If you are looking for an alternative to the Internet, with the same core functionality yet with added privacy, security and speed, look no further than Usenet. Developed during the same period, Usenet originally served as an unregulated, advertising-free and entirely safe means of exchange for all kinds of information. Discussion groups – also known as newsgroups – were created to provide the possibility for structured categorization and mutual collaboration among users. Over the years, Usenet has evolved greatly, and now offers a ton of potential for those curious enough to delve in. But what exactly is Usenet? As a seasoned expert in the field, I’ve made it my mission to shine some light on this, and all other questions you may have.
Join me as I show you what Usenet is, how it works, and how it can be useful for anyone wishing to upgrade their browsing experience!
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What actually is Usenet? The Internet that we take for granted today is an evolution of the Arpanet – a closed and heavily monitored information network developed by the American Department of Defense. In opposition, Tom Truscott, Jim Ellis and Steve Bellovin created an alternative in 1979: they connected two Unix-based computers and exchanged data via telephone lines. Their goal was to allow for uncensored data exchange and communication on an independent, decentralized platform. Even today, the common perception of Usenet remains that of an ‘online bulletin board’ of sorts. Through forums, users could exchange information and upload content freely. In order to give structure to this as the network grew, content categories were established, also known as newsgroups.
The first newsgroups covered eight different topics and were therefore called “Big-Eight”:
Naturally, the original Big-Eight were expanded upon as time passed, and many thousands of newsgroups have sprung up over the years. As a result, Usenet now contains over 350,000 terabytes of data, parts of which cannot be found on the conventional Internet. Originally, Usenet content was mainly text-based, but today many other forms of media are equally widespread. As of today, more than 220,000 different newsgroups are known to exist.
It is important to note that in order to access a newsgroup, you have to have a newsreader – this is specialized software for browsing and downloading Usenet content, just like the web browser you are using to access this page on the Internet.
If your curiosity has been piqued and you would like to try Usenet, you must first decide on a Usenet provider. Just as with the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) you are probably quite familiar with, Usenet providers tend to boast and make wild claims in their advertising – but far from every company is worth registering with. Therefore, let me try to illustrate in the following just which Usenet providers can be called industry leaders based on their trustworthiness and performance.
What sets these companies apart? For one, they run their own dedicated Usenet server farms. Not only is this a more trustworthy approach than outsourcing the servers you will be using to access the Usenet to foreign third parties, but it also allows for more advanced security and safety measures, such as server-side SSL encryption. A provider alone will let you establish a Usenet connection, but in order to really get started you must also choose a Usenet newsreader.
Akin to a web browser, a newsreader allows you to browse Usenet and access, download and save any content of your choosing. Newsreaders can be both paid or free of charge, though you should refrain from assuming that paying more is always better!
These days, few Usenet providers offer newsreader software developed in-house anymore, which means that more often than not, you will need to look for a third-party program separately.
Usually, Usenet providers give you a choice between buying a plan prepaid, or signing up for a subscription. Here, it is important to pay close attention. Because: Not every package also includes unlimited access to Usenet. Often, download speeds can be capped, or your monthly volume could be limited. In some cases, even technical specs such as data rates or server uptime can turn out to be sub-par compared to what was advertised. Hence, when choosing a provider, you should always pay close attention to the fine print, make sure that there is reliable customer service, and also check the claimed retention period, as this can make a big difference in the kind of content you will be able to access.
The Usenet is divided into online forums, so-called newsgroups. There are more than 220,000 different newsgroups, so that the “Big-Eight” had to be expanded early on to include new categories – as well as binaries. A binary consists of data other than text – such as images, videos, and music – which is encoded in the form of a special text file in order to be efficiently shared across Usenet. There are also NZB files, which work to link to the location of specific, previously-posted content. An important thing to note is that some content – especially NZB files – can show up in a highly fragmented state on Usenet, the result of being shared in partial form many times over, sometimes in different newsgroups altogether. Because of that, it can be a real advantage to browse using a newsreader that can automatically reassemble such large, fragmented files.
Due to the large number of newsgroups, there are now more than 350,000 terabytes of data to be discovered on Usenet.
One of the most popular newsgroups today is alt, an open discussion forum. Anyone can express their opinion on any topic of their choice here without fear of censorship, no matter where they are from. According to some estimates, around 5,000 of the roughly 200,000 newsgroups currently active are subgroups of alt.
