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Usenet’s Decentralized Communications Model

When the Internet was becoming widely available and increasingly popular in the 1990s, people were very excited about the amount of free communication people could engage in. Usenet, however, had been providing exactly that same service for many years by that point. A decentralized communications network developed by graduate students in the late 1970s, the Usenet system is still very popular today and its design is still technologically viable and has proven to be robust.

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The Usenet system is designed around servers exchanging and updating each other™s information. These servers are all separate entities, but together they constitute the heart of the Usenet system. Each of these servers communicates with several others. When they communicate, each one updates the newsgroups available with the posts sent in by that server™s users.

These updated groups are then downloaded by uses and the conversations continued. One person™s posts can be propagated all over the world in a matter of hours with this model; even faster if the servers update at shorter intervals. This makes the system very durable, as well. Taking down one Usenet server, even if it happens to be a very large one, would only disrupt service to the clients of that particular server.

This decentralized model of communication makes sense when you understand the roots of the system. Originally a system that allowed two universities to communicate, Usenet requires that each server have its own administration and, of course, each server is free to enact its own policies and to include or exclude any newsgroup the administrator wishes.

There are over 100,000 newsgroups on the Usenet system, but hardly any servers include all of them. Each server is free to include whatever it wishes, in this regard.

This decentralized form of networking is similar to how the Internet works, but the servers can be run by any entity, not just a huge ISP. The original Usenet servers were only communicating between two universities, but the simplicity and excellent function of the model soon made it extremely popular.

While BBSs and Internet forums would eventually become better known, Usenet is still around today and, according to some data, receives more posts than it ever did. This system is available through paid providers and some people will find that their ISP maintains a news server that they can hook up to if they want to give the system a look.

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