In 1979, Ellis and Tom Truscott, both Duke graduate students, thought of hooking together computers to share information.
The electronic bulletin boards, which would later be called newsgroups, would let people in the system share information and hold discussions.
At the beginning, the network consisted of two sites at Duke, and one at the University of North Carolina, The Associated Press reported. In 1999, it was estimated that there were 37,000 newsgroups.
Carnegie Technology Education CEO Allan Fisher said Usenet could be considered "the first big community application" of an interconnected system of computers. "The social importance was it allowed this community building and prefigured a lot of what happened on the Web."
Like many other Web pioneers, however, Ellis and his fellow Usenet inventors did not get rich from their invention, because they did not launch it as a commercial venture.