Making Use of the Usenet
Usenet newsgroups are the heart and soul of many major online discussions and communities. In recent years, public newsgroups have been abused by people spamming (posting unrelated commercial offerings). Remember that Usenet veterans are hardcore participants who react strongly and negatively to blatant advertising or commerce-related posts. You must be committed to being a member and let other members seek out your store.
Newsgroups are basically bulletin boards dedicated to a particular subject and frequented by people interested in that subject. You can find newsgroups dedicated to almost any musical act, actor, actress, sport, hobby, or other interest on the planet. You can also find newsgroups frequented by people who might be interested in shopping at your store. For example, if you sell skateboards, you could find potential customers at alt.skate-board. If you have a music store specializing in rock music, there are dozens of spots like alt.fan.pearl-jam, alt.fan.korn, or alt.fan.nin.
An online merchant can gain plenty of potential customers by working the newsgroups. You can also learn more about your customers and the industry in which you are working by identifying the sites that community frequents for news. The more time you can spend scanning the newsgroups, the more you are likely to learn.
There are also specific newsgroups, usually referred to as marketplaces, aimed at users who are interested in buying and trading items. This is where it's safest to post small advertisements without getting flamed. Outright ads in these groups are welcome--elsewhere they are not. In most cases, your best advertising will come from being visible and dragging along your implicit advertising as you gain a reputation for being informed and helpful.
Finding the Right Newsgroups
There are a number of sources to help you find relevant newsgroups. Three of the easiest and most effective are Deja.com (www.deja.com), HotBot (www.hotbot.com), and HotBot News (www.newbot.com). Deja.com (Figure 1) is probably the best of the three for finding newsgroups.
Deja.com is specifically geared toward finding and searching newsgroups.
To search for particular newsgroups, you can start with specific keywords before branching out into more general categories as necessary. You should experiment with various words and combinations, varying the generality and specificity. If your search is too specific, you may find nothing. If it is too general, finding the most useful newsgroup among the hundreds of possibilities could be just as difficult.
Other Newsgroup Engines
Two other sites may also be of interest to you as you search for newsgroup information.
The University of North Carolina's Sunsite hosts a newsgroup search engine that lists newsgroups based on various interest topics. It also can search and list associated FAQs and other interesting information. Check it out at http://sunsite.unc.edu/usenet-i/search.html.
Another great site is called Tile.Net and is located at www.tile.net/tile/listserv/index.html. This site lets you search for names of newsgroups and topical mailing lists.