Before We Get Started:
Newsgroups are the wild west of the internet. Many people find the content of some web sites absolutely disgusting. Virtually everything you find on web sites is legal. Since the web site has to be linked to the person who pays for it to exist, there is some level of accountability. This isn't so in newsgroups. While newsgroups can offer a whole new world, there are things posted in some newsgroups that should not be on any computer, that should not be posted anywhere and should have NEVER been produced (and I'm someone who doesn't flinch at seeing things that would send most people running). If you decide to visit newsgroups, stick to the ones with relatively benign names. Even then, be careful of what you download. If you have children with access to the computers in your home, watch them very carefully if/when they access newsgroups. If I haven't scared you off with that... Read on.
Most people have never been to a newsgroup. Almost no one I know knows what they are and even fewer can actually get there (that's why I'm including this subject in this tutorial). Newsgroups are essentially discussion groups. They are similar to forums. Unlike web sites, identical content is stored on multiple servers in cities/countries all around the world. There are newsgroups (also known as interest groups) for virtually every activity/subject. Some newsgroups are simply for text and posting anything other than text (i.e. pictures, videos...) is strictly forbidden. Some newsgroups have moderators. Moderators make sure that people stay on topic and may be able to remove undesirable posts. Others are unmoderated. Of the unmoderated groups, almost anything goes. If you post something that shouldn't be posted in an unmoderated group, other posters will let you know that you done something wrong but there is little that they can do about it.
Accessing Newsgroups through Google:
Before Google, there was DejaNews. It archived newsgroup articles. At some point, Google purchased Deja and now likely has the largest archive of newsgroup articles in existence. If you want to search the mainstream text newsgroups, do a Google search in the 'groups' section of their search page. That will get you many of the archived files and most of the new posts (probably anything posted in the last 12-24 hours (a guess). You can also post new messages through Google. I'll cover more uses for Google later on this page.
Accessing Newsgroups Directly:
If we want to access newsgroups directly, the first thing we need to do is to set up a program that will allow us to view the newsgroups. We can use the same program as we did for email, Outlook Express. The following image shows the first step. In Outlook Express, go to TOOLS >> ACCOUNTS and click ADD.
In the flyout menu, select NEWS.
Below, you will enter the name you want displayed in the 'from' column/field of the messages you post.
Next, you will enter the email name that you want displayed. Keep in mind that spambots will be searching the newsgroups for email addresses so you may want to disquise it. For example, if your email name is firstname.lastname@example.org, you may want to enter the email address as email@example.com. In the email message, you would include instructions for those who want to respond to remove 'yourhat' so that the email will work properly. In the message a single line such as 'Remove yourhat to respond' would let everyone know what to do.
Here, you enter your mail server. Your ISP's tech support or web site will have this information. You can see mine. For Cox users, it's something like mail.east.cox.net.
If you check the box above that indicates that your provider requires that you log in, you will see the next dialog box. If left unchecked, you will not see the following box. Typically, those using their ISP's news service won't be required to log in. If you have a special account with an outside provider, you will need to log in.
Aaahhhh... We're done with that.
When you click 'finish', you will see that there is now one newsgroup account. You would click CLOSE to exit the dialog box.
This is asking you if you want to download a list of the newsgroups available from your news server. Unless you know precisely the group to which you want to subscribe, click YES.
This gives a running count of the number of groups downloaded. This number will be several thousand, at least.
This dialog box allows you to select from a list of groups. So that you don't have to scroll through all of the groups, you can enter part of the group name and Outlook Express will narrow the groups. Here, I entered 'sci.elec'. You can see that there are about 10 matching groups. I selected sci.electronics.repair.
If you need to subscribe to a different group later, you go to TOOLS >> NEWSGROUPS and you will again see the following dialog box.
Ok, I know that you thinking that there are thousands of groups and there's no way to find those relevant to your interests. No fear, Google is here. Google has several different search types (web, images, newsgroups...). Use Google to search for things of interest but use 'groups' instead of 'web'.
In a search for 'dogs', this is what was returned. As you can see, there are all sorts of 'dog' groups. You would read messages from several of the groups. If you find one that is really interesting, you could go back to Outlook Express and subscribe to it.
Let's say that you wanted to subscribe to the rec.pets.dogs.behavior group. You would go to TOOLS >> NEWSGROUPS and enter the group in the 'Display groups which contain' field in the Newsgroup Subscriptions dialog box. Since you entered the entire group name, only one is shown in the list. click it to highlight it and click SUBSCRIBE.
When you click 'subscribe', you will see that there is a new icon next to the newsgroup. This icon will appear next to every newsgroup to which you're subscribed.
If I remove part of the name in the 'Display groups which contain' field, you can see that more groups meet the criteria of the search and more groups are displayed in the list. Notice that the only group with the icon is the one to which youre subscribed.
When you get back to the Outlook Express window, you will see the groups to which you've subscribed. Click on the desired newsgroup to view the messages. If you have Outlook Express set to synchronize messages every time you open it, the newsgroup messages will include the most recently posted.
If you decide to post to a newsgroup, keep in mind that your message may be there for everyone to read for years (Google archives messages). If you write something nasty, it will be there for all to see for a very long time.
Outlook Express is only one of many newsgroup readers. For text newsgroups, it's fine. For binaries newsgroups, others are better. Grabit is good for binaries groups. Agent is a good alll-around reader.
Newsgroup severs like GigaNews retain files for a limited period of time. For example, for binaries groups, files are retained for only 50 days. For text groups, files are retained for 420 days.
Some newsservers limit the download speed. This is especially true after you've gone beyond some specified download volume.
Most ISPs that offer newsgroup service have a limit on the bandwidth (quantity of data) you can download. For my ISP, it's 10 gigabytes/month. I think Cox limits it to 1G/M. If you need more bandwidth, you can go directly to a true newsgroup server/provider. One such server is GigaNews. It's one of the largest. There are several packages avaliable to fit the needs of virtually any user.
This tells you the percentage of complete files on a server. For Giganews, the completion rate is very high. Not all servers have high completion rates. If you're looking for a new newsserver, get one with high completion rates.
Most newsservers limit the number of connections to their servers. A 'connection' is essentially a link to a file on the server. If the provider limits you to 4 connections, you can have 4 files downloading at the same time. If you try to use more than the alloted number of connections, you will get an error message.
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