Usenet: The Original Internet of the 80s You’ve Probably Never Heard of


Last Updated on April 11, 2024 by Team Experts

The ’80s were a fun decade. This was 10 years full of new bands taking the stage, a new language of slang, new style, new music, and new Coke. Another aspect of the 1980s was that it spawned a technological advancement that changed the way everyone would communicate, work, and live for the generations that followed. The Internet was officially born in January of 1983. Though other methods of computer communication were present before the Internet, it wasn’t until 1983 that computers were given a standardized language of communication.  During the ’80s, however, the Internet wasn’t the worldwide entanglement of digital property that it is today. Many computer users didn’t use (or need) the Internet for any practical purposes. But, the majority of those who communicated with their computers did use what is known as Usenet for communication. 

So, what exactly is Usenet? 

Usenet History

Prior to Usenet, the United States Military Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) was the first network to implement the TCP/IP protocol function. This was developed in 1966 as a means to access remote computers. This system was not public, and was the forerunner to Usenet and the Internet, both developed a little over a decade later.

In 1979, two Duke University grad students, Tom Truscott and Jim Ellis, used two Unix to Unix proxy servers to send files to a colleague of theirs at the University of North Carolina. This became a public discussion board or bulletin board system (BBS) that was available for anyone to use, thus Usenet was born.

During the 1980s, the network was used largely by the academic community as a means to openly chat about subjects and send files back and forth. This resulted in the rise of the 80’s chatroom, a popular way to communicate for anyone with moderate to advanced computer skills.

 If you weren’t at the arcade during the ’80s, chances are you were in your basement drinking Jolt cola, chatting on Usenet for hours on end. Once Usenet was made available to a larger section of the public, the entire dynamic of its user base changed. But, despite all of the technological advances since 1979, Usenet is still running strong today.

How Does Usenet Work?

Operates independently from the Internet. The network itself is transported via the Internet using News Network Transfer Protocol (NNTP). Yes, Usenet is its own separate entity but you can use the Internet to access it. However, if you’re going to use efficiently, it’s best to access the network through a Usenet service provider. 

Operates through the use of online discussion boards all categorized into what are known as newsgroups. Each newsgroup contains a specific discussion, and the topics can range from mundane discussions about what tires are best for your car to heated debates on the politics of the day.

Once you log into Usenet and navigate to a newsgroup, you’re then able to chat and share audio and video files. Some newsgroups are moderated by an administrator or a panel of administrators, but some are unmoderated, allowing for every type of dialogue imaginable. There are also a few newsgroups that have been around for a while, and these are largely referred to as the Big 8:

  • Humanities
  • Computer Related Discussions 
  • Talk on Various Topics
  • Recreation and Entertainment
  • News 
  • Miscellaneous 
  • Science Related Discussions
  • Social Discussions 

Though there are literally hundreds of discussions taking place, anyone can be a part of the conversation and chat with other users as long as you have access to the network.

The Future of Usenet

The value is still relatively unknown to part of the Internet-using population but is growing in popularity. Though Usenet doesn’t have social media channels and isn’t saturated with imagery like the Internet we know today, Usenet is the original form of digital online communication and you can download content to open it offline. 

The applications of Usenet in the modern world are also beginning to be fully utilized as well. Many marketing companies are taking advantage of Usenet in order to better target customers and to get an idea of what the competition is up to. Students taking online courses are learning how to use Usenet with study groups.

At the end of the day, Usenet was here before the Internet and it’s here to stay. The applications are only limited to the imagination. And, in any place around the globe where you have a computer connection, can allow you to communicate with anyone. 

The future of Usenet might be yet unknown, but it is far from uncertain. If the test of time proves anything, Usenet will be around long after the Internet has been abandoned for the next advancement in computer technology.

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She has over 7 years of experience writing about technology, education, digital marketing, general and business. Her experience in the tech industry (fieldengineer, wowtechub, techsprohub, techinfobeez) has taught her how to write engaging, informative content that makes complex issues accessible to a wide audience. Follow her on Linkedin

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