There was a time back in the days even before the public internet where online topics, articles, news, and comments all blended together in a wild west frontier known as Usenet.
Once internet access became public and commercial, parts of Usenet became spam magnets. I left that world behind and moved on to more efficient and less dusty ways to obtain information. Imagine my surprise when I found the mother of all Usenet readers is on a Mac.
The Usenet Primer
How does one describe Usenet? Once you see it in action, you’ll get it, but wonder why it exists at all—it’s a complex beast, a digital dinosaur that predates what we think of as the world wide web.
Think of all the internet forums of the world sort of connected and interconnected together, covering every conceivable topic.
It’s like email and web site forums with threaded discussions.
Usenet is distributed among a bunch of servers worldwide that store and forward messages and updates to each other. From Wikipedia:
Individual users may read messages from and post messages to a local server operated by their Internet service provider, university or employer. The servers then exchange the messages among one another, making the messages available to readers beyond the original server.
It’s more complex than that, of course. Parts of Usenet became infested with spammers and the jungle became a quagmire where the effort to wade through the spam wasn’t worth it.
Last week I was checking on some updates and noticed Panic’s Unison, a Usenet reader (think of it as an RSS reader but for Usnet). Out of a sense of nostalgia, and Panic’s ability to make the mundane look like eye candy, I gave Unison a try.
Not Your Father’s Usenet Browser
Email gets threaded in Mail so we can keep track of our online conversations. Forums posts do something similar. A topic starts a thread. Unison makes easy all that effort of finding topics, called Groups, and sorting through them for relevant information.
Not only did Unison get me back into Usenet, but it made the journey actually pleasant. It’s all in the eye candy. The Directory lets you search for groups with just a few clicks.
In true Mac fashion, add Groups to the sidebar so access is a click away. Set up Unison to auto load so you can read on your MacBook when you’re not connected to the internet.
Parts of Unison will look and behave something like threaded email messages. It’s here where you can read messages and in the proper order. You can also view and post messages in HTML or text using Unison.
As you can see above, Usenet is loaded with information—not just text, but music, images, videso, other file types, and more. Unison makes it easy to find those files and download.
The Cost Of Getting Your Geek On
I found myself having fun in short order. Mac utilities have come a long way in recent years. Unison looks like eye candy, but it truly makes it a pleasure to traverse a part of that internet world that is ancient and confusing.
Alas, Usenet, the wild west shoot ‘em up cowboy of internet information systems, is often not free.
Many, but not all, internet service providers give Usenet server access to their customers. For those that do not, users may have to pay a monthly fee.
Still, Usenet can be useful, but it requires patience because there is so much information on every topic you can think of, but you’ll need to dig to find it. It isn’t a pretty place to visit. Unison’s self explanatory interface simply makes the journey more comfortable.