The retention rate of a Usenet provider describes – usually in days for accuracy’s sake – the maximum amount of time since the publishing date of existing content at which it can still be accessed. This concept might be new to you coming from the Internet, but it is important to understand that not all Usenet content can be viewed through just any provider – depending on how long ago it was originally posted, you need to take a look at your retention rate.
As mentioned previously, you can’t go without a Usenet newsreader if you want to be able to access Usenet. If you’re lucky, this will already be integrated into your provider’s software, but most likely you will have to look for one on your own. In any case, the newsreader allows you to filter all Usenet content according to your personal preferences. For example, you could filter your Usenet search query by any combination of these terms in order to arrive at your desired result quickly and efficiently:
Generally speaking, the more filtering options a newsreader provides, the better. To be more precise, advanced filters allow you to adapt your search exactly to your needs, helping you find the right content with less of a fuss. Also important: If your newsreader features a preview mode, you can take a look at part of the file in advance, without necessitating a Usenet download to check if you got the correct search result. Otherwise, you could use up quite a lot of data through your daily searches, both clogging up your hard drive and potentially costing you more money through your provider’s data plan than it’s worth.
If you are planning to use a paid newsreader, you should make sure that multiple safe payment methods such as Paypal are available, in addition to attractive rates of course. Do note that newsreaders offering integrated VPNs and SSL encryption in particular offer increased protection and privacy when searching on Usenet. After all, even on Usenet, nobody is immune to viruses and malware.
One thing is certain: You can surf Usenet just as fast as your Internet provider allows. With the best Usenet providers, there are generally no restrictions or caps on your connection as long as you opt for a corresponding premium subscription. Dedicated servers placed around the globe ensure that top-ranking providers can also offer some of the highest download speeds – up to 1,000 Mbit/s are possible, as has been shown in real-life testing. If you really want to reap the full benefits of this performance, make sure your provider does not place a cap on your data volume, and read through the fine print to be sure that they won’t throttle your connection under any circumstances.
As mentioned before, NZB files are tightly packaged text files containing the core data of more complex multimedia content. Some NZB files also contain information about the target file, or how to download and/or install it. For example, if a file can only be found in fragmented form, the NZB file might contain a download list of the individual parts. Or, if a file was encoded as a safety measure, the corresponding NZB file might tell you how to decode it for use. If your choice fell on a newsreader with NZB import, you can search for NZB files individually on Usenet. All you have to do in order to launch a targeted NZB search is to use the prefix “.nzb” in your query.
On the other hand, if your newsreader of choice does not support importing NZBs directly, you can also use any of a wide variety of special search engines specifically for this file type. To name one example, NZBIndex offers numerous detailed filtering options to make searching for specific NZB files work as smoothly as possible.
In this FAQ section, I would like to take a closer look at some of the most common concerns regarding Usenet and its various features. I believe that the sooner and the more extensively you deal with all the gritty details, the better the final experience will go for you. Armed with the right know-how, it will also be much less daunting of a task for you to go out and shop for the right Usenet provider and newsreader client on your own – and to avoid unnecessary costs.
Usenet is by no means to be classified as illegal: This is a legal network as an alternative to the Internet that is not censored and does not carry advertising. Usenet providers can therefore be described as a kind of Internet provider. Important to know: Viruses can also hide in Usenet, which is why you should opt for protected access.
You don’t necessarily have to pay for a premium subscription in order to just try out Usenet and see what it is like. Most reputable providers offer trial accounts which allow you to access Usenet free of charge, usually for anywhere from 10 to 30 days. Generally, you are also provided with a certain data allowance of up to 30 GB depending on the provider, which should be more than sufficient for a thorough review. If you decide that Usenet, or the particular provider in question, is not for you, you should cancel your subscription before the end of the trial period. Otherwise, it can often happen that the provider ends up charging you automatically for a subscription you did not explicitly sign up for.
Bargain hunters will be able to find a Usenet subscription at one of the major providers for less than five euros. However, these tend to be highly restricted data plans, with speed limits, download caps, and more. A Usenet account with unlimited data usage and no speed bumps on your connection will generally run you between 10 and 20 euros a month.
In most cases, making a Usenet search by any means requires registering with a provider beforehand. The most common plans offered these days are subscriptions, for which, naturally, you do need to sign up with your name and payment details. And with few exceptions, free trial accounts at most providers also necessitate signing up and selecting a paid plan first.
You can browse anonymously on Usenet as long as you choose a provider with integrated VPN software. Newsreaders like Giganews have this built into their offerings at no additional cost. With a VPN, you can encrypt or change your IP address and location as you please, allowing you to view uncensored content and access the full range of content available on Usenet.
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