred destination for so many Internet users.
How Did Usenet Start?
The history of Usenet is a bit convoluted, as it started long before many of the aspects of the Internet you know today. It was created years before the World Wide Web, and many credits it with developing the culture of sharing and message boards before message boards were ever invented.
On Usenet, threads were called newsgroups, and they were the first of their kind. This was the time that Internet users caught their first glimpse of what the future could hold. Before Usenet, the Internet wasn’t exactly the melting pot that it is today. Back when it was first conceived, it was breaking ground in the ability to connect multiple computers and create a shared experience.
Jim Ellis and Tom Truscott first thought of this concept in the late 1970’s while playing computer chess on Unix-based connected computers. Eventually, they were able to develop software that enables users to connect to servers and share a variety of information. Unlike the message boards of today, these newsgroups were decentralized with multiple servers sending and receiving information from the other servers in the network.
Although Usenet became popular with a niche group of Internet users, the core purpose of the various newsgroups were eventually replaced by message boards on various topics. As the World Wide Web came to the forefront of the Internet, more users were moving away from Usenet and towards Internet communities that fit their interest.
Usenet kept its core users, though, who liked the idea of an unregulated space that made it impossible to censor any ideas. More than that, the ability to share files is what continues to make Usenet a force in the marketplace.
Use of Usenet Today
There isn’t much market need for forums on the Internet anymore. Reddit dominates most of the newsgroup topics of old, and everywhere you turn there’s a different message board covering a range of topics. One set of newsgroups, alt binaries, continues to be among the most popular newsgroups on the platform. That’s because it’s where most users share their files.
Usenet’s file sharing capabilities were far ahead of their time. The ability to share binary files is what led to an exponential growth in the platform’s popularity. Some general multimedia newsgroups like alt.binaries.boneless are massive and contain billions of posts and many terabytes of content.
Eventually, things like torrents popped up and became more mainstream. Usenet continues to be a powerhouse when it comes to sharing files, and in many ways, it’s far better than what you’ll find on BitTorrent or uTorrent.
Why is Usenet Better than Torrenting?
Usenet is far superior when compared to torrenting. Torrenting isn’t illegal in itself, which is why the government doesn’t just shut down all of the torrenting platforms. It’s the content you’re downloading that’s likely illegal.
If you want to download some software or a tv show, your ISP (Internet service provider) can see that information, and you run the risk of having your Internet connection turned off. Usenet eliminates this risk in several ways.
First of all, there’s no peer-to-peer connection on Usenet like there is on torrenting platforms. Most Usenet services offer encryption that will protect everything you download, and there’s no risk of having your download history reach the eyes of your ISP. There’s no exposure to connecting to random other people, so you can freely download files you might not want to try when using torrents as a source.
If you’re always looking for the next software or content to hit the torrenting platform, why not get it directly from the source? Many of the files you see as torrents start as Usenet binaries. Users constantly flood the servers with new files, and there’s no risk of having it taken down after a few hours. Since Usenet is unregulated, there’s no one to go in and take anything away.
The most compelling reason to use Usenet over torrents is the speed. There’s no contest when it comes to downloading speed. On Usenet newsgroups, there’s no uploading or seeding needed. Once you start the download, you’ll be stunned at how fast it goes. After trying your first Usenet download, there’s little chance you’ll ever go back to torrents.
The Downside of Usenet
Everything in life has a downside, and Usenet is no different. In many ways, it’s much safer to download files from Usenet than it is to download files from a torrent platform. At the same time, you’re exposing yourself to about the same level of risk when it comes to viruses and spam.
Words like “spam” and “trolls” originated on Usenet. An unregulated platform is fantastic when it comes to free expression and sharing files, but it also means you have to be careful what you’re downloading. Just because your download history is clean doesn’t mean the files will be completely safe. You should use the same level of judgment with Usenet as you would with torrents.
There’s a fair amount of “adult only” activity on Usenet as well, in fact there is a whole subset of alt.binaries.erotica newsgroups just for that, so be careful with who you’re sharing it with. A few wrong clicks can land you on one of the less savory newsgroups, and they aren’t something you’d want to show your inlaws. Again, this is similar with many aspects of the Internet, but it’s still worth noting here.
“If Usenet is so great, why isn’t everyone using it?”
This is a fair question, and the answer is simple. It can be a bit complicated to figure out for new users. Several online resources can help you navigate Usenet, but if you’re not tech savvy much of the terminology won’t help much. You’ll eventually need to get your hands dirty and try it out.
One of the most annoying elements of Usenet is the file size. They don’t support massive files, so if you want to download movies or software, it will be broken into multiple files. Multimedia can appear as 10,000 different parts, and even something as simple as a picture can be 4 parts for anything high quality. Fortunately, all the software that you would be using for access takes care of all of this behind the scenes, and you will only see one listing for what you want. The software will combine everything for you.
Torrenting can be a bit easier here, but some of the torrented files have the same problem. If you’ve ever experienced a torrent broken into multiple RAR files, whoever shared it probably downloaded it off of Usenet newsgroups in the first place.
Finding a Usenet Provider
Unfortunately, you can’t just log onto Usenet and start downloading. ISPs don’t usually offer access themselves, and when they do, they’ll limit your downloads and throttle your connection. To access the unfiltered newsgroups, you need to sign up with one of the many providers available online.
Most of the top companies offer similar services to their customers. There are smaller packages with download caps, then the more expensive subscription that gives you unlimited access. These will usually cost you around $5/month for the cheapest option, and up to $15/month for unlimited download speed and data. One of the most affordable providers has their unlimited plan at $12.95/month and includes software and web-based access.
All of these services should offer SSL encryption that allows you to remain anonymous. Apart from the small price difference, one of the only differences in these services is retention. Since users share so many binary and text files every day, the data becomes stressful for the Usenet server. After a while, they’ll need to delete old files to make room for new ones.
Retention refers to how long the provider will keep the files until they delete them. Look for services with retention lasting longer than a year. The better options will keep files for three years or more, but you may not find this as important as some of the other elements.
It’s a good idea to learn your downloading habits before signing up for one of these services. If 15 GB is enough in a month, there’s no need to spend $10 more for the unlimited option. If you frequently find yourself downloading massive torrents, the unlimited selection is probably the best bet. It’s all up to you, but try not to overspend if you don’t have to.
Torrent too Much? Try Usenet Instead
Usenet beats torrenting in almost every way. It’s much faster and allows you to download files without worrying about getting a letter from your ISP warning you that they’ll shut off your connection.
Although it is a bit tough to understand at first, it offers unprecedented opportunity when it comes to file sharing. If you’re worried about your torrenting habits, switch to Usenet for a safer, more secure way to get your hands on your desired content.