For many Internet users, newsgroups (also known as
the UseNet) is the Internet. For millions of Internet users reading articles in
newsgroups is part of their daily routine.
The term UseNet refers to a mechanism that supports discussion groups that allow users
from anywhere on the Internet to participate. The UseNet was originally conceived
for the exchange of technical information, but today virtually any subject matter is
available somewhere on the UseNet. If you can think of a topic or subject, there is
probably a newsgroup already established for the exchange of information on the topic or
What Is UseNet?
The UseNet is not a network, but rather a service carried on
the Internet. One way of looking at the UseNet is to think about a huge electronic
mail system (email) where messages are sent by and received by anyone or everyone using
the UseNet. Much of the terminology applied to email also applies to the UseNet with
the following key exceptions. On the UseNet "messages" become
"articles", and a user "posts" and article rather than
"sends" a message. Also, the software used to access the content of the
UseNet is called a "reader".
The UseNet is not managed or controlled by anyone specifically, but is more a matter of
communal control. Once a discussion newsgroup is created, any Internet user can post
an article to that newsgroup. The only exceptions are for what are termed
"Moderated Newsgroups", which will be discussed below.
There are no formally established "rules" about the language you use in an
article or about your behavior on the UseNet. However, there are generally accepted
principles which have been accepted by the UseNet community as a whole even though there
is no real enforcement other than other users' force of opinion.
Very Brief History of UseNet
UseNet origins lie with the UNIX operating system in a
release called V7. UNIX V7 offered a program called UUCP (UNIX to UNIX Copy), which
allowed two machines to transfer files easily. In 1979, UUCP was used by two Duke
University graduate students, Jim Ellis and Tom Truscott, to exchange messages between
their two servers. Soon other users joined the act and used UUCP to provide simple
messaging between their respective machines. Steve Bellovin, who was at the
University of North Carolina, went as far as writing a set of shell scripts to provide
simple news software between UNC and Duke. These routines transferred and managed
messages and news between the two universities. In 1980, the system was described to
a wide audience at the annual Usenix conference (Usenix is a UNIX user group).
These shell scripts evolved into versions written in the C programming language, which
were widely distributed and led to many new types of machines joining the informal news
network. The news software was modified many times and new features were added at
each step, resulting in the main feature set for handling the upload and download of
content from newsgroups, and managing the articles with news readers.
Apart for the software used in handling the articles within a newsgroup, several news
readers have been developed over the years to allow users to access the UseNet through an
increasingly "user-friendly" interface. There are news readers available
for virtually every operating system.
The UseNet does not have a formally established set
of rules. Instead, the network of users and your local system administrator impose
limits, although in many cases these limits cannot be enforced.
This lack of ability to provide enforcement provides one of the double-edged swords of the
UseNet. In theory, you can say anything you want on the UseNet, regardless of how
many people you hurt or insult. On the other hand, as a newsgroup reader, you have
to put up with this behavior from others. Luckily, there are some steps you can take
to eliminate this type of posting.
There will always be a few individuals that continue their personal attacks on the UseNet,
unhindered by either system administrators or co-workers. As a community viewed in
whole, UseNet users are a well-behaved group that follows a set of mutually accepted
guidelines for network behavior, which is frequently called "netiquette".
Not all newsgroups are open and free for any type of
posting. There is a set of moderated newsgroups, in which one or more users
determine whether or not each article gets posted to the group. The moderator is
usually a volunteer trying to ensure that newsgroup postings remain on-topic. When
the moderator sees an article that is obnoxious, overly insulting or simply off-topic it
is deleted. The moderator can also edit articles to keep users from running on in a
Moderated newsgroups are generally established for very narrowly focused single topic
discussion for a specific product or service. As a result, the traffic posted to the
newsgroup remains low.
Being a newsgroup moderator is generally a thankless task not only because it requires
quite a lot of time but also because the moderator becomes the focus for any and all
complaints regarding what is posted to the newsgroup. Since the moderator must read
each article before it is posted to the newsgroup, it takes longer for articles to appear
in the group. One of the most frequent complaints directed to a moderator concerns
the amount of time required to get an article posted to the newsgroup. Over time
some moderated newsgroups become open newsgroups.
A listing of moderated newsgroups and the moderator's name and email address is available
from the news.announce.newuser newsgroup. The header
articles in a moderated newsgroup usually makes it clear that the group is moderated and
Where To Begin
There are a number of resources available for users
new to the UseNet. These new user resources include a number of files that have been
created to help one get off to a good start. A new users needs to review these basic
resources prior to posting articles because users failing to do so will incur the wrath of
thousands of users.
Perhaps the best source for these "getting started" files is the news.announce.newusers newsgroup mentioned earlier. Here are
the names of five (5) important articles any new UseNet user should read:
"Rules for Posting to UseNet"
"A Primer on How to Work with the UseNet Community"
"Answers to Frequently Asked Questions about UseNet"
"Emily Postnews Answers Your Questions on Netiqutte"
"Hints for Writing Style for UseNet"
NOTE: If you check the news.announce.newusers newsgroup and cannot find all of the
files mentioned, wait a few days and check again. Each of the files are usually
posted on a weekly basis.
The news.announce.newusers newsgroup also includes a complete list of all active
newsgroups and their general subject, a list of moderated newsgroups, and guides to
information about each newsgroup.
Another fine resource for new UseNet users is the news.answers newsgroup, which as its
name implies, provides answers to UseNet questions. The news.answers newsgroup is
also a key source for a list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) that explain the basics
about a newsgroup's subject.
Writing Postings: A Good
Use the proper newsgroup. Do not waste other
user's time by posting an article in the wrong place. Also, avoid cross-posting
unless your article is very relevant to each of the newsgroups.
Make sure the distribution is correct.
Sending a local article to a group who cannot use it is inviting a sharp response.
Make sure your posting has something to say.
Sending a reply that reads "I agree" is a waste. Only post if you
have something to add to the discussion.
Do not ramble. Keep your postings to the
point. Remember many users pay to download your articles and really resent getting
and reading a 100 line article that is a waste of their time.
Proper presentation is important. Always
use proper grammar and spelling.
If you use a signature block that includes more
than just your name, never include more than four lines.
Avoid sarcasm and insults. You will look
like a fool if you do not. Your inappropriate comments are sure to get you blasted.
Never SPAM because it will always come back to
haunt you, and your ISP may cancel your account.