Your Internet Consultant - The FAQs of Life Online
5.4. What are the Usenet's top-level domains?
Usenet newsgroups are divided into broad categories. Groups that are
distributed worldwide are split into seven classifications: comp,
misc, news, rec, soc, sci, and talk.
Each of these classifications is organized into groups and subgroups according
Some hierarchies exist that are not formally a part of Usenet because they have
different conventions than mainstream newsgroups. For example,
- comp groups are topics in computer science and information on
hardware and software systems. Groups are of interest to hobbyists as well
as computer professionals. Examples are comp.apps.spreadsheets,
comp.binaries.atari.st, comp.databases.object, and
- misc groups address themes that are not easily classified under
any of the other headings or which incorporate themes from multiple
categories. Examples are misc.jobs.offered, misc.misc,
misc.invest, and misc.books.technical.
- news groups are concerned with the Usenet news network and
associated software. Examples are news.announce.newusers,
news.software.readers, and news.groups.
- rec. groups are oriented towards the arts, hobbies, and
recreational activities. Examples are rec.arts.comics.strips,
rec.radio.amateur.policy, and rec.sport.baseball.college.
- sci groups are discussions marked by special, and usually
practical knowledge, relating to research in or application of the established
sciences. Examples are sci.bio.technology,
sci.physics.research, and sci.skeptic.
- soc groups address social issues and socializing. Examples
are: soc.culture.african.american, soc.religion.quaker, and
- talk groups are largely
debate-oriented and tend to feature long discussions without resolution and
without appreciable amounts of generally useful information. For example:
talk.politics.guns, talk.rape, and talk.rumors.
One other hierarchy worth further discussion is the
alt. organizational domain. The alt. groups are the most anarchic
arm of the Usenet. Although some controls have been placed on the creation of
new newsgroups in the "big seven" Usenet hierarchies, there are no such
restrictions for alt. groups. In the interest of letting the Usenet
sprawl and evolve without too many constraints, the alt. domain is the one
space where newsgroups can be created without a consensus from the masses (this
is covered later in the chapter); if you want a group, create it!
- alt. groups are an anarchic alternative to mainstream Usenet
groups. These groups are not carried on all systems. Although alt.
stands for alternative, note that some of the best stuff on Usenet is
part of the alt. hierarchy. (alt. groups are an alternative to
the "big seven" news domains and not necessarily discussions of an alternative
nature.) Because the creation of alt. groups is less formal than
standard groups, you are likely to find some funky topics here. Examples are
alt.architecture.alternative, alt.banjo, and
- bit groups are a collection of newsgroups distributed only by
sites that choose to carry them. The bit newsgroups are redistributions of
the more popular Bitnet Listserv mailing lists. Examples are
bit.listserv.wx-talk, and bit.listserv.hindu-d.
- biz groups are for business-related postings. Here you'll
find company press releases, product information and other commercial
traffic. Examples are biz.comp.telebit.netblazer and
- k12 groups are carried at some sites. Their content is aimed at
kindergarten, elementary and secondary teachers, and students. Examples are
k12.chat.elementary, k12.ed.art, and k12.ed.life-skills.
- clari groups come from ClariNet Communications and are only
available on systems that pay for them. These groups feature wire service
news and syndicated columnists such as Miss Manners and Dave Barry. For more
information, read the answer to "Where on the Internet can I find national and
world news?" in Chapter 7, "How Do I Track Down Information?" Examples of
ClariNet groups are clari.feature.dave-barry,
clari.world.europe.eastern, and clari.news.books. Even if you
don't get the full ClariNet feed, you can probably see a sample of what they do
on biz.clarinet.sample. (For more information on ClariNet, call
The results of this are, predictably, some weird groups that sometimes have no
discussion within and are attempts at humor, sarcasm, or something similar. If
you've ever seen the Muppet Show you might remember Jim Henson's Swedish Chef
who was often caught chopping madly and saying, "bork bork bork." Someone
created a newsgroup called alt.swedish.chef.bork.bork.bork--and somehow
that hit a popular note on the Net. Now there are a variety of newsgroups in
the alt. domain that have similar names. Examples:
Notice that no topics are off-limits here and people often create groups that
are of interest for a few weeks, or days, and then vanish.
Various sex-related groups have popped up within the alt. domain too,
including alt.sex.movies, alt.sex.bondage, alt.sex.motss,
alt.binaries.pictures.erotica, and alt.sex.fetish.foot. The
Usenet is chockablock with acronyms; MOTSS stands for "members of the same
sex," the topic covering gay, lesbian and bisexual issues and interests.
Another interesting space within the alt. domain is a set of groups that
are for fans of specific individuals. The list of people is extensive (over
100) and range from people such as Dan Quayle, Rush Limbaugh, Gene Scott, and
Clarence Thomas; to authors such as Tom Robbins, Dave Barry, Douglas Adams, and
Piers Anthony; to musicians and music groups such as Madonna, Run DMC, Spinal
Tap, Wang Chung, Devo, and Laurie Anderson. If you like a person or group,
chances are someone else does too!
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