The Usenet is one of the largest computer-mediated communication systems in existence. Developed in 1981 as an alternative to services available through the ARPANET, the Usenet has grown exponentially and currently consists of several thousand discussion groups (termed newsgroups). Recent estimates suggest that roughly two million people from all around the world participate in some way, with further increases expected. The Usenet is similar in many ways to conferencing systems, often referred to as a Bulletin Board System (BBS), and compared to e-mail distribution lists. It shares many qualities with these forms of computer-mediated communication, but differs in significant ways. No central authority manages the Usenet, although considerable cooperation exists around the definition of standards that determine the technical organization of the distribution system. It is distributed in the sense that there is no central repository for Usenet postings, each contribution is passed throughout the system of interconnected hosts — systems that receive and pass along each contribution they receive. The Usenet is not a commercial product, it is distributed through connections that are often informally maintained.

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