1. It's an 80 million article, 15,000 newsgroup Usenet database that stretches back to 1995
2. Average search time is two seconds
3. Updated daily
4. Users can post to Usenet through Deja News
5. Ideal for accessing technical help, but the accuracy of information cannot be guaranteed
6. Users can browse through conversation strings
7. The subject 'IBM' has garnered 762,000
postings, and 'Microsoft' has notched up over 1 million postings to date
What is it: a continually updated archive of what people have said in Usenet newsgroups - and a search engine to find the information of interest to you. It also allows you to contribute information
Applications: getting technical support on computer and other problems, doing research on companies, products and new developments
Although many business people now regularly use the Internet, in the UK they often overlook one of its most valuable assets. While they happily browse Web sites and send and receive email, only a few visit the newsgroups of Usenet.
But there are some major difficulties in exploiting Usenet for business.
The first problem is its size. Consisting of well over 15,000 separate discussion areas, or newsgroups, new messages arrive all the time - more than 740Mb-worth on a typical day.
These are usually simple text messages that look like emails, but which can be read by anyone. Despite the name, few newsgroups have anything to do with news but are, in fact, discussion forums organised into a vast range of individual subjects. A further drawback with Usenet is that much of the information is irrelevant to any given user.
Fortunately, Deja News solves both these problems. To begin with, it currently holds more than 53 million messages, taking up 80Gb of memory.
This allows it to hold almost all Usenet messages going back to March last year.
Furthermore, Deja News provides a comprehensive set of search facilities, so you can search the mass of information for matching words or text strings, or refine the search by date or newsgroup. You can also look for newsgroups in which particular words occur frequently.
Once in the newsgroup you can read the messages by date, by how well they match your search terms or in the order of the original discussion.
Because Deja News runs on the Web, any hotlinks included in the message will usually work, so you can follow up references to Web sites immediately.
If your browser is set up for email, you can also use Deja News to send messages to newsgroups, as well as read them.
But how useful is the material itself? The content obviously reflects the interests and attributes of the Internet users themselves. So there's a wealth of information about computers, particularly programming languages and support issues.
There's also plenty of information on jobs, pets, gardening, holidays and other leisure interests. The quality of the contributions varies, with an inevitable proportion of gossip, drivel and inaccurate information.
Deja News solves another problem that has in the past put people off Usenet. To access newsgroups properly, you need to set up your browser with the address of a news server. If your company doesn't subscribe to one, Usenet access is blocked. However, the Deja News Web site itself acts as a free news server. So, with a working Web browser, you can access newsgroups by going to this site.
Verdict: Deja News v3.0 is an effective way of getting the maximum value out of the information available on the Usenet part of the Internet. But the only real way to determine its usefulness is to do some searches and evaluate the information on offer and its benefit to your business.
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