Although most of the hype and attention that the Internet gets today is about e-commerce and business, there are two main reasons that most of us use it: communication and information. We rely on the Internet to send e-mail and instant messages, and search through the World Wide Web to find information for work or play.

Microsoft's Outlook Express contains a newsgroup client.

One source of both information and communication is newsgroups. A newsgroup is a continuous public discussion about a particular topic. You can join a newsgroup at any time to become part of a huge conversation between hundreds or even thousands of people.

Newsgroups originated in North Carolina back in 1979. That's when a couple of Duke University students hooked a few computers together to start an exchange of information with other UNIX users. Just down the road at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, another student was writing software that could be used to distribute the information. Eventually, the work of these three students became the first bastion of newsgroups, termed Usenet.

In this edition of HowStuffWorks, you will learn the difference between newsgroups and other types of electronic communications. You will also learn how newsgroups work, where to find them and how to subscribe.