What is a newsgroup anyway?

Some people find the web pages without actually knowing what, or even a newsgroup, is. This page aims to answer some of the questions people in this situation sometimes ask. is a newsgroup. Newsgroups are part of the Usenet system. Usenet is a world-wide system whereby text on various subjects is copied all over the internet, and each internet site which participates keeps a copy of the subject areas it wants. Usenet is not like a web page, which generally exists in just one place, defined by its URL; it is copied to many locations around the world. This means that you can always access a copy which is fairly close to you, which is fast because you don't have to go through congested international network links.

Usenet is divided up into several thousand subject groups called newsgroups; is one of these. The soc part indicates that it is a social group (as opposed to scientific, computing, etc) and the bi is the specific topic - bisexuality. Each newsgroup acts rather like a bulletin board; each user can post messages to it, which in Usenet are called news articles. These are then propagated around the world for other people to see, and perhaps to reply to, either by e-mail or by posting a follow-up article to the newsgroup.

Important note: is a social group which means that it is for social discussion only. If you want to post a personal ad (eg stating a particular type of person you are looking for), then the group you want is called - do not post personal ads to ever. Anything you post to should be addressed to the whole group, for discussion.

So how can I access Usenet newsgroups like

That all depends on how your Internet Service Provider (ISP) has set up Usenet access. (Your ISP is the school or university where you have access, the service provider you pay for a dial-up code, or whatever.) Most ISPs provide a Usenet news server, but the software they provide or recommend varies.

If you have a web browser which supports Usenet newsgroups, and is set up to be aware of the name your ISP's news server, you can simply go to the URL to get full access to

If not, you will need a piece of software called a Usenet newsreader. Many people prefer this option anyway since special newsreader software is usually more powerful and useful than an adapted web browser. You may already have this software installed; on MS Windows it could be called Trumpet; on Unix it could be called rn, trn, tin, or nn; or there are many other packages available. If you don't have this software, you should ask your ISP's help line for advice on how to get it and how to install it. You should also ask the name of their news server (if they have one), which you will need in configuring the software.

If you have any further questions about Usenet, you can ask me, but for questions about how to get, install or set up a newsreader, you should consult your ISP. I don't know the setup of your machine or what your nearest news server is called, and I don't want to - so I can't answer questions about those issues. Remember, your ISP almost certainly employs someone to answer questions like this from people like you!

If you're worried about "coming out" to your ISP: you don't have to. Just ask about how to get access to Usenet newsgroups, you don't have to mention in particular.

My ISP doesn't allow Usenet access at all, what can I do?

If you are in this unfortunate position, you can still participate in, but it will be harder work. You can read articles in using your web browser, by accessing the group page. Or for a much more fully-featured (if irritatingly busy and unneccessary complex) interface, try Deja News. You can also post to the group from that site.

Remember, never post personal ads to, and it is always good etiquette to read the FAQ before posting to a Usenet group, to avoid asking a FAQ all over again, and to follow any guidelines about posting which exist (these are in section B of the FAQ).

This page last modified