The First Social Network

The First Social Network

Article from Issue 217/2018
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Before the web as we know it existed, Usenet performed the same tasks now done by web forums and social networks. Despite its declining popularity, Usenet is still employed to publish articles, sustain mailing lists, and even upload files.

Usenet, is a gigantic Internet forum with thousands of subforums. The Usenet system is designed as a federated network, which means you just need to connect to one Usenet server in order to have access to all of Usenet. The most common tool for connecting to Usenet is a Network News Transfer Protocol (NNTP) client. See the box titled "The Nature of Federated Networks" for more information.

The Usenet network is a giant bulletin board that is divided into hierarchical sections, called newsgroups. Newsgroups are to Usenet what subforums are to web-based forums, and each one deals with a particular topic. For example, rec.sport.soccer is dedicated to discussions about soccer. Usenet netizens are supposed to use their clients to subscribe to the newsgroups they want to be active in, in much the same way they would subscribe to a mailing list. Subscribing to a newsgroup means that your client will pull new messages from the newsgroups each time you connect or at regular intervals, depending on your client. Despite the name, newsgroups are actually discussion groups. Newsgroups got their name because they were originally intended to host news.

Any user can post an article to a newsgroup. An article can receive answers from other Usenet users, thus creating discussion threads, much like a mailing list. Some newsgroups are moderated, and posts need to be approved by the newsgroup administrator before publication.

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