The Usenet is the world’s largest collection of user generated files and discussions in the world. The Usenet, for all of its awesome power in encouraging discussions, conversations and the sharing of files with millions of unique users from all corners of the globe, is really analogous to a glorified email system and is actually very simple in the way it works. The Usenet is a collection of hundreds of millions of articles or messages categorized into groups called newsgroups and stored on millions of Usenet server computers all over the globe. The messages or articles within the newsgroups on the Usenet server computers make up the Usenet. The people that run and maintain the Usenet servers are often referred to as news service providers or NSPs. The Usenet works by Usenet severs sharing articles or messages with other Usenet servers to ensure that each Usenet server or news service provider has a copy of the latest and most current set of all of the messages on the Usenet. Each Usenet server or NSP will keep a copy of all Usenet articles for a certain period of time. The length of time Usenet articles stay on a Usenet server is known as retention. For example, if an NSP has a retention time of 650 days, you would be able to download and retrieve articles created or posted 650 days ago.
In addition to text based newsgroups loaded with discussions on virtually any topic the mind can conceive, the Usenet is also home to a plethora of user generated content in the form of music, videos, software and eBooks. All of these types of files are referred to as binaries as they are digital files stored in the binary newsgroups on the Usenet. Binary files are handled much like an email message with an attachment that is posted or sent to a particular binary newsgroup. In practice one binary file, say a user generated mp3 file, will be spanned across multiple Usenet articles that contain encoded text that when put together make up the mp3 file as a whole. Let’s look at a real world example to make understanding this concept clear. Say you have just gotten back from your family vacation in the Bahamas and you have a full CD loaded with fun filled videos and pictures that you would like to share with friends on the other side of the globe that also use the Usenet. A full CD is equal to about 650 megabytes of binary digital information. Just like email, 650 megabytes is too large to attach to a single email and must be broken into smaller parts and sent in multiple emails. A single CD would be made up of hundreds of encoded newsgroup text articles.