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Many years ago, when computers really started taking off, people realized that they could dedicate computers to put out info for all to enjoy. Thus, the birth of the bulletin board system (BBS). Many different BBS's were created at this time for many different platforms (Wildcat for PC's and Forem for Atari's to name a couple). People soon found that all they had to do was dial into an access number via their modem (most being the old 1200-4800 baud external modems) and log onto the BBS of their choice. During this time, people not only wished to communicate with other local users, but also users from all over the world. Hence, the birth of BBS mail forums (Express being an example). What basically would happen was users would post their messages to the appropriate group or person. At a certain time, the host BBS would dial into a hub computer elsewhere and upload it's message to be distributed to the appropriate locations. This is how users could talk with others from all over the world. It also tended to result in high phone bills for the host computer systems since they usually had to dial long distance to dump the messages to the hub computer.

Move forward several years when the web took over from where the BBS's left off. There are still BBS's out there, however, people now find it easier to to surf into a web site then to dial up a BBS where phone lines very well may be limited. Although e-mail and message boards still allowed the free flow of communication across the world, people still wanted to be able to talk in certain user groups (so to speak). Hence, the news groups were born. At present, there are probably in excess of 70,000 newsgroups online right now. Everything from cooking to UFO watching and some groups can be a real free-for-all warning people entering to not be suprised by the content they may encounter. Because everybody contributes to whatever newsgroups they are part of, a lot of information can be passed back and forth and it's possible to get information that otherwise may be very difficult to impossible to obtain otherwise.

This is a very simple history and is by no means a complete one. If you wish to learn more, the best thing to do is research about BBS's and the internet as it relates to news groups and message boards.

Now, the $64,000 question; how can you access these news groups. Here is a list of things you need to enter the wonderful (and sometimes insane world) of newsgroups.

1. The first thing you will need, of course, is an internet service provider (ISP). This is the gateway into the web so that you can get to those news groups.

2. You will need an e-mail account that supports the post office protocol (POP3). This means web based mails such as Hotmail, Juno, Excite, etc. won't work unless you have upgraded them to allow POP3 access. What this means, in essence, is that you can download mail through your favorite mail program (Eudora, Pegasus, Outlook, etc.) onto your computer.

3. Next, you will need a program that allows you to download, subscribe to, and read the various news groups available on the web (Microsoft Outlook/Express, Netscape, etc. have built in news group browsers. There are also other freeware news group readers which are totally dedicated to news group downloading and reading)

4. Last, you will need a news group server to tap into to obtain the different newsgroups and subscribe to them. There are hundred of servers out there. Some are free and some require you to either pay a fee or be part of an ISP to access it. Also, some servers have only a few hundred newsgroups while others can go up over 70,000. The best way to find a server is to either access the one the ISP has provided or search the web for one. Just search on News Servers, either through the web or through the USENET (another name for the newsgroups) itself.

Now, the resources (and tips) for accessing and posting to the news groups themselves.

The best thing, in my opinion, is to get a program dedicated just to accessing news groups. One of the best I've found is a freeware program called Forte Agent. You can download it from here: Free Agent 32 bit or Free Agent 16 bit. After you download it, just follow the instructions on how to use it.

If you do desire to post from your own e-mail account, here's a couple of tips to make your newsgrouping more enjoyable:

1. It may be a good idea to modify your e-mail return address so that people who like to mine e-mail addresses for purposes of spamming, junk mailing, etc. can't do it to you. For example, my e-mail address looks like so:

If somebody wishes to e-mail you, then they have to manually remove the "NOSPAM" from the return address.

2. Be sure of the news group you are getting involved with. Before you subscribe, read over the posts to get the basic jist of what's going on. If you are looking for cooking and decide to post questions about cooking in a computer group, you may get ignored or flamed for being dense at best. Also, you can do searches within USENET itself for what you are looking for (ROM's, recipes, etc.)

I hope this brief history and tips help make your journey through the realm of newsgroups exciting and you can get the info you need.

Happy NewsGrouping,

Kevin Butler

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