Exclusives

AOL Dropping Usenet as Action Moves to Blogs

As part of a shift toward more popular community features, America Online will stop providing direct access to Usenet newsgroups in February.

Usenet is a worldwide bulletin board system that can be accessed through the Internet or through online services. The Usenet contains more than 14,000 forums, called newsgroups, that cover just about every imaginable interest group.

Usenet users were informed of the plug pulling via a pop-up message that greets them when they access the AOL keyword “Newsgroups.” The message said: “Please Note: The AOL Newsgroup service will be discontinued in early 2005.”

Shifting Focus

AOL spokeswoman Jay Esmele told the E-Commerce Times that Usenet usage is waning. AOL has some 23 million subscribers in the U.S. alone, but usage of its newsgroups have dropped to fewer than 1,000 a month while its blogging product has seen 500,000 new journals created since the service launched in the fall of 2003.

“Our users are turning to other community features, like our blogging tools, message boards and chat rooms for that online discussion forum,” Esmele said. “We are going to focus more of our attention on those areas. There is a lot of action in journals and blogs.”

Dying Breed?

AOL is not the first to drop support of Usenet. Microsoft’s MSN Internet site dumped support for newsgroup discussions in 2000. With blogs, instant messaging and online chat rooms gaining popularity over the past few years, one of the Internet’s earliest forums is losing some of its appeal.

A survey conducted by Pew Internet & American Life reveals that blogreadership jumped 58 percent last year. Twenty-seven percent of Internet users, or 32 million people, said they read blogs last year. Twelve percent also chose to post comments to them, and 7 percent of U.S. adults chose to create one.

AOL is not leaving Usenet users out in the cold, however. The message also advises subscribers that newsgroup services are available from third-party providers, and notes that users with separate high-speed connections might be able to arrange newsgroup access through their broadband provider. AOL even recommended “Google Groups,” Google’s newsgroup service, to its audience.

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