Ask Harley

Where is the best place on the Internet to have meaningful discussions?

The best discussions on the Internet take place within a vast system of discussion groups called Usenet. Usenet has been around since 1979 (much longer than the Web), and is used, worldwide, by millions of people. Usenet groups are often referred to as "newsgroups", because the original system was created to distribute news.

Usenet is free. However, to participate in the discussion groups, you must put in some time and effort to learn how it works.

To access Usenet groups, you use a special program called a Usenet newsreader. All browsers come with a free newsreader. If you want something more sophisticated, there are a number of different newsreaders available on the Net. Before you can use Usenet, you must find yourself a newsreader and learn how to use it.

You must also learn about Usenet itself: how it is organized, how the discussions take place, and what social conventions people have adopted over the years to ensure that the discussions work well.

Because Usenet is well-developed and requires you to put in so much time and effort as a beginner, the discussion groups tend to be populated by people who are more intelligent, knowledgeable and committed than the ones you find in, say, Web chat rooms or forums. This is why, in most cases, the discussion in Usenet groups is the best you can find on the Net.