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Usenet Tutorial

Choosing a Usenet Provider

In order to access Usenet, you must have:

1. A newsreader program installed on your computer.
2. Access to a remote news server.

We have already discussed how to choose a newsreader. Let us now turn our attention to the server end of the system and ask: How do you arrange to use a news server?

In most cases, the answer is to establish an account with a commercial Usenet provider.

Should you pay for Usenet Newsgroup service?

In the orden days, most ISPs (Internet service providers) maintained a free news server for the benefit of their users. Those days are long gone.

Today, you have two choices. You can either use a free service or contract with a company that sells access to a commercial server. A company that provides such a service is called a USENET PROVIDER or, more formally, a USENET SERVICE PROVIDER.

Although free sounds nice, most people opt to pay a small monthly fee to access a commercial server. In fact, even people whose ISPs offer free Usenet access often choose to pay for a commercial service because of the superior reliability and service.

You will find that the Usenet provider business is extremely competitive, so service is usually excellent and prices are low, typically $10-$15 a month. Moreover, you won't need to lock yourself into a long-term contract, which means it is easy to change from one provider to another if you want.

When it comes to choosing a Usenet provider, there are five important things to consider:

1. Price
2. Retention
3. Connections / Speed
4. Completion
5. Spam control

Price: When you compare price, look carefully at the terms of the service. My advice is, until you are absolutely sure as to what you want, stay away from long-term contracts. Many Usenet providers offer free trial offers and, whenever possible, it is a good idea to use such offers to see how well a particular provider meets your needs.

Most providers offer more than one plan. My advice is take your time, experiment, and find out which plan works best for you. As I mentioned above, the Usenet provider business is extremely competitive. Service should be excellent and prices should be reasonable, so don't settle for anything less.

Retention: Every day, a huge amount of new data posted to Usenet. In fact, there is so much new data that no news server can store everything indefinitely. For this reason, all news servers keep data for a limited time, referred to as the server's RETENTION RATE or, more simply, RETENTION.

Once a Usenet article has reached its retention limit, the article and any associated files are deleted automatically. When this happens, we say that the article EXPIRES. At this point, the article is gone for good. Retention can vary from a few days (for a free service) to well over a year (for a high-quality commercial service). As a general rule, the longer, the better. However, once you get over a year (365 days), it becomes less important.

As you might imagine, it takes a lot of disk storage to archive all the data that is posted to every Usenet newsgroup every day — especially when so many of the postings are very large binary files, such as movies, TV shows, music, software, and so on.

Nevertheless, this is exactly what many of the top commercial Usenet providers do: they actually archive everything permanently. Thus, their retention grows by one day every day, which means that nothing ever expires. (Stop and think about that for a moment.)

Connections / Speed: Once you start using Usenet seriously, speed will become an important issue, especially if you download a lot of files, such as photos, videos, music, and so on. For this reason, Usenet providers typically use fast, powerful computers with very high bandwidth connections to minimize the time you spend waiting. Some providers even offer special tools to help you increase your downloading speed. Most likely, the speed you get will be just fine. Remember, however, this is a competitive business: if you don't like the speed you are getting, try another provider.

First, like all Internet services, Usenet is based on a client/server system: your newsreader (the client) sends and receives data to and from a remote news server (the server). Each such communication link is called a CONNECTION or SESSION. Most commercial Usenet service providers allow multiple connections at the same time, which can make for much faster downloading. Up to a point, the more data that flows, the better, so make sure you choose a service provider that allows multiple connections.

If you use too many connections, however, it won't increase your speed proportionally. Indeed, it will just create more overhead. So once you are comfortable with Usenet, you can experiment with connections and see what works best with your particular service provider. Simply change the setting in your newsreader that specifies how many connections you want to use, and see if it makes a difference.

Completion: There are well over 100,000 different Usenet newsgroups, many of which have a large number of articles posted to them every day. The measure of how many articles a particular news server is storing is called its COMPLETION RATE or, more simply, COMPLETION.

Completion is expressed as a percentage representing an estimate of the number of articles stored divided by the total number of available articles. For example, a Usenet provider that manages to store 90 percent of all available articles, has 90 percent completion. (Please be aware that this is just an estimate. No one actually knows the exact number of all available articles.)

As you might imagine, it requires a great deal of computing power and data storage to maintain a high completion rate. Since resources are always limited, there is generally a trade-off between retention and completion. (Think about that for a moment.) The best commercial Usenet providers ensure there are enough resources to offer both high retention and high completion.

Spam Control: The final issue I want to mention has to do with spam. SPAM consists of advertisements and other irrelevant articles that are posted to newsgroups. A person or company that sends out spam is called a SPAMMER.

Spam is a huge problem on Usenet, to the point where it has, over the years, overwhelmed many existing newsgroups and rendered them useless. There do exist special programs to ferret out and cancel spam before it can propagate too far. There is also software to allow a news server to identify and delete spam automatically as it arrives. Most commercial Usenet providers some ISPs use these programs to offer spam-free news feeds. If you are using an ISP or a free news server and you see a lot of irrelevant advertisements, you may want to subscribe to a good commercial news feed, just to get rid of the spam.

Summary: When it comes to choosing a Usenet service provider, the most important things to look for are: price, retention, connections and speed, completion, and spam control.

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