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About Usenet

About Usenet Usenet is the set of machines that exchange articles tagged with one or more universally-recognized labels, called newsgroups (or "groups" for short).

(Note that the term newsgroup is correct, while area, base, board, bboard, conference, round table, SIG, etc. are incorrect. If you want to be understood, be accurate.)

The Diversity of Usenet If the above definition of Usenet sounds vague, that's because it is. It is almost impossible to generalize over all Usenet sites in any non-trivial way.

Usenet encompasses government agencies, large universities, high schools, businesses of all sizes, home computers of all descriptions, etc.

Every administrator controls his own site. No one has any real control over any site but his own. The administrator gets his power from the owner of the system he administers.

As long as the owner is happy with the job the administrator is doing, he can do whatever he pleases, up to and including cutting off Usenet entirely.

History of Usenet

1979 The idea of network news was born in 1979 when two graduate students, Tom Truscott and Jim Ellis, thought of using UUCP to connect machines for the purpose of information exchange among users. They set up a small network of three machines in North Carolina.

Initially, traffic was handled by a number of shell scripts (later rewritten in C), but they were never released to the public. They were quickly replaced by "A'' news, the first public release of news software.

1982 "A" news was not designed to handle more than a few articles per group and day. When the volume continued to grow, it was rewritten by Mark Horton and Matt Glickman, who called it the "B'' release (a.k.a. Bnews). The first public release of Bnews was version-2.1 in 1982.

It was expanded continuously, with several new features being added. Its current version is Bnews-2.11. It is slowly becoming obsolete, with its last official maintainer having switched to INN.

1987 Another rewrite was done and released in 1987 by Geoff Collyer and Henry Spencer; this is release "C'', or C-News. In the time following there have been a number of patches to C-News, the most prominent being the C-News Performance Release.

On sites that carry a large number of groups, the overhead involved in frequently invoking relaynews, which is responsible for dispatching incoming articles to other hosts, is significant. The Performance Release adds an option to relaynews that allows to run it in daemon mode, in which the program puts itself in the background.

The Performance Release is the C-News version currently included in most releases.

1986 All news releases up to "C'' are primarily targeted for UUCP networks, although they may be used in other environments as well. Efficient news transfer over networks like TCP/IP, DECNet, or related requires a new scheme. This was the reason why, in 1986, the "Network News Transfer Protocol'', NNTP, was introduced. It is based on network connections, and specifies a number of commands to interactively transfer and retrieve articles.

There are a number of NNTP-based applications available from the Net. One of them is the nntpd package by Brian Barber and Phil Lapsley, which you can use, among other things, to provides newsreading service to a number of hosts inside a local network. nntpd was designed to complement news packages such as Bnews or C-News to give them NNTP features.

A different NNTP package is INN, or Internet News. It is not merely a front end, but a news system by its own right. It comprises a sophisticated news relay daemon that is capable of maintaining several concurrent NNTP links efficiently, and is therefore the news server of choice for many Internet sites.

Usenet policy

§1. Never Forget that the Person on the Other Side is Human

Because your interaction with the network is through a computer it is easy to forget that there are people "out there." Situations arise where emotions erupt into a verbal free-for-all that can lead to hurt feelings.

Please remember that people all over the world are reading your words.

Do not attack people if you cannot persuade them with your presentation of the facts. Screaming, cursing, and abusing others only serves to make people think less of you and less willing to help you when you need it. If you are upset at something or someone, wait until you have had a chance to calm down and think about it. A cup of (decaf!) coffee or a good night's sleep works wonders on your perspective. Hasty words create more problems than they solve. Try not to say anything to others you would not say to them in person in a room full of people.

§2. Don't Blame System Admins for their Users' Behavior

Sometimes, you may find it necessary to write to a system administrator about something concerning his or her site.

Maybe it is a case of the software not working, or a control message escaped, or maybe one of the users at that site has done something you feel requires comment. No matter how steamed you may be, be polite to the sysadmin -- he or she may not have any idea of what you are going to say, and may not have any part in the incidents involved. By being civil and temperate, you are more likely to obtain their courteous attention and assistance.

§3. Never assume that a person is speaking for their organization

Many people who post to Usenet do so from machines at their office or school. Despite that, never assume that the person is speaking for the organization that they are posting their articles from (unless the person explicitly says so). Some people put explicit disclaimers to this effect in their messages, but this is a good general rule.

If you find an article offensive, consider taking it up with the person directly, or ignoring it. Learn about "kill files" in your newsreader, and other techniques for ignoring people whose postings you find offensive.

§4. Be Careful What You Say About Others

Please remember -- you read netnews; so do as many as 3,000,000 other people. This group quite possibly includes your boss, your friend's boss, your girl friend's brother's best friend and one of your father's beer buddies. Information posted on the net can come back to haunt you or the person you are talking about. Think twice before you post personal information about yourself or others.

§5. Be Brief

Never say in ten words what you can say in fewer. Say it succinctly and it will have a greater impact. Remember that the longer you make your article, the fewer people will bother to read it.

§6. Your Postings Reflect Upon You -- Be Proud of Them

Most people on Usenet will know you only by what you say and how well you say it. They may someday be your co-workers or friends.

Take some time to make sure each posting is something that will not embarrass you later. Minimize your spelling errors and make sure that the article is easy to read and understand. Writing is an art and to do it well requires practice. Since much of how people judge you on the net is based on your writing, such time is well spent.

§7. Be Careful with Humor and Sarcasm

Without the voice inflections and body language of personal communications, it is easy for a remark meant to be funny to be misinterpreted. Subtle humor tends to get lost, so take steps to make sure that people realize you are trying to be funny. The net has developed a symbol called the smiley face. It looks like ":-)" and points out sections of articles with humorous intent.

