Paul is a GIS professor at Vancouver Island U, has a PhD from U of British Columbia, and has taught stats and programming for 15 years.
Internet Communication Tools
There are many different forms of communications that rely on the Internet, including e-mail, instant messaging, blogs, newsgroups and discussion forums. This lesson will examine the use of newsgroups and discussion forums and ways to post and share information. Newsgroups and discussion forums differ from other forms of communication by allowing you to post to a large number of potential users and by archiving the postings over time.
A newsgroup is a repository of electronic messages posted by users and managed by the Usenet system. This is a worldwide Internet discussion system that is separate from the World Wide Web. Usenet was established in 1980, a little more than 10 years before the creation of the World Wide Web. Newsgroups on Usenet were one of the first opportunities for general computer users to share and post information on the emerging Internet.
Participants in a newsgroup read and post messages to one or more categories. Usenet was created in a time when the bandwidth of the Internet was very limited, and newsgroups were designed to be text only. More recently, users were able to attach images and other files to postings, but in general, newsgroups remain very heavily text-based.
Originally, newsgroups required special software known as newsreader software. This software somewhat resembles an e-mail system, but messages are not sent to a single individual. Messages are posted to newsgroups, which look like folders in newsreader software. When a user connects to a particular newsgroup, all the messages posted to this newsgroup are downloaded to the newsreader software.
The communication protocol used by newsgroups is called Network News Transfer Protocol, or NNTP. This is one of the many communication protocols used on the Internet, which also includes the more well-known HTTP protocol used by the World Wide Web. The name of a newsgroup is determined by those who create it. A name typically consists of two to three words that describe the topic, separated by a dot. Here are some examples of typical names:
There are thousands of different newsgroups. In newsreader software, each of the groups represents a folder with messages shown in the order that they were posted. At present, you can use an Internet browser to participate in newsgroups. For example, a service like Google Groups integrates a number of different types of online communications, including newsgroups. In addition, many e-mail software applications make it possible to participate in newsgroups in addition to using regular e-mail. However, dedicated newsreader software is often preferred since it provides more options to search and filter postings.
Newsgroups are different from similar communication methods that use the World Wide Web in a number of ways:
- No registration with a particular newsgroup is required
- Stored information is distributed on a collection of computers instead of a central server
- Archives are always available
- Newsreader software is commonly used to read and post messages
In recent years, the popularity of newsgroups has declined substantially as web-based discussion forums, blogs and mailing lists have become more popular. However, newsgroups remain very popular for a number of reasons. First, it is very easy to participate and contribute to newsgroups or even to create your own. Second, the information contained in newsgroups is not located on a central server or controlled by one particular organization or company - for some people, this makes it more of a bottoms-up approach to using the Internet.
An Internet discussion forum is a website where users can view and post electronic messages. In principle, this is very similar to a newsgroup since participants read and post messages to one or more categories. However, there are also some key differences. Discussion forums are built into websites. They use the regular HTTP communication protocol on the World Wide Web and are accessed using regular web browser software.
Most discussion forums require that you register before participating. Many discussion forums allow anonymous reading, but posting often requires that you register as a user. You typically don't need to provide your true identity when posting, but you do need to create an account and username to login.
Discussion forums often include some type of moderation. Many discussion forums are set up for an organization with a specific purpose. For example, a website providing information on a particular health condition may include a discussion forum where patients and family members can ask questions, share ideas and provide support to each other. The organization that created the website may set up some type of monitoring to ensure that posts follow the general policies of the website. Inappropriate posts may be removed, and users who disrespect the policies may be blocked from using the forum.
In addition to moderation, discussion forums are also more centrally organized. Typically, some organization or individual maintains a website that includes the discussion forum, and all the messages are located on a central server. Relative to newsgroups, which are spread out over many different computers, this gives the owner of the discussion forum much more control, including removing the entire discussion forum.
Similar to newsgroups, you can find discussion groups on just about any topic. Contrary to newsgroups, however, there is no single location where you can find all of the discussion groups. You would typically use a general Internet search to find a group of interest, but there is no single directory.
Newsgroups and discussion forums continue to exist side-by-side. Both provide a means for users to post messages to a particular community. Whatever your interest, you are likely to find a newsgroup or discussion forum that shares your interest. And if you can't find one, you can always start your own.
In summary, newsgroups and discussion forums allow users to view and post messages based on common interests. These messages are archived over time for others to view and respond to.
A newsgroup is a repository of electronic messages posted by users and managed by the Usenet system. Access to a newsgroup is typically accomplished by using a designated newsreader, but e-mail and browser software can also be used.
An Internet discussion forum is a website where users can view and post electronic messages. A regular web browser is used to participate in a discussion forum. Most discussion forums require registration and include some form of moderation.
After watching this lesson, you should be able to examine the similarities and differences between newsgroups and Internet discussion forums.
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