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What are Usenet groups?

software developer working on computers in office
(Image credit: Getty Images)

What are Usenet groups?

What do Usenet groups do? 

Usenet Big-8 Management Board logo

The "Big 8" Usenet newsgroup hierarchies form the backbone of Usenet groups and their content (Image credit: Usenet Big-8 Management Board)

Usenet groups are effectively the heart of Usenet, as the service is made up of these discussion groups. Users need to use a Usenet newsgroup reader to view the content. Here's what's involved:  

  • Usenet groups don't provide news exactly: they're discussion forums of sorts, don't publish news, and are in no way controlled by mainstream media or other companies
  • Files can be shared: before torrenting and other download services, Usenet groups were particularly used for sharing files easily
  • Usenet groups can be tricky to access: you will need a Usenet newsgroup reader to access them rather than simply browsing online
  • Anonymity is crucial: many Usenet groups pride themselves on anonymity, as it's difficult to trace users due to the structure of the service

How departments can use Usenet groups 

Mac monitor displaying digital marketing slideshow

Marketing is just one area in which Usenet groups are a potential source of business and information (Image credit: Pexels)

IT

IT departments will mostly benefit from Usenet groups because they can access additional information from them. While Usenet might not have any direct business applications, it's ideal for garnering knowledge about an issue in a way that even the likes of Reddit can't offer as extensively. 

An alternative is to use Google Groups to dig through Usenet groups, but it's likely an experienced user will stick with a Usenet provider instead. Its stronger security measures mean that for sensitive discussions, IT departments may feel more comfortable accessing them.

Customer service

Customer service departments also benefit from the availability of information on Usenet. When solving key issues for a client, Usenet typically provides more advanced knowledge than many other services. They can search for previous content from over the years for certain issues, while also receiving extensive email updates for any relevant conversations. 

With no need for personal registration, it can be much faster to access than many other forms of social media. Effectively, it's another information resource for a customer service worker. 

Finance

Finance departments will appreciate the relatively low cost of accessing Usenet groups. While users will need to sign up for an Usenet provider and potentially an additional newsgroup reader, most services are available for a relatively low price. While finance teams won't directly benefit from the service, it keeps costs down while keeping information and communication potential high for the business. 

Some finance departments may also benefit from being able to anonymously converse with other users within the financial field. While that's a side benefit, it could still be useful for developing certain business strategies. 

Marketing

While Usenet groups aren't as vital for companies as they once were, now that social media is so mainstream, they still have benefits. If a marketing department tracks down the right newsgroups for their needs, they can potentially establish a good connection with future clients and customers. In particular, if the company is within a niche or technical field, garnering attention via Usenet groups can be far more productive than using conventional social media services like Facebook or Twitter. 

As with any social media-based marketing method, it's important to do more than just post adverts. Becoming a contributor on a Usenet group helps a lot, rather than simply ducking in to advertise wares. By staying active within a targeted newsgroup, you could potentially create sales or attention from a previously untapped resource, all by getting your business name out there. 

HR

An HR department that is seeking out new employees can use Usenet groups to attract new staff. As with marketing, if your industry is fairly niche in nature, it can be a smart move to target related niche newsgroups with smaller user bases, and potentially recruit from there.

While the recruitment net may be smaller due to how tucked-away newsgroups are to mainstream users, the quality of the candidate could be much higher thanks to dealing with experts within your field. It's important to concentrate on what's needed most, while making sure to not be solely advertising a job. Regular contributors are generally better regarded. 

Features and benefits of Usenet groups 

They're fairly inexpensive
To effectively use Usenet groups, you need to sign up to one of the best Usenet providers, as well as choose a Usenet newsgroup reader. However, both are relatively inexpensive for what you get in exchange. As the other benefits list, Usenet groups are immensely useful for certain fields in particular. By investing in a service, you get far more substantial assistance than merely sticking with mainstream social media like Twitter or Facebook. 

Ideal for niche interests
Usenet groups are often ideal for providing information about niche interests. Whether your business is in a niche field, or you're keen to attract customers from a particular area, Usenet groups extend your horizons. In particular, when it comes to technical industries, Usenet groups are often far more useful than regular social media, due to one particular thing: security. 

They're anonymous and secure
Usenet groups are far more secure than the likes of Twitter or Facebook. In conjunction, users are able to be pretty much entirely anonymous, thanks to no personal information being required to join. That's ideal for users who want to be anonymous online, such as when discussing sensitive topics within a work field, or simply because they prefer to have their work and personal life separate. With far tighter encryption methods than other social media, Usenet groups ensure you're completely protected. 

