Unless you happen to have an encyclopedic knowledge of the foundations of the internet, (which let’s be honest, very few of us do) you’ve probably never heard of Usenet. The World Wide Web, once just one network among a bunch of other fledgling networks, bullied its way to the top, burying its competitors and sentencing them to an eternity of relative obscurity. Such is the way of the world, and the way that the World Wide Web rose to power is also reflective of the capitalistic hellscape it’s become today: nowadays, corporations large and small spend a good amount of money trolling the web, looking for places to turn into digital billboards and harvesting billions of dollars worth of data without our knowledge or consent. The early days of the internet, where fledgling platforms that have now become advertising giants were treated as sandboxes for the creativity of millions, have been dead and gone for a long time. 

However, that is only the fate of the most popular network, and while the World Wide Web managed to subsume most of its predecessors, one managed to survive and thrive in secret. That’s right, the surviving network, a sprawling database of discussion boards and user-curated content, is none other than Usenet. With so many businesses looking to establish online presences and active privacy concerns not really being addressed on the web, it may be time to excavate this dinosaur: fortunately for consumers looking for an alternative to the mass-market network, Usenet has a lot to offer for people concerned with the state of the net. 

Are you interested in hearing more? Here are a few ways Usenet might just be better than the network you’ve grown up with your whole life. 

1. Unlimited Download Speeds and Instant Access

With the recent rollback of net neutrality laws, internet service providers (ISPs) have regained the ability to negatively impact your access to the Web in favor of paying corporations. While ISP throttling, or the practice of slowing down your service when accessing a website or service the ISP doesn’t like, is still illegal, ISPs now have the freedom to create “fast lanes” of access for corporations that pay their premium. Your service could be affected at any time, and you’d be none the wiser.

With Usenet on the other hand, there are no limits on how quickly you can access different newsgroups (or message boards), and also no limits on how quickly you can download user-generated content from these boards. As such, you have complete and open freedom to go wherever and do whatever you wish on Usenet, liberated from the far-reaching grasp of corporate America (who have yet to realize that Usenet is a thing). 

2. A Collaborative Community

The early days of the net were all about sharing content for the fun of it, forming communities around shared interests and working together to learn new things. While this spirit is no longer anywhere to be found on the web, having instead been replaced by a never-ending race to go viral and shallow popularity contests, Usenet was actually constructed with this spirit in mind. 

Each newsgroup is an organically formed and maintained community centering on a particular interest, where users can share information with one another and grow in knowledge together. While users of Usenet are typically quiet about the existence of the network, not wanting any third-party incursions on their space, each newsgroup is packed with users that stay engaged consistently: and, should there not be a newsgroup that reflects your interests, it’s easy to create one.

All you need to access Usenet is a reliable newsreader, which is Usenet’s version of a browser like Chrome or Safari. With the right newsreader, you can sign on and discover the online community of your dreams.

Resurrecting the Early Net

While there’s nothing that can be done about the state of the World Wide Web (and politicians don’t seem too interested in taking action to curb corporate incursion on those spaces), Usenet, being a relic of an earlier time, is a perfectly preserved slice of the net as it should be: collaborative, constructive, and kind. If you’ve found yourself dissatisfied with the state of the web (and honestly, who hasn’t?), give Usenet a try: you’ll find that it feels like home. 

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