Usenet for Beginners (from Newsgroups, to Newsreaders to NZB Search all Explained)
Usenet is not well-known, but once you get the hang of it, it is an easy and abundant source of information and especially downloads, including audio, documents, images and videos of all kinds.
Overview: Usenet at a Glance
The face of Usenet has changed a lot over the years. Usenet has been around for ages, since about 1980, but the way it's used has evolved with the times. You can use Usenet as originally envisaged – as a collection of plain text discussion groups. You can access Usenet as a way to share files such as images, audio and videos, as has been the case for years. With some new tools, Usenet can even operate a lot like torrents and be a full-fledged substitute for torrent file-sharing but with a number of privacy advantages.
To a complete newcomer, Usenet can seem rather complicated. Usenet was one of the first Internet-based bulletin board discussion systems, but it is still much in use, despite the rise of social media and torrent file-sharing.
Top Tip – If you are totally fresh to Usenet, scroll down to the heading below ‘Usenet: From the Beginning' or you might start to get confused.
Introduction to Usenet Downloading
Wanting to access Usenet for its treasure trove of media files – whether audio, images or videos – means signing up for premium Usenet provider. Usenet providers will carry the most popular newsgroups that contain media files or as they are known in Usenet-speak the “binaries” newsgroups.
Furthermore, you will need an app called a newsreader to find the newsgroups that interest you, subscribe to them and download the specific posts and files from them that you want. See our recommended newsreader apps (all free!).
Downloading from Usenet can very much be a manual process: you seek out files based on the names of the newsgroup(s) in which they can be found and on their description as set out in their file name and/or post subject line.
Some Usenet providers and/or newsreader apps have features to help you with all the manual aspects. For example, some Usenet providers, such as EasyNews, offer a web browser-based Usenet interface which makes scouring newsgroups a lot more similar to browsing the web. You visit newsgroups that interest you – either based on their name or recommendations you have read about – and the browser interface will generate thumbnails of the images and videos available.
This can help save you a lot of time compared to downloading a subset of files to check and decide whether or not to download more of the same.
Some newsreader apps have similar features built-in such as Newshosting‘s Usenet Browser app (watch video)
Introduction to Usenet NZB Search Indexes
Usenet Another big help are NZB indexes and search engines. A .NZB file is to Usenet what .torrent files are to P2P file-sharing. An NZB lets you find certain content (for example audio, image or videos) you're looking for without having to know or even care about all the details such as the newsgroup it is in or the subject line of the post(s) in which it is contained. You just find an NZB for the content you want, open it in your newsreader app and presto it downloads to your computer or device. If that sounds a lot like torrent file-sharing it is similar, but with some important differences.
How is Downloading from Usenet Different from Downloading Torrents?
Downloading torrents means joining a swarm, downloading the content “two way” from and to the swarm and thus sharing your IP address with others, not all of whom may be friendly. Some parties may be joining the swarm to monitor what you and other people are downloading.
With Usenet, you download the content “one way” only from your provider. No one else is involved or will even know what you were doing. Even your ISP will not be able to confirm you are downloading from Usenet if you are using a secure SSL connection to your Usenet provider. Your ISP will see that you are downloading lots of data but that could just as easily be because you are downloading files from your cloud storage or restoring backed up data from the cloud.
(Any quality Usenet service providers will have secure SSL connections which prevent snoopers from monitoring your Usenet activities.)
Usenet download speeds are also generally faster, often much faster than torrent file-sharing. That's because your entire connection can be utilized for the Usenet download.
Top Tip – For more details about the differences, read about the advantages and disadvantages of Usenet versus torrent file-sharing
Usenet: From the Beginning
You may not have heard of Usenet and your Internet access package probably does not come with any Usenet access or even any mention of it. In some circles, Usenet is thought to be a bit archaic, but it isn’t. In fact, it’s as popular as ever and its popularity may even be increasing, particularly because of the privacy advantages it offers.
Practically speaking, gaining full, uncensored access to Usenet newsgroups means you will need to access open (public) services or subscribe to a premium (paid) service. But let’s first learn about the basics of Usenet.
About Usenet, its Newsgroups and its many Downloads
Usenet is a collection of newsgroups and can be understood as another standalone element of the Internet with its own protocol, as with the web, email or torrents. Usenet still represents somewhat of an untamed frontier as it has a completely decentralized structure. It is akin to a huge database that is continually on the move between the thousands of servers hosting its contents (a mass of newsgroup messages). If your ISP offers you Usenet access, your ISP either hosts the Usenet database on their own servers or, more likely these days, subcontracts the access through a specialized third-party Usenet provider.
Like other elements of the Internet, Usenet requires its own primary app (called a newsreader) and has its own terminology. Your newsreader app accesses a news server which contains newgroups which further contain messages (called newsposts, posts or articles).
Accessing Usenet is somewhat analogous to email except that each Usenet “inbox” and its messages are available to everyone for both reading (downloading) and sending (uploading or posting). There are many thousands of these Usenet “inboxes” (newsgroups) in total, one for every conceivable topic of interest. The email analogy also generally applies to how you go about reading and sending messages except that Usenet messages are received from and sent to a newsgroup’s address rather than to a specific user or email address.
In addition, you can send and receive messages to and from newsgroups that include attachments, called binaries in Usenet speak. Many newsgroups specialize in binaries, especially movies, videos, images, audio and other media items. Like Usenet as a whole, there is a binary group for almost any subject you can think of.
However, the number and type of newsgroups available to you can vary, especially the binary newsgroups. Many providers censor the number and type of newsgroups you can access.
Introduction to Usenet's Organization
Newsgroups are organized in a hierarchy. Similar to domain names for websites, the components of a newsgroup name are separated by dots (.). The first segment of the name is how newsgroups are categorized.
The traditional categories of the Usenet hierarchy (the normal, more news-like and non-binary newsgroups) are categorized as follows:
comp.* = computers rec.* = recreation humanities.* = humanities sci.* = science misc.* = miscellaneous soc.* = society news.* = news talk.* = talk
However, you may not be as interested in these categories as you are in the alt. hierarchy which stands for alternative. The alternative genre of Usenet is often where lots of interesting, different and off the beaten track things can be found. Many people are specifically interested in the alt.binaries.* newsgroups, the newsgroups that contain the most media items.
Even when an ISP provides Usenet access, they usually don’t offer all, most or even many of these binary newsgroups. Depending on your ISP, you may have access to none or hundreds of these binary newsgroups. Because some of these newsgroups can be controversial, including for copyright issues, many ISPs will carry only a subset of what is fully available, essentially censoring the rest.
For example, though some Usenet newsgroups are accessible via Google (see https://groups.google.com/) and other free online portals, they usually only cover the traditional categories mentioned above. If they include alt newsgroups, the access will usually be limited to ‘text only’ alt newsgroups and not any of those carrying binaries.
The best way to discover and explore Usenet is to jump in. The Usenet providers ranked #1 and #2 below both offer free trial accounts, so you can try Usenet risk-free and see if it's for you.