What Is Google Groups?

By James T. Cains

Maybe you’ve heard of Usenet discussion groups, which allow users with common interests to communicate online. In fact, Usenet was the first large-scale social media communication vehicle for early Internet users. While Usenet is still used by many people, it’s been largely supplanted by social media. Google Groups is a no-cost way to access Usenet text-based discussion groups. But that’s not all Google Groups does.

How does Google Groups work?

With Google Groups, you can participate in either Usenet groups or Google groups (that is, non-Usenet groups). What’s the difference? Glad you asked.

  • Usenet groups date back to the early 1980s, and Google has the complete Usenet archive available in Google Groups. Usenet groups are straightforward message boards, in which messages are posted and read chronologically. You can reply to individual messages to join in the conversation. Other than that, Usenet offers no-frills communication that anyone can join. Note: You can’t create new Usenet groups through Google Groups.

  • Google Groups discussion groups are not part of Usenet. These groups can be open, restricted, or private, depending on your preferences. In open groups, you can view and post on a given topic. In restricted or private groups, you have to apply for permission to join the group. This keeps out the spammers and others who may misbehave. You can create your own Google groups.

Many people prefer Google groups to Usenet groups because Google offers more freedom and options for creating and managing groups. Here are a few of the differences:

  • Creating and managing groups: In Google Groups, you can easily create and manage your own groups. With Usenet, it’s very difficult to get a new group created, and you can’t create new Usenet groups through Google Groups. Also, you can assign your Google group members certain permissions, and you can restrict membership.

  • Cost: Google Groups is free, as is accessing Usenet’s text-based groups. However, if you want more from Usenet, such as being able to post or download files from their alt.binaries groups, you need to pay for a subscription through a Usenet provider.

  • Software: You need only a Web browser to access Google groups and Usenet text-based groups through Google Groups. However, if you want to access Usenet groups that have downloadable files, then you need a newsreader program.

  • Mailing lists: Google Groups offers mailing list functionality, meaning that you can get posts via e-mail. Usenet frowns upon that kind of thing.

How to get started using Google Groups

All you need to get started with Google Groups is a Google account. Just go to groups.google.com and log in with your Google account.

Usenet and Google groups are prone to spamming, and they’re not great at filtering out spam posts. You may spend a lot of time weeding through the spam posts looking for bona fide posts. This is why a lot of Google group owners restrict membership to their groups.