Articles - Usenet newsgroups hierarchy

Usenet newsgroups hierarchy

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Newsgroups are similar to discussion forums you can find all around the World Wide Web, but they are carried out globally, technically distinctive and work a little bit different. They are carried over the Usenet system - a network of servers exchanging newsgroups messages.

When the newsgroups first started their initial hierarchy was nothing like it is today. To simplify the structure and to make it easier for people to find specific topic, newsgroups were organized into the hierarchy. This hierarchy is divided into 8 main categories also known as the Big 8.

As an addition to the Big 8, another category (alt.*) was added containing all the topics that could not fit into the Big 8.

Big 8 are the top-level hierarchy, meaning that they are defined by the prefix prior to the first dot.

Following is the overview of the main Big 8 categories. The asterisk in the name is replaced by the name of a subtopic.

Big 8 categories

Category name Topics Examples
comp.* Computer-related discussions comp.software, comp.sys.intel, comp.lang.c
humanities.* Humanities topics humanities.answers
misc.* Miscellaneous topics misc.education, misc.forsale, misc.kids
news.* Newsgroup-related matters news.groups, news.admin
rec.* Recreation and entertainment rec.music, rec.arts.movies, rec.arts.books, rec.sport.soccer
sci.* Science-related discussions sci.psychology, sci.research, sci.astro
soc.* Social discussions soc.college.org, soc.culture.african, soc.couples.weddings
talk.* Talk about various controversial topics and discussions with no obvious categorization talk.religion, talk.politics, talk.bizarre

alt.* categories

An addition to the Big 8 is the alt.* category which has its own hierarchy. This category is outside of the Big 8 system. As it is very extensive not all of the groups could be fitted here.

Note that some of the examples below also have subcategories organized by subtopics.

Category name Topics
alt.ascii-art A group for posting, admiring and discussing ASCII art
alt.binaries.* A place to look for MP3, videos, pictures or similar binary files
alt.cyberpunk Discussing the writer William Gibson and the cyberpunk
alt.history.what-if Discussion of alternate history scenarios
alt.humor Jokes and humor in general
alt.religion Religion related topics
alt.sex The first alt.* newsgroup for discussion of sexual topics
alt.tv General discussions of television shows

Other hierarchies

There are also a number of other hierarchies outside the Big 8 and alt.* on the newsgroup servers. Some of these are carried out only locally, some are specific to a company and some are in non-English language for regional or country based topics and discussions.

Here are few examples:

Category name Topics
de.* Discussions in German
fr.* Discussions in French
microsoft.* Discussions about Microsoft products
gnu.* Discussions about GNU software
england.* Discussions (mostly) local to England
hawaii.* Discussions (mostly) local to Hawaii
harvard.* Discussions (mostly) local to Harvard
fidonet.* Discussions routed from FidoNet

By understanding how the hierarchies are structured you can significantly speed up a search of the topic of your interest.

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