Newsgroups are one of the best resources on the internet but because they are text-based many people have not heard of them. If you ever had a question and thought to yourself "I bet someone somewhere in the world knows the answer"..... newsgroups are a place where you can find that someone.

Newsgroups are like electronic message boards where people who are interested in a particular topic can post information relating to that topic or questions or answers relating to the topic.

Example: About 14 years ago I wanted to buy a good shock absorber for my newly acquired mountain bike. I went to several stores to get information about what was available. At the stores, the salespeople all seemed to always say that the most expensive one they carried was the best. Now maybe the expensive ones were the best ... or maybe the salespeople were working on commission. It would have been nice if the stores would have let me try out several bikes with different shock absorbers on a bumpy trail - but they wouldn't go for that. What I really needed was opinions and information about shocks from people who actually owned and used them. Luckily I had just discovered newsgroups and found a mountain bike group (alt.mountain-bike). I posted a question asking for recommendations and what I should look for in a shock. Within a week there were about fifteen posts in answer to my questions, most of them from the United Kingdom.

The responses were very useful in helping me decide which shocks to get. It can be just as rewarding to answer someone's question. One summer, I was posting a question to a backpacking group (rec.backcountry) asking if anyone had recently been to the high country in Kings Canyon National Park and could tell me what the mosquito conditions were like. After posting the question I spent some time browsing and searching for posts with the phrase "Kings Canyon" in them and I came across a posted question asking whether or not it was possible to cross from one particular valley to another over a saddle between two peaks on a high ridge. There were no trails up to the saddle from either valley, but if you read a topo map closely you could see that the slope might just be gradual enough to afford passage. The previous summer I had been to that valley and had made my way to that saddle and crossed over it and down into the other valley. It's way off the beaten track and probably only about twenty people a year attempt it, but I happened to be one of those people and I was able to email the poster the answer, saving them about ten miles of backpacking on the regular trail that goes around the peaks.

TIP: You can use a free or shareware program like Free Agent for the PC or Newswatcher for the Mac, to browse and read newsgroups. These are often more useful and powerful than using web-based newsgroup sites. However, you are limited to only the newsgroups that your internet service provider subscribes to and only have access to however far back they are willing to archive. As many internet service providers are relatively newbies to the internet, they probably don't know about or care about a text-only resource like newsgroups. But people who have been around since the internet was text-only (before web pages and web browsers) still realize their worth and maintain them. Google has a good search engine for newsgroups and an archive that goes back to the 1980s!