Everyone’s heard of the internet these days, but did you know that Usenet is a decade older and is, curiously, the place where the English scientist Tim Berners-Lee announced the launch of the World Wide Web back in 1991? The original Usenet was created in 1980, though the first experiments were already taking place one year before. Its objective was to be a means of connecting the computer science departments of two universities close to one another – Duke University and University of North Carolina – at a time where contact between students was limited to expensive phone calls or postal letters.
Tom Truscott and Jim Ellis, who at the time were two students in Duke University, established the first communication link between the two universities with the help of Stephen Daniel. Daniel wrote the first news compilation software – called A News – and developed the dotted newsgroup naming structure that we know of today. Dennis Rockwell also took part in the project, developing the first communication network – called UUCP (Unix to Unix Copy Program).
How Usenet Helped Create the Internet
Still in 1980, Usenet was connected to ARPANET through the University of California in Berkeley. ARPANET stands for Advanced Research Projects Agency Network and was a packet switching network, the first to implement the TCP/IP protocol suite that would later become the technical foundation of the internet. Not even a year later, the number of people using Usenet increased immensely and counted more than 50 member sites, including Reed College, University of Oklahoma and Bell Labs for instance. Therefore the number of newsgroups started to increase and to distinguish from one another in their nature, with the majority being devoted to different computer-related topics, but with space for recreation purposes too.
But Duke University’s A News software was only designed for one or two articles a day, which simply wasn’t enough at the fast pace that Usenet’s popularity was increasing. An improvement was necessary and the B News software was created at Berkeley in late 1983, and was already able to handle about 50 articles a day. C News came in 1987 from the University of Toronto and although it featured the same article capacity, it offered much faster processing.
The Internet vs Usenet
But given the spread of local area networks and the internet itself, it became necessary to update from the direct point-to-point telephone links between news servers so that anyone could have software on personal computers that allowed accessing Usenet content while connected to local networks. NNTP was born, and newsreaders were built precisely for the exchange of newsgroup articles.
Over 30 years later the Usenet is now a well-organized structure separate from the internet, with dozens of providers making business from it by offering paying customers hundreds of thousands of newsgroups for many different kinds of content. These can be accessed from newsreaders using the NNTP protocol or even via web browser’s HTTP connection. There are millions of text and binary files nowadays, but it also needs to be handled carefully due to the existence of some less advisable content and even copyrighted material.
This means that, sadly, the Usenet has become a refuge for torrent fans. To answer this problem, many providers already include their own built-in VPNs and encrypted connection ports. The future is uncertain for Usenet but given its low popularity when compared to the internet, all the material it deals with nowadays and the increased popularity of VPN tools, it is possible that Usenet may become an extra service offered by large VPN companies instead of the other way around.
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