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How do I read and post to newsgroups? (part 2)

"Freedom of speech is a wonderful thing - right up there with the freedom not to listen" (Anon)


Many people who read, and post, to Usenet newsgroups use a news reader program - sometimes called a news client. This is a piece of software that is specifically designed to collect articles from newsgroups and display them, in subject ("thread") and date order for you to read. It will also allow you to send posts to a group yourself and, in many cases, email other newsgroup posters directly.

There are literally dozens of different Usenet readers out there.

Some of the more common ones for Windows are:

Microsoft's Outlook Express
Yes - this can be used as a newsreader as well as an email program although it has some, minor, problems and will require additional information in it's setup to enable you to access Usenet.

Netscape Communicator
The original Netscape Communicator had an inbuilt, online, newsreader which allowed users to access Usenet groups whilst online. However, it has now been largely replaced by the Mozilla Suite.

Similar to Netscape Communicator's original news client, these free newsreaders allow you the option to download all messages from a given group, read them offline and compose any followups or posts of your own. You must then re-connect to send any posts.

You can download Mozilla ( a combined Web-browser, e-mail and newsgroup client, IRC chat client, and HTML editor) from

Thunderbird (a dedicated email and news client) can be downloaded from

Free Agent
This is a dedicated, free, offline news reader package that is somewhat more compliant than OE. It doesn't have all the bells and whistles of it's commercial big brother, Agent, but it's still a very good piece of software, fairly simple to setup and use, and one that many Usenetters started with (and still use in many cases).

You can download Free Agent from

One step up from Free Agent but still free to download. This is a fully functional news reader that has a couple of the nice extras that Free Agent lacks. However, for the new user, the range of options and configurability can be a little overwhelming, so might be better left until later if you're not the type of person who likes tinkering with software settings. Updated version of Microplanent’s Gravity can be downloaded from whilst an open source version of Gravity is available at

News clients for the Mac include:

This is a dedicated, free, offline newsreader package that offers a somewhat more compliant method of accessing Usenet than using a browser or an email program. In fact, it's probably the best Mac-based tool for this particular job and, although, it doesn't have all the bells and whistles of a commercial product, it is still a very good piece of software and is very straightforward to set up and use.
MT-NewsWatcher can be obtained from Note: There is also an OS 9 version available from this site.

If you normally use MS Entourage for your email, then you can also use it for reading and posting to newsgroups.

Its advantage is that it's almost certainly already on your system and only needs a bit of extra configuring to get it up and running for newsgroups.

Its disadvantage is that, as a newsreader, it's not ideal and many of its default settings are the exact opposite of the guidelines used within Usenet (in fact, in one or two places, it's seriously broken). However, some people are more than happy with Entourage as their newsreader.

Your local Internet Service Provider will be able to tell you which Usenet reader you might already have access to, and will probably also is able to tell you the additional information you will need to set your newsreader up.

The Basics

Some of the more important information that you will need initially is:

• How to access your news reader if you have one already installed

• How to set up your news reader if one hasn't been pre-installed

Once you have access to your news reader program, use any Help facility within it to find out how to...

Download the complete list of newsgroups
This is the first step in accessing newsgroups. Unfortunately, this list is usually rather large and may well take a few minutes to download. However, once it is downloaded, you shouldn't have to repeat this particular step again unless you either change your computer, change your news reader program or change your ISP.

How to subscribe/unsubscribe to a particular newsgroup
In the same way as subscribing to mailing lists, subscribing to a newsgroup doesn't involve any money whatsoever. Think of it more in terms of beginning to build up your personalised reading list.

How to read a post
News readers usually display a list of the messages currently available for reading within any given group. These messages are normally listed in date and subject order with all the messages relating to a single topic listed together (this is called "threading"). You will need to know how to read any given message and how to move from one message to another.

How to send a post
Initially, unless you have a very urgent query, I would suggest that you content yourself with reading a newsgroup for at least a few days or a week. This will allow you to develop an initial understanding of the group's style and sub-culture.

Newsgroups, based as they are upon collections of individuals, often have very individualised cultures. What passes as acceptable in one group may well be frowned upon in another. Reading the group for a while (sometimes referred to as "lurking") will help you avoid early mistakes and a possible frosty reception from the newsgroup's regular users as a whole.

Your First Usenet Post

When you have managed to complete the above steps and are ready to join in the conversation, it might be worth considering posting to an existing thread, or topic. In order to do this, you'll need to know how to post a Followup Article.

If you wish to ask a specific question or post an article on a new subject, then you will need to know how to post a New Article. Remember to keep within the group's broad topic. In other words, don't post an article asking for help with a computer program to a group that discusses literature unless you are absolutely sure that this would be classed as acceptable behaviour in the group itself.

If in doubt, don't post!

And then…

Having mastered the basics of newsgroup reading and posting, you'll then be ready to take on some of the more advanced options within your newsreader such as...

How to move from one newsgroup to another
The chances are that you will very quickly build up a list of newsgroups for reading and/or contributing to. Learning how to navigate and organise this list may come in very handy.

How to respond to a post by e-mail
This is a useful option if you want to reply to someone's newsgroup message privately - either because you feel the content is not suitable for public consumption or because you feel the other members of the newsgroup may not be particularly interested in your comments.

How to save a post
Occasionally you may wish to keep copies of some Usenet messages for your own use. This is particularly useful with messages labelled "FAQ". These articles are lists of "Frequently Asked Questions" from that newsgroup. They may provide the answers to queries that you have and are especially useful for explaining the various codes of behaviour within the newsgroup and any posting guidelines the group would like new posters to adhere to.

Reading any availoable FAQs before posting is always an excellent idea!

Mel Pedley is a professional web developer at Black Widow Web Design ( specialises in the production, and management, of standards based, accessible, web sites.

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