updated 1/26/2005 11:15:00 PM ET 2005-01-27T04:15:00

America Online will stop providing direct access to Usenet newsgroups, one of the earliest forums on the Internet for people to discuss a large variety of topics from television shows to software to sex.

The move to drop AOL next month comes as usage of the service has shrunk to fewer than 1,000 users a month. AOL has some 23 million subscribers in the United States alone.

Dropping Usenet will let AOL focus more on more popular community features such as message boards, chat rooms and online journals, said AOL spokeswoman Jay Esmele.

AOL users still would be able to access Usenet groups from other providers, including Google Inc., which packages the newsgroups for free as "Google Groups."

Thousands of Usenet groups exist, covering a range of topics. They go by such names as "alt.tv.amazing-race," a discussion forum for the reality series "The Amazing Race." Though Usenet groups are generally text-based, some exist for exchanging photographs and music files.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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