When you know how to an email program, you know 90 percent of what you need to know to use newsgroups. Reading a message, composing a new message, and replying are all very similar in an email program and a newsreader.
Where a newsreader differs is that it retrieves messages from and posts messages to Internet newsgroups, sometimes known as discussion groups or, collectively, as Usenet. The newsgroups and their messages are stored on a family of servers called news servers or NNTP servers .
Sending a message to a newsgroup is known as posting , because you're publishing the message in a public forum, just as if you had "posted" a paper note on a bulletin board.
Your ISP or online service has a news server that you are authorized to use for reading and contributing to newsgroups. Access to one news server is all you need; the messages sent to any news server on the Internet are automatically copied at regular intervalsto all news servers.
On any news server, you can open any newsgroup and read any current message posted to that newsgroup, no matter which news server the message was originally posted to. That's why a newsgroup on an ISP's server in New York has messages from folks in Canada, California, and the U.K.
Before you can open newsgroups and display their messages, you must configure your newsreader to contact your ISP's news server, and you must download the complete list of newsgroups from the server.
In general, all news servers carry the same newsgroups and current messagesbut not exactly.
First, a few ISPs or online services do not carry all newsgroups, omitting those they deem potentially offensive to their customers, such as sex-oriented groups. A few ISPs carry only newsgroups specifically requested by their subscribers, instead of all of the thousands of groups out there. And some ISP's servers carry special newsgroups of local interest that are not copied to other news servers.
Beyond those differences, note that it takes a day or so for a message posted to one server to be copied to all the others. At any given time, a new message might be on some servers, but not yet on others.
Finally, no news server keeps messages forever. After a set number of days, a newsgroup message is automatically deleted from the server. Each server has its own schedule for removing these old expired messages, so a message that's been deleted from one server might remain on others.
Configuring Your Newsreader
As with other types of Internet programs, there are many different newsreaders out there. In the Big Two Internet suites, the programs are the same ones you use for email: Netscape Messenger and Outlook Express. You just have to switch these programs from email mode to newsgroup mode.
There are a number of good newsreader programs available on the market. If you have the Microsoft Office suite, you could use Microsoft Outlook as a newsreader. Forte, Inc., offers two good newsreader products, a freeware program called Free Agent, and a commercial program called Agent. You can check them out at www.forteinc.com.
To switch either program to newsgroup mode, you simply click your news server's name near the bottom of the folder list (see Figure 7.1). Observe that choosing the server changes the toolbar buttons and menu choices from those used for email to those you need for newsgroups.
Figure 7.1. To use Outlook Express (shown here) or Netscape Messenger for newsgroup activities, click your news server's name in the folder list.
You can open Outlook Express directly in newsgroup mode from Internet Explorer by clicking the Mail button on IE's toolbar, and then choosing Read News from the menu that appears. You can open Netscape Messenger directly in newsgroup mode by choosing Communicator, Newsgroups from within any Communicator component (such as Navigator).
If you use an online service, such as America Online or CompuServe, you might not be able to choose your own newsreader; you might be required to use the online service interfacethe tool you use for accessing the service's non-Internet content. However, this will still allow you to access the newsgroups on the Internet just like another newsreader would.
All newsreaders have a configuration dialog box in which you enter the information required for communicating with your ISP's news server. That dialog box always requires the address of your ISP's news server. If your newsreader is not part of a suite (and thus cannot copy configuration information from the email component), the configuration dialog box also requires your email address and full name.
You'll find the configuration dialog box
For Netscape Messenger by choosing Edit, Preferences to open the Preferences dialog box. In the list of Categories, choose Mail & Newsgroups. Complete the configuration settings in the Mail & Newsgroups category's Newsgroup Servers subcategory .
For Outlook Express by completing the News dialog boxes of the Connection Wizard (see Chapter 3, "Getting Connected to the Internet"). If you choose your news server folder in Outlook Express without having configured first, the Internet Connection Wizard opens automatically.
