Newsgroups allow anyone with Net access to contribute to a global discussion on a variety of subjects. Any messages that you send to a newsgroup are stored on a central computer, called a server, that is open to everyone on the Net. This means that anyone who is interested in the subject under discussion can read your messages and respond to them.

The earliest newsgroups concentrated on technical subjects and were aimed at the scientific and academic users. Now, however, there are over 20,000 publicly available newsgroups covering everything from computers to politics, celebrity gossip to missing persons information. The ubiquitous "alt." (alternative) newsgroups deal with some of the more exotic subjects. Needless to say, there are a lot of sexually explicit newsgroups which, because of their easy accessibility, have led to a heated censorship debate. If you're concerned about letting your children have access to Net, choose an Internet Service Provider which can provide "filter" software to limit access to specific newsgroups.

Most people adhere to a special Internet etiquette when online, but the relative anonymity of the Net tends to lower inhibitions and can lead to some pretty heated arguments. Some people feel that this is all part of the fun, but there are a lot of crazies loose on the Net, so be prepared for the bigoted comments that find their way into most newsgroups from time to time.