If you’re on the internet in 2023, odds are you know about social media. You know about the networking giant LinkedIn, the social network Facebook, and image-based Instagram. If you’ve been on the internet for a while, you have likely even heard about the forum-based site Reddit. But did you know that these giants owe all of their success to the original social network? And that this social network is still around?
It’s time you discover Usenet.
What is Usenet?
Originally programmed in the 1980s by Tom Truscott and Jim Ellis, Usenet is a decentralized network of individual services that hosts “newsgroups,” or anonymous discussion groups. It was initially created in Unix to connect two universities, but it quickly outgrew this original purpose. Through the years, it has been updated with the latest security protocols and systems to continue running smoothly.
One of the major differences between Usenet and modern social media is that Usenet is completely separate from the Internet. It is an entirely separate network hosted on scattered services, with access gained by subscriptions through certified Usenet providers.
Once you have a Usenet provider, you will need a newsreader. Newsreaders are basically client programs that communicate with servers and allow you to access newsgroups and participate in discussions. Users browse and join discussions in complete anonymity, with powerful encryption protecting usage and data. Newsgroups are similar to bulletin boards or forums that prompt discussions on a myriad of topics, from news to the latest advances in science or computers.
How The Original Social Network Inspired Others
Usenet had a significant influence on the development of modern mainstream social media networks. Usenet’s concept of newsgroups dedicated to different topics foreshadowed online communities that centered on specific topics or interests, such as Reddit. The ability for users to generate content and have other users post messages in response laid the foundation for the threaded conversations commonly found on sites like Facebook and X (formerly Twitter) today.
The idea of distributing content across multiple servers and allowing users to upload their own content laid the groundwork for decentralized networks found in blockchain-based social media platforms, as well.
A Legacy That Hasn’t Ended
When people discuss Usenet, they often write in the past tense—- but Usenet is still around! Usenet has evolved as the Web has, though it remains separate from the Internet. Users can still generate content to spark discussions and speak freely about any topic.
You can access Usenet today, exploring files and browsing the Big 8 Newsgroups. The Big 8 are Usenet’s most popular discussion areas, covering computers, humanities, news, recreation and entertainment, science, social discussions, controversial topics like politics and religion, and miscellaneous like education and family life.
Advantages of Usenet
Privacy. One of the inherent advantages of using Usenet is its anonymity and data encryption. Unlike social media platforms like Facebook, where everything is tied to your identity, Usenet also allows users to participate under fake names in addition to encrypting their activity.
Unrestricted Content. Usenet is not moderated, instead encouraging free discussion of any number of topics. The network thrives on open, uncensored discussions and even has newsgroups dedicated to controversial topics.
Storage Capacity and Speed Potential. While ultimately determined by your provider and subscription tier, Usenet has immense potential for impressive download speeds. Servers also have large storage capacities; while user-generated content may be limited by tier, the user-generated files are stored indefinitely. Users can access decades-old conversations and resources, leading to a wealth of knowledge and historical context.
International Reach. Like the World Wide Web, Usenet is a global network connecting people from various countries and cultures. The diverse user base fosters unique perspectives and a global community that learns from each other with open discussions.
The Impact of the Usenet On the Modern Internet
Usenet has been home to tens of thousands of newsgroups and millions of users through the years. As it evolved through the years, it played a significant role in modern internet usage— and not just through social media and threaded conversations! Usenet is the original home for the concept of FAQs and emoticons, as well as some internet slang.
Usenet was and still is a launching point for discussions around innovative technology and significant announcements. While newsgroups originally focused on Unix innovation and collaboration, Linus Torvalds first introduced Linux in a newsgroup. Now, the topics have expanded to cover just about anything you could think of. If you’re interested in true freedom of speech and open discussion with a global network of peers, then sign up with a Usenet provider today.