Instead of using the Internet Connection Wizard, you can configure newsgroup access in Outlook Express by choosing Tools, Accounts, and then clicking the Add button on the Internet Accounts dialog box.
Downloading the Newsgroups List
After your newsreader knows how to contact the server, you must download the complete list of newsgroups, which usually takes just a few minutes. If you open some newsreaders (including Netscape Messenger and Outlook Express) without first having downloaded the list, a prompt appears, asking whether you want to download the list.
If your newsreader does not prompt you, find a button or menu item for downloading the list by doing one of the following:
In Netscape Messenger, make sure you are in newsgroup mode by clicking the name of your news server or choosing Communicator, Newsgroups. Choose File, Subscribe and, on the dialog box that appears, click the Refresh List button.
In Outlook Express, click the name of your news server, and then click the Newsgroups button. On the dialog box that appears, click Reset List.
The list of newsgroups changes periodically, adding new groups and removing others. Netscape Messenger, Outlook Express, and some other newsreaders detect automatically when the list changes, and display a prompt asking whether you want to update your list.
If your newsreader does not detect changes in the list, it's smart to redownload the full list once a month or so, to keep current.
Finding and Subscribing to Newsgroups
Once the list has been downloaded to your computer, you can find and subscribe to any newsgroups you want. While exploring Web pages devoted to topics that interest you, you'll probably come across the names of related newsgroups. But newsgroups are easy to find, with or without a Web page's help.
Unlike mailing lists, you are not required to subscribe to a newsgroup in order to use it. All subscribing really does is add the group to an easy-access list in your newsreader, to make visiting it convenient .
Most people have a small list of groups they visit often, so subscribing makes sense. But in most newsreaders, you can pick a newsgroup out of the full list, or enter the group's name in a dialog box, to open the list without subscribing.
Newsgroups are perhaps the one Internet activity where names are a reliable indicator of content. Newsgroups are organized under a system of names and categories. The leftmost portion of the name shows the top-level category in which the group sits; each portion further to the right more narrowly determines the subject of the group.
For example, the top-level category rec contains recreational newsgroups, those dedicated to a recreational rather than professionaldiscussion of their topics. So the hypothetical newsgroup name
indicates that the discussion focuses on a recreational interest in women's basketball. There are thousands of rec groups, many rec.sports groups, several rec.sports.basketball groups, and just one rec.sports.basketball.womens newsgroup. See how it works?
Some of the other major top-level categories include the following:
alt Alternative newsgroups, those in which the most freewheeling conversations are accepted
biz Business newsgroups and ads
comp Computer-related newsgroups
k12 Education-related groups
sci Science-related groups
To choose, subscribe to, and open groups in Outlook Express:
Connect to the Internet, open Outlook Express, and click the news server's name in the left-hand column (see Figure 7.2).
Figure 7.2. Step 1: Click on the news server's name in the left-hand column of Outlook Express.
If you are using Netscape as your newsreader, the steps are very similar. To get started, open the Communicator menu and select Newsgroups.
Click the Newsgroups button to open the list of newsgroups available to you (see Figure 7.3).
Figure 7.3. Step 2: Click the Newsgroups button to open the list.
In the All tab, display the group's name in the Newsgroup box (see Figure 7.4). There are several ways to do this:
If you know the exact name of the group you want to subscribe to, type the name in the box.
Use the list to scroll to the group name, then click it. In the list, the groups are presented alphabetically .
Enter a search word or phrase in the box and click OK to search for newsgroups of a particular topic.
Figure 7.4. Step 3: Display the group's name in the Newsgroup box.
When the name of the group you want to subscribe to is highlighted, click the Subscribe button, and then click OK (see Figure 7.5). The newsgroup's name appears under your news server's name, and in the bigger list of newsgroups on your screen.
Figure 7.5. Step 4: The subscribed newsgroup appears in your list.
To open a newsgroup, click its name in the list (see Figure 7.6).
Figure 7.6. Step 5: Click the newsgroup name to open a list of messages.