No matter how broad the humor or satire, it is safer to remind people that you are being funny. But also be aware that quite frequently satire is posted without any explicit indications. If an article outrages you strongly, you should ask yourself if it just may have been unmarked satire. Several self-proclaimed connoisseurs refuse to use smiley faces, so take heed or you may make a temporary fool of yourself.

§8. Use Descriptive Titles

The subject line of an article is there to enable a person with a limited amount of time to decide whether or not to read your article. Tell people what the article is about before they read it.

§9. Think About Your Audience

When you post an article, think about the people you are trying to reach.

Be familiar with the group you are posting to before you post! You shouldn't post to groups you do not read, or post to groups you've only read a few articles from -- you may not be familiar with the on-going conventions and themes of the group. One normally does not join a conversation by just walking up and talking. Instead, you listen first and then join in if you have something pertinent to contribute. Remember that the Usenet newsgroup system is designed to allow readers to choose which messages they see, not to allow posters to choose sets of readers to target.

When choosing which newsgroup(s) to post in, ask yourself, "Which newsgroups contain readers who would want to read my message" rather than "Which newsgroups have readers to whom I want to send my message?"

§10. Please Rotate Messages With Questionable Content

Certain newsgroups (such as rec.humor) have messages in them that may be offensive to some people. To make sure that these messages are not read unless they are explicitly requested, these messages should be encrypted. The standard encryption method is to rotate each letter by thirteen characters so that an "a" becomes an "n".

This is known on the network as "rot13".

And when you rotate a message the word "rot13" should be in the "Subject:" line. Most of the software used to read Usenet articles have some way of encrypting and decrypting messages.

§11. Spelling Flames Considered Harmful

Every few months a plague descends on Usenet called the spelling flame. It starts out when someone posts an article correcting the spelling or grammar in some article. The immediate result seems to be for everyone on the net to turn into a 6th grade English teacher and pick apart each other's postings for a few weeks. This is not productive and tends to cause people who used to be friends to get angry with each other.

It is important to remember that we all make mistakes, and that there are many users on the net who use English as a second language.

There are also a number of people who suffer from dyslexia and who have difficulty noticing their spelling mistakes. If you feel that you must make a comment on the quality of a posting, please do so by mail, not on the network.

§12. Use Mail, Don't Post a Follow-up

One of the biggest problems we have on the network is that when someone asks a question, many people send out identical answers. When this happens, dozens of identical answers pour through the net. Mail your answer to the person and suggest that they summarize to the network. This way the net will only see a single copy of the answers, no matter how many people answer the question. If you post a question, please remind people to send you the answers by mail and at least offer to summarize them to the network.

§13. Read All Follow-ups and Don't Repeat What Has Already Been Said

Before you submit a follow-up to a message, read the rest of the messages in the newsgroup to see whether someone has already said what you want to say. If someone has, don't repeat it.

§14. Summarize What You are Following Up

When you are following up someone's article, please summarize the parts of the article to which you are responding. This allows readers to appreciate your comments rather than trying to remember what the original article said. It is also possible for your response to get to some sites before the original article. Summarization is best done by including appropriate quotes from the original article. Do not include the entire article since it will irritate the people who have already seen it.

Even if you are responding to the entire article, summarize only the major points you are discussing.

§15. Be Careful About Copyrights and Licenses

Before posting to Usenet or reproducing something that has been posted to Usenet, make sure you read the accompanying posting "Copyright Myths FAQ: 10 big myths about copyright explained".

At the very least, note that by posting to Usenet, you are requesting that a copy of your document be automatically distributed to computers all over the world and stored on various disks for a long time (forever on some archive media). Further, some people will quote parts of your article without permission or forward it to other people or use it in other ways that you might not know about. If this bothers you, put an explicit copyright notice on your posting. On the flip side, even if you are sure of the legality of reproducing something from or on Usenet, it would be courteous to ask for permission before doing so.

§16. Cite Appropriate References

If you are using facts to support a cause, state where they came from. Don't take someone else's ideas and use them as your own. You don't want someone pretending that your ideas are theirs; show them the same respect.

§17. Do not use Usenet as a resource for homework assignments

Usenet is not a resource for homework or class assignments.

A common new user reaction to learning of all these people out there holding discussions is to view them as a great resource for gathering information for reports and papers. Trouble is, after seeing a few hundred such requests, most people get tired of them, and won't reply anyway. Certainly not in the expected or hoped-for numbers. Posting student questionnaires automatically brands you a "newbie" and does not usually garner much more than a tiny number of replies. Further, some of those replies are likely to be incorrect. Instead, read the group of interest for a while, and find out what the main "threads" are - what are people discussing? Are there any themes you can discover? Are there different schools of thought? Only post something after you've followed the group for a few weeks, after you have read the Frequently Asked Questions posting if the group has one, and if you still have a question or opinion that others will probably find interesting.

If you have something interesting to contribute, you'll find that you gain almost instant acceptance, and your posting will generate a large number of follow-up postings. Use these in your research; it is a far more efficient (and accepted) way to learn about the group than to follow that first instinct and post a simple questionnaire.

§18. Don't Overdo Signatures

Signatures are nice, and many people can have a signature added to their postings automatically by placing it in a file called "\$HOME/.signature". Don't overdo it. Signatures can tell the world something about you, but keep them short.

A signature that is longer than the message itself is considered to be in bad taste. The main purpose of a signature is to help people locate you, not to tell your life story. Every signature should include at least your return address relative to a major, known site on the network and a proper domain-format address. Your system administrator can give this to you. Some news posters attempt to enforce a 4 line limit on signature files -- an amount that should be more than sufficient to provide a return address and attribution.