Fast service
Usenet servers are typically fast and reliable, certainly if you choose a Usenet provider that is well known for speed and efficiency. Faster than torrents for downloads, fast speeds mean saving your company time, which in turn often saves money. On the most basic level, no employee wants to deal with a service that's slow, so once they've learned how to use Usenet groups, they'll appreciate the superior speeds and service compared to other products. 

Huge wealth of information 
Usenet has been around for a very long time, which means it's a fantastic resource of information. While it might not be a place for publishing news, it's a great resource for reading up on tech support for ageing products, learning more about pretty much everything imaginable, or simply getting insight from somewhere less mainstream. Ultimately, knowledge is power, and Usenet offers a near unlimited amount. While it's wise to cross-check and confirm that information there is accurate, it's still a good resource for starting out and learning more about many subjects. 

How much do Usenet groups cost? 

Usenet groups by themselves don't cost anything. It's possible to use Google Groups for a free solution; however, the best service comes from signing up to a Usenet provider. Different Usenet providers cost different amounts. 

As with other services like VPNs, it's often cheaper to commit for a longer period of time, but all told it should only cost at most $10 a month. Prices differ depending on the features. It's useful to have a long retention time for files, for instance. Also, for businesses, look out for a Usenet provider that allows multiple connections at once via one account. That way, more than one employee can use the service at any one time.

Alongside that, it's useful to get a Usenet newsgroup reader. Some providers offer one built-in, but a dedicated solution is often better, making it easier to search groups and find files. Many Usenet readers also require a subscription, with the cost often being anything between a few dollars a month to $10 to $12, depending on the length of the subscription and the services you need. 


Usenet groups FAQ 

Do Usenet groups still exist?

Usenet groups have been around for as long as the internet. Effectively the first online social network, they remain very active, even despite the rise of mainstream social media. While the users are often fairly different from the ones you'll find on more mainstream services, that's the platform's strength, offering a more private and secure means in which to meet. Newsgroups are often typically used by more tech-savvy people too, due to the higher learning curve for accessing them.  

What is Usenet used for?

Like with other online meeting places, Usenet can be used for pretty much anything. At its simplest, it can be a place for private and more secure discussions. Users can discuss anything they want while knowing they remain anonymous. It can be good for venting about work practices, or simply talking about new products or innovations. It's also a good place to share files in a way that is often much faster than torrenting or other file sharing methods.  

Is Usenet illegal? 

No. Usenet is entirely legal to use. Confusion about the legality of Usenet is mostly because, theoretically, it can be used for illegal activities. Because of its anonymous and more secure nature, as well as its fast file sharing methods, it has attracted internet pirates within certain groups. However, Usenet is no more illegal to use than the internet. It's solely down to how users interact with it.  

How do I get Usenet for free? 

There are some free Usenet repositories that can be accessed. These include Google Groups, but none of the services tend to be as varied as signing up for a dedicated Usenet provider. It can be a good way of starting out and dipping one's toe in the Usenet water, but it's generally a better idea to invest in a service that gives you more bandwidth and easier search facilities.  

Do you need a VPN when using Usenet? 

A VPN is always a good idea to use when browsing anything online. Some Usenet providers include a built-in VPN when using Usenet. In these cases, there's no need to purchase a separate one. However, for the most security-conscious user, it makes sense to always be using a VPN when using Usenet. 

Your IP address is usually logged when downloading an NZB file from newsgroups, and while that might not be easy to link to you, the most concerned user may prefer to be using a different IP address via a VPN. It won't do any harm, basically, to have the extra protection of a VPN.

Main takeaways 

  • Usenet groups offer more niche content: they're a great form of social media for less mainstream interests, meaning businesses related to that niche field could find more clients
  • They are interesting: if mainstream social media feels dull or uninspired, Usenet groups can offer more interesting content and insight into your field
  • They're fast: Usenet groups offer faster downloads than other file sharing services or torrenting, making them great for large file transfers within a group
  • They're secure: Usenet groups are far more private and secure than other parts of the internet, meaning you can be anonymous while you use them
  • They're an untapped resource: Usenet groups aren't quite as popular as they once were, making them an ideal untapped resource for marketing purposes, or simply learning more about your field

Further reading on Usenet

Fully understanding what Usenet is proves the best starting point on your journey. It's also wise to understand how to download from Usenet, if that's what you want access for, or how to access Usenet for free if you've not got a budget.

From there, learning about different services like Newshosting, Easynews and Eweka are great ways to get the most from your Usenet experience. Other providers like UsenetServer and TweakNews are worth reading up on too.  

Jennifer is a roving tech freelancer with over 10 years experience. Her main areas of interest are all things B2B, smart technology, wearables, speakers, headphones, and anything gaming related. Her bylines include T3, FitandWell, Top Ten Reviews, Eurogamer, NME and many more. In her spare time, she enjoys the cinema, walking, and attempting to train her pet guinea pigs. She is yet to succeed.