Volume 10 (1) January/February 1996
In this edition of News from the Internet I will be describing Usenet, one of the most heavily used resources on the Internet. Usenet is not actually a network but a collection of over 12,000 newsgroups, each one a discussion forum for a particular specialised subject. A newsgroup is basically a collection of e-mail messages (articles) sent by people with an interest in the particular subject of the newsgroup.
When you start looking at a newsgroup you are usually presented with a window containing a list of articles which are identified by a subject line. To read any particular article you just click on the subject line. If you want to reply to an article you choose the "reply" command and send an e-mail message to the newsgroup. If you want to start a new discussion in a newsgroup (also known as a thread) then you send an e-mail message to that newsgroup. A message sent to any particular newsgroup will be read by Usenet readers all around the world. Newsgroups on a diverse range of subjects can be found on the Internet. Newsgroups can be used to initiate discussions, ask questions, or simply make a statement!
The naming of newsgroups may initially seem complex. A newsgroup name usually consists of several parts e.g. sci.med.nutrition. The prefix to a newsgroup gives you an indication of the subject area e.g. newsgroups beginning with "rec." are related to recreational topics such as sport, music, hobbies, films, whilst newsgroups beginning with "sci." are related to science subjects. There are a number of newsgroups which may be of interest to pharmacists including "sci.med.pharmacy". A list of other interesting newsgroups is available on the "Pharmacy-related newsgroups" section of PharmWeb.
Newsgroups may be accessed using a specialised program known as a newsreader, or alternatively using a Web browser such as Netscape. The program you use will have to connect to a special computer, known as a news server, and it is important to make sure that you enter the address of your news server in the preferences section of your newsreader or Web browser (contact your network manager if you are not sure how to do this).
Messages on a news server are usually deleted after a few days, however, it is possible to find old messages. A new WWW site on the Internet called DejaNews is a powerful tool that allows Internet users to search Usenet archives for the majority of newsgroups. It is the largest collection of indexed archived newsgroups available and allows you to search for information within a matter of seconds. A link to DejaNews can be found on the "Internet Info" section of PharmWeb.
Dr. A. D'Emanuele
University of Manchester