Some very early users of the Internet - not the worldwide web as we know it today - but the Internet from the early 1980s, will have heard of, and likely used, Usenet. This was the collective name applied to text-based electronic bulletin boards that were used to communicate in the days before the web and email existed, and that are still in use today. The Usenet posts were first collected and organized for worldwide web use in 1995, by a company called Deja News. In 2001, Google bought Deja News and applied their considerable search expertise to Usenet posts. The result is Google Groups.
There are well over 30,000 Google Groups today. These are hosted on servers all over the world, and Google Groups provides a browser-based interface to them, as well as creating searchable archives. From a very clean interface, users may search any of the various subsections of Google Groups. In the same way a clothing web site may be divided into sections for men's, women's, and children's wear, Usenet is divided into sections such as biz (business related), comp (computer related), humanities (art, literature related), and so on. From there, subsections may be divided into more specialized sub-topics where necessary.
Sadly, many Google Groups are now spammer hangouts more than anything else. Widely available web access and programs that can automatically post to thousands of newsgroups in just a short while have destroyed much of the original spirit and usefulness of the Usenet groups. And parents need to know that on some sections of Usenet there are some very inappropriate topics that have been started over the years, so they should exercise due caution in protecting their children from those sections.
For those who don't mind a bit of digging through the virtual trash can, there are still many, many useful and active Google Groups, full of friendly, helpful people, so be sure to check out this often-overlooked resource.
By Jakob Jelling
Jakob Jelling is the founder of http://www.sitetube.com. Visit his website for the latest on planning, building, promoting and maintaining websites.