What are Newsgroups and Discussion Forums?

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Paul Zandbergen

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.

Newsgroups and discussion forums are two ways in which people can communicate with each other online. Learn what these commonly used online communication tools are and compare and contrast the similarities and differences between the two. Updated: 09/28/2021

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.

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  • 0:06 Internet Communication Tools
  • 0:36 Newsgroups
  • 4:18 Discussion Forums
  • 6:45 Lesson Summary
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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:

  • alt.comics.superman

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.

Discussion Forums

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.

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