An abbreviation for "users network", USENET is a collection of electronic bulletin boards or conferences called "newsgroups" -- where users all around the world read and post articles containing news, analysis and opinions. USENET, started in 1979, has around 300,000 users worldwide. The discussions are categorised into different newsgroups according to their subject matter.
The thousands of newsgroups covering every conceivable topic -- from gene therapy to vegetarian cooking -- are organised into hierarchies, such as society (soc), science (sci), recreation (rec), language (lang) and miscellaneous category (misc).
For instance, sci.physics.fusion is the newsgroup where people discuss nuclear fusion, while rec.game.cricket is the forum for discussing cricket.
The whole lot of soc.culture newsgroups -- each created for discussing the issues of a particular country or ethnic group -- are immensely popular for the heat generated in the discussions. An instance of "terminals war" is the soc.culture.indian-soc.culture.pakistan encounter between non-resident Indians and Pakistanis. The Indian newsgroup is quite active and is responsible for about 300 to 400 articles per day on topics that include the "Mandal" and "Mandir" issues.
A remarkable aspect of these newsgroups is the freedom to express opinions on any issue to millions of people, in contrast to the usual barriers of censorship or nationality.
Says Howard Rheingold, the author of the book, The Virtual Community, "This new medium, in which every desktop is a printing press and broadcasting station, and every citizen a potential eyewitness reporter, is a political tool of profound import. If we don't lose the freedom to speak as we choose, and if the price of access doesn't restrict virtual communities to the wealthy, we have the opportunity to build a grassroots electronic democracy (through it)."