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What are Usenet newsgroups?

Usenet News is a worldwide electronic discussion forum. People can exchange information and participate in discussions on a wide variety of topics. They can even exchange pictures, music, and other multimedia content through the alt.binaries newsgroups.

Usenet News organizes the discussions into topics called newsgroups. The topics are organized into trees called hierarchies. For example, the rec hierarchy is one of the major collections of topics, featuring recreational topics such as hobbies, sports, and the arts. The rec.arts newsgroups are a sub-hierarchy featuring artistic topics, including such newsgroups as rec.arts.animation and rec.arts.dance, where you will find discussions on animation and dance, respectively.

There are newsgroups for jokes, for trading pictures, for serious scientific discussions, for religion, and for almost anything you can think of. Some are global, while others are oriented toward specific countries, states, cities, universities, or organizations.

Most newsgroups are in English, but there are many hierarchies in other languages as well, such as fr, the French newsgroups, es, the Spanish newsgroups, or de, the German newsgroups.

Many newsgroups have FAQ's, or sets of frequently asked questions, which are posted periodically for the benefit of new readers. These make an excellent introduction to the newsgroups, and can help new readers avoid repeating questions answered in the FAQ, since this will annoy regular readers of the groups. The official FAQ repository for the Usenet News System may be found in bare-bones form at rtfm.mit.edu, organized by newsgroup or by hierarchy. Links to these FAQ's will be found in the Newsville newsgroup listings where available.

Many newsgroups have a charter which explains the purpose of the newsgroup and its acceptable uses. The charter is posted periodically, and can usually be found in the FAQ's. It is advisable to read a group's charter before attempting to post anything to it, to avoid offending the group's readers.

Newsville users must exercise the appropriate Usenet etiquette, as required by the Newsville contract, and be aware of the acceptable forms of discussion before posting to a group. In particular, messages should be posted only to the most appropriate groups, and off-topic posts must be avoided, as must commercial announcements in newsgroups where these are forbidden or unwelcome. Posting messages primarily to advertise rather than to advance a group's discussion, posting multiple copies of a message, and excessive crossposting to multiple groups are all considered "spam". Posting spam is a severe violation of acceptable use policy. See the document Current Spam Thresholds and Guidelines for further information on what is considered spam in the Usenet community.

Copyrighted or illegal information should not be posted to any newsgroups, even though such information may be found in some of them. Articles are presumed to be owned by their authors, and should not be reused without permission.

Newsgroups may be moderated or unmoderated. Moderated groups have a moderator to ensure that all discussions remain focused and on-topic. Messages to be posted to these groups must be sent to the group's moderator, who periodically reviews them and posts them to the newsgroup. In unmoderated groups, each user is responsible for posting material appropriately, directly to the newsgroup.

The creation of new newsgroups in each hierarchy is normally moderated, and often subject to a vote by newsgroup readers. The exception is the alt hierarchy, where anarchy rules, and anyone with sufficient knowledge of the news system can create a newsgroup. Almost any topic can be found among the alt groups, including some with little or no content or interest.

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