The Usenet is a decentralized network for file sharing and it can be compared to the internet almost entirely, despite being a decade older. Where you require a web browser to access the internet – with software like Firefox, Chrome and others – the same is true for the Usenet. Many email clients work as Usenet browsers since they allow the distribution of files via the News Network Transfer Protocol (NNTP), the main protocol utilized by the Usenet as opposed to HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) that is used for the normal internet. Nonetheless, there are also specific Usenet providers who offer different browsers, called newsreaders.
However, the main difference is that you need to pay a Usenet provider in order to access this world, unlike the internet, which can be accessed for free or by paying an ISP (Internet Service Provider).
The Usenet is divided into hierarchies and the so-called Big 8 are the main ones (“comp.”, “humanities.”, “misc.”, “news.”, “rec.”, “sci.”, “soc.”, and “talk.”). Inside those there are newsgroups, discussion groups where users post text and binary files for other users to download, reply to and share. The organization of the Usenet works almost like a tree in which you follow the branches from the more general top-level of the hierarchy through to newsgroups and so on until you finally reach the articles. For instance: to find articles related to Wagner, you’ll need to follow the humanities.music.composers.wagner path.
Many files can be downloaded for free and with no legal implications. However, note that some newsgroups can have copyright material such as music, movies and more, of which distribution is illegal, particularly in alt.binaries, so tread carefully.
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We provide answers to any of your Usenet related questions in our series of frequently asked questions: