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The Basics of Usenet Hierarchy

Usenet is a vast store of information and, like all informational resources, it needs an organizational scheme for it to be intelligible for users. In the Usenet world, this is accomplished in somewhat the same fashion as you™d see in a card catalog at a library. The newsgroups are broken into broad categories”called hierarchies”and then are further identified by their names.

For instance, a group about biology may be named bionet.biology.insects to identify its subject and the resources it provides. The first part of that name, œbionet, identifies the hierarchy. There are 8 of these hierarchies that you™ll commonly see represented on most Usenet servers.

Unlike Internet forums, there™s a procedure for how newsgroups on Usenet become approved. Each individual Usenet server administrator can pick and choose which groups to include. Those groups that are legitimately approved are, by far, the most widely propagated and they make up what is collectively termed the œBig 8 hierarchies. These include:

  • comp for computer topics
  • misc for miscellaneous topics
  • humanities
  • news for topics related to Usenet
  • rec for recreational topics
  • sci for science related topics
  • soc for social issues
  • and talk for debates on a variety of topics.

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The name of the group is further specified after this hierarchy. The hierarchy name is always followed by a dot, which is pronounced œdot when you say the name out loud. bionet.biology.insects would be said œbionet dot biology dot insects, for example. Newsgroups within these hierarchies have all been approved according to the traditional voting-based procedure.

These groups are the most likely to have very useful information and to have the least amount of spam. They™re also the most moderated of the newsgroups. Just about every Usenet server carries the groups found in this hierarchy.

There are others, such as the aforementioned bionet, which are very widely replicated across servers. There are also hierarchies that are not approved but that are entirely legitimate, such as regional hierarchies that would only be of interest to people in the named region. There are also hierarchies that refer to specific corporations, such as the Microsoft hierarchy.

Newsgroups are incredibly diverse, but this organizational scheme makes it easy to find your way around them. When you™re using your newsreader, most of them will allow you to filter by hierarchy, which allows you to completely ignore certain hierarchies if you™re not interested in them.

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