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News Groups: A Source for Online Diabetes News, Research

by  David Mendosa
Wednesday, March 01, 2006
Mailing lists, which I wrote about here earlier, aren’t the only way to reach out for support on the Internet. Newsgroups have the same function and are often the first place that people newly diagnosed with diabetes go to seek out information on the Internet. I know that when I got my diabetes diagnosis in February 1994, one of the first things I did was get an Internet account so I could read a diabetes newsgroup.

These newsgroups have been around for a lot longer than mailing lists and aren’t technically a part of the Internet at all. While anyone with an Internet account can read these newsgroups, they are the main part of the Usenet.

Dr. Steve Bellovin, now a computer science professor at Columbia University, wrote the first version of software to distribute news within the Unix community in 1979 when he was a graduate student at the University of North Carolina. He worked with two Duke University graduate students, Jim Ellis, who died in 2001, and Tom Truscott, who hooked computers together to share information.

Originally Usenet connected only Duke and UNC. At first people in these universities used the system to post questions and answer to each other.

Now everyone with an Internet connection can use these newsgroups. And there are a lot of them. The last time I checked I could read and write messages to about 105,000 groups. A half dozen or so of these groups focus on diabetes.

But I only regularly read two of them, alt.support.diabetes and misc.health.diabetes. Since alt.support.diabetes started in February 1999, it has quickly become the newsgroup of choice for people looking for support. It quickly eclipsed misc.health.diabetes, which had began in May 1993.

To join a mailing list you have to send an email message in a precise form. On the other hand, to join a newsgroup couldn’t be simpler.

You can use a newsreader, often a part of a browser or email program, to pick the newsgroups that you want to read. Even simpler is to use Google Groups to read the messages on the Web.

No matter which way you get the newsgroups, their messages don’t come into your mailbox, as they do when you subscribe to a mailing list. It’s really simple to get and read these messages. You just have to remember to go and look for them.