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The Text Based Internet
Part 4a: About Newsgroups

There is an old saying that goes, "People come to the internet for the e-mail, but they stay for the news groups."

Like I said, it is an OLD saying. Now a days, people come and stay for the web. I'm not delusional. I can face that. However, there is nothing on the net, or even in the tangible world, that can produce and harness the sheer energy, anarchy or vigilantism that the Usenet has.

The power of these small communities can be awing to the on looker, but you have to look. This is not your vehicle for research or advertizing or free pics, this is a group of communities, and it is very easy to get on it's bad side.

That is why I'm going to make you sit through some guidelines before telling you how to get on. Sit down. Listen. No skipping ahead.

Read this first

Here is a list of things that you should do before you take that bold step and post.

  1. Read the FAQ. The person who spends the time compiling the Frequently Asked Questions list does it for a reason. Almost every group has one, and they are usually posted once a week to once a month and most likely are available on a web site or through FTP. These are important because people get tired of being asked the same questions over and over again.
  2. Lurk. Lurking is the act of reading the posts in a news group for an extended period of time before your first post. I recommend spending at least a few weeks, if not a month or two, getting the hang of what the group is about, what would be distasteful, etc. Although this is VERY IMPORTANT, there are reasons to break the rule. For example, if someone asks about something you know and no one else has answered yet, by all means type a way.
  3. Remember to shut up. A lot of people go onto news groups thinking that after one insightful post they have either proven thier worth or are best friends with everyone there. Neither is true. Nor should you be offended or pissed if people don't respond to your post. These feelings are bad and should be put out of that little head of yours.
  4. DO NOT USE ALL CAPITALS. EVERYONE, AT ONE POINT OR ANOTHER, DECIDES THAT THEY WANT TO USE ALL CAPITALS TO SET THEMSELVES APART. THIS IS CALLED SHOUTING AND IS CONSIDERED VERY RUDE. or sometimes people decide to use all lowercase, like e. e. cummings. this is considered hard to read, and also rude. If you want to set yourself apart, do it with what you type, not how you type it. You will be surprised how people can still stand apart, even when thier text looks like everyone else's.
  5. Don't ever, ever spam. Spamming is trying to sell something through e-mail or the newsgroups. Do not do this. This will have horrible consequences, possibly including you being shunned by the usenet community and getting kicked off your ISP. The only exception is if you post one, non-crossposted message to a group specifically for selling, such as a marketplace group.
  6. Don't troll, either. Trolling is spam's evil little sibling. Trolling is when someone posts something very unrelated to the original post. If you post something, PLEASE make sure it is related to the group you are posting in.

I did not cover everything that you shouldn't do on newsgroups. You should see The Seven Don'ts of Usenet for more info.

News Group Hierarchies

News groups are organized in a hierarchy of sorts. Lets look at a typical news group name:

alt.books.pratchett

The alt is the top level. There are several, including alt, misc, sci, comp, and many for countrys, companies and ISP's.

The second section is the general area of discussion-- books. When you see a news group like

alt.books
you can usually assume it's pretty general. In the example, people discuss books: books they are reading, books they are writing, best places to buy books on the web, etc. Very general stuff.

Then it branches off to authors and types of books.

alt.books.pratchett
is for the discussion of books by the author Terry Pratchett. But, wait, there's another one...

alt.fan.pratchett

This group is for the fans of Terry Pratchett. What's the difference? Many people will read one and not the other, causing many differences in the messages that are posted. The only way to tell which one you would prefer is to read the groups and figure it out yourself.

There are some more Terry Pratchett news groups like:

alt.fan.pratchett.announce

This is a group for general announcements about Terry Pratchett, like book signings, books being released, awards he has won, newsgroup pic-nics, etc. Generally, you should not post to this group, it is just there for informational purposes.

After the name of the group, you will usually get a description of what the group is about. This, usually is used for informational purposes, such as saying that the news group is for author Terry Pratchett, and not one of the many other Pratchetts in the world. A lot of times, especially in news groups who's name can not be confused for something else, it tends to be less informative.

88   194  alt.hardcore                      Like a peach.  Or the
earth

Also, if they are trying to redirect people to another group, they may put something like this:

 16  3642  alt.parenting.solutions           Use misc.kids.*
instead.

There are a few reasons for redirecting groups. The main one is that they got tired of spam and decided to move it to a part of usenet that gets less. The alt.* groups inevitably gets the most, so the moved it to misc.*. This does not mean that there is no more discussion on alt.parenting.solutions. You should regard it as you would any other multiple groups, and read them both and see which one you like best. However, you should keep in mind that the powers that be left the original group for a reason.

With that out of the way, it's time to check the news with tin.

  • You can check your mail through Pine.
  • You may want to download some files with ftp.
  • While you're at it, you should fiddle around with some miscellaneous commands and programs.



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