The function of Usenet, historically and in the present-day, is to provide a network where any user can freely post information which is then rapidly distributed, allowing any other user to access such information as easily as possible. Usenet has greatly influenced many facets of the Internet today, especially forum software and other communication-focused technologies.
Usenet is one of the oldest computer networks, having been conceived in 1979 and implemented over a decade before the World Wide Web. Usenet is a distributed network, which means that it is not controlled by any single source. Usenet servers from different hosts feed to and pull from one another in order to distribute the information they store, enabling users from anywhere to access the same information as any other user. This distribution also means that Usenet is largely uncensored.
For quite some time, Usenet was primarily accessed by university faculty and students and only the most technically-minded home users, much like the Internet itself. At that time, Usenet was a means of transferring files and mail, as well as providing forums to discuss any number of topics with other users. These ‘forums’ are the newsgroups themselves. Today, “Usenet” and “newsgroups” are terms that many people use interchangeably, but the distinction between them should be explained. Put simply, newsgroups are storehouses of information, while Usenet is the network that hosts these groups.
Similar to message boards on the Web today, newsgroup users adopt pseudonyms and post messages (known as articles) that any other user can read. There are thousands of newsgroups covering almost any conceivable topic. Although Usenet newsgroups are uncensored by many hosts, some newsgroups can have individuals that act as moderators and administrators, who ensure that all posts remain relevant to the newsgroup topic and remove inflammatory content.
As the Internet has evolved, various innovations have challenged Usenet as a communication tool, but its popularity has grown consistently. Although Usenet is one of the oldest networks, the ideal that users around the world deserve uncensored, peer-moderated communication is one that will keep the Usenet network alive long into the future.