Help Key: How to download off Usenet like a champ


If and when the **AA have Usenet shut down after the piece appears, feel free to blame Biggs. He’s making me write it.

I occasionally mention Usenet when talking about piracy here, but I’ve never really explained what it is or what it does. I’m still not going to explain what it is, technically, (that’s what Wikipedia’s for), but I will put it in layman’s terms. Think of Usenet as a big, unregulated, uncontrollable message board in the sky. The Simpsons’ Comic Book Guy even logged onto Usenet when he needed to know the star of Radioactive Man!

The key difference with Usenet is that users can attach files to their messages. That’s the gist of it, at least. And since you can attach a file to a message you can, conceivably, attach many files to many messages. That’s what people do. You’ll find these file-laden posts on something called binary groups. And that’s where the piracy aspect comes into play. Literally thousands of groups devoted to literally thousands of categories, each one filled with all sorts of pirated content. Entire albums, entire movies, entire video games—getting 0day DreamCast games back in the day was top-notch—et cetera. Basically, Usenet rules and is what all the cool kids use. Hopefully you’ll be able to use it, too, after this.

Before you can downloads gigs upon gigs of premium content, you’ll need two things to access Usenet: access to a Usenet server and a newsreader. Like I said, Usenet can be thought of as a giant message board, but one that you need permission to access. Some ISPs give you access to a Usenet server as part of your monthly Internet bill. TimeWarner, my current ISP, has a server as did my previous ISP, Cablevision/OptimumOnline. My old dorm here at NYU didn’t so I had to pay for one. It’s not that expensive when you think about what you’re getting.

There’s a few big, commercial Usenet providers. Some of the popular ones are Giganews, Easynews and News Hosting. I’d recommend Giganews in a heartbeat because that’s what I used so I know first-hand that it’s excellent.

What you’re paying for when you subscribe to these services—it’s like $20-$25 per month for unlimited downloads—is access to their Usenet server. Once you have access to a server, either via your ISP or one of the commercial guys, you’ll have access to the files. Now you’ll need a news reader. Wikipedia has a giant list of news readers, but here’s two right off the bat. If you use a Mac, get Unison, which I endorsed a few days ago. Windows users should get Grabit, which my brother uses. He says it’s pretty good. Then again, I haven’t used Windows for six years.


Setup. Type something like “Giganews” or “RoadRuner” for the description (it doesn’t matter), then the server address in the appropriate field. The server address can be found deep inside you’re ISP’s Web site or (usually) in the “welcome aboard” e-mail that the commercial guys will send you. If you’re using an ISP’s server odds are you won’t have to input a username or password. I don’t and never did have to when using my ISP. For the commercial ones, yes, use the username/password either you picked or what they gave you. That might vary from service to service. Port 119 for the win.


Somewhere around the server settings you’ll want to set how many headers you want to download. (Think of headers as the individual messages. They’re not really, but this isn’t being posted in alt.technical-nonsense, now is it?) My connection is pretty damn fast so I have it set to download 5 million headers. Yes, 5M. You’ll want to set this number pretty high in order to have access to as many files as possible, NZBs notwithstanding. I’ll address NZBs in a minute.

OK, so your newsreader is configured. Treat yourself.

Now you’re ready to party.


Real men browse Usenet groups manually. What I usually do now is choose a group that interests me, like, say, and look through it at my leisure. Oh look, a new Markus Schultz remix. Downloaded. Oh wow, this week’s Trance Around the World. Downloaded. (Yes, I know the pics don’t match. Creative license and all.) And so on. This method of downloading from Usenet takes a while because you have to wait for all the headers to load and then you have to sift through the material on your own. Again, that’s why I do, but I have all the time in the world to kill. Usenet amateurs like John Biggs—I taught him how to use it over AIM a few weeks ago—and my luddite brother rely on NZB files to download.

NZB files are, I think, metadata that simply tell your newsreader where on the Usenet sever (what group, what’s the exact file name, etc.) the files are. It’s sorta like a Torrent file. There’s no data there, just a pointer in the right direction. NZB files are created magically by Web sites. My brother swears by (probably because it’s free) but Newzbin is the original and costs 60 cents per week, or $2.40 per month. From there, you’d browse their listings like you would any Torrent site. Look—someone posted No Country for Old Men in the high-def group. Grab the NZB file then double click it and you’ll be downloading as soon as your newsreader launches.

That screenshot I have of the dance binary group shows vanilla MP3s, but a lot of the bigger groups split files up into rar files. Please tell me you know how to use those. A lot of time, you’ll also find Par files. Should anything happen to your files while they’re being downloaded (or maybe they were posted corruptly to begin with), the Par files will repair them. I don’t know how, some algorithm. I use MacPar Deluxe, and QuickPar seems to be popular on Windows.

That’s a quick little primer on Usenet. I suggest you Google around for more information. (Fact—I first discovered Usenet when I was looking for Futurama episodes back in 8th grade. Then I branched out into video games, movies, music, all of it. No one helped me other than some random guys in IRC.)

Hmm, what else? Oh, key groups to keep an eye on.

• alt.binaries.sounds.complete_cd
• alt.binaries.divx
• alt.binaries.hdtv.x264 (high-def movie rips)

Those are the ones I browse daily, especially the CD one and the x264 one. I practically live there!

BitTorrent users should know that pretty much all the scene stuff that you find on your go-to Web site is on Usenet several hours beforehand.