Over ten years ago when Netscape was the de facto standard and finger was not a rude thing to do, I got started in the news and discussion addiction using nntp, or Network News Transfer Protocol.
Think of nntp as the ancestor of rss, or Really Simple Syndication (really). A network of nntp servers would be available for you to access and browse the discussion channels available. The number of channels during those days were in tens of thousands, from Apple to camping, Star Trek to Microsoft. Each channel has a thread of replies to one another with each message looking very much like an e-mail. The messages are just text-based, with the occasional text-encoding of binaries such as warez and pictures.
Those were the humble and sometimes underground days when news and data were quietly exchanged between people all over the world. Browsers were not favoured yet, and ftp was like the Internet jet engine of file sharing. I remember this was the way we used to get antivirus and browser updates from McAfee and Netscape respectively.
The program which I used to talk nntp was from Forte, called Free Agent for Windows 95. It was a simple three-frame Windows interface that worked well to deliver news. However, just like the news of today, I easily got flooded with news. Now, Forte seems to only have Agent commercially and it supports e-mail as well.
In 2007, we have Google Reader, which combines fancy http push (AJAX) and good ‘ol frames. It can automatically update the news as they are published from blogs, newspapers and corporations. You can tag and categorize news. Best of all, it uses the familiar vi command set (e.g. j for down, k for up). Just like other Google apps, it is very accessible since it is web-based.
Just like a decade ago, look at the volume of news I go through… it’s crazy in this information age.
Wikipedia – Network News Transfer Protocol