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Guide to Usenet Newsgroups

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The Definitive Guide to Usenet Newsgroups

Introduction

Think of a Newsgroup as a category of discussion, where people with similar interests get together to discuss a specific topic. The variety of Newsgroup topics is vast; you can find Newsgroups pertaining to everything from your favorite soap opera to the most advanced theoretical scientific discussions. Odds are, if there is a subject that interests you there is at least one newsgroup focused on that subject. Should you happen to stumble onto a topic that is not covered, you can even create your own Newsgroup based on that subject!

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How It Works

Newsgroups are based on a public domain network called Usenet. This network is made up of thousands (possibly hundreds of thousands) of interconnected computers located all over the world. These computers are interconnected via the internet in a peer to peer topology.

This means that the server administrators have agreed to forward all of the information they have onto all of the other Newsgroup servers that they are “peered” with. The reason for having these peering relationships is to propagate as many articles as possible to as many different servers as possible. Therefore, the more peering agreements a newsgroup server has the more articles it will receive and transmit each day. This system’s goal is to have all available articles equally distributed across the Usenet network and because of this you are able to read the same articles on my Usenet server in Palo Alto, California as my Friend Sam is able to read on his local Newsgroup server in Miami, Florida.

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What Do the Newsgroups Contain?

A newsgroup message can be either a plain text message, simply containing text as a part of a discussion between two or more people, or a message containing a file or a part of a file. The latter are called binary newsgroup messages because the files they contain are referred to as binaries. The text messages can contain questions, replies, or follow-ups on a certain discussion topic that was initiated among a group of users.

Users usually give their opinions or provide impartial information to aid discussions in the text posts. The binary posts can contain all kinds of files, including but not limited to videos, audio, software, games, pictures, etc. As opposed to text newsgroup messages, when it comes to downloading binaries, you often have to download the content of more then one post because binaries are usually broken down into multiple posts (because of their large size once they are put together).

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Subscribing to Newsgroups

Joining (subscribing to) various newsgroups in Usenet sounds like it may be more complicated that it actually is. Unlike other online discussion groups and forums, where you actually have to create a member profile and tell everyone else who you are, in Usenet, it is much simpler, easier, more private, and possible to keep your anonymity. You don’t have to come up with bogus profiles, member information, or millions of usernames and passwords for every newsgroup that you want to join. You basically can subscribe and join newsgroups with the click of a button. The reason why you need to join the newsgroups you want to be able to use in the first place, is because you need to subscribe to them in order to read messages, download binaries, and post to the newsgroup.

Once you have connected to your Usenet provider’s server(s), you can select the newsgroups you wish to subscribe to and just click on the “Subscribe” button of your newsreader (a list of all newsgroups available will be displayed by your newsreader upon connection). Once you have joined various newsgroups, you can visit them whenever you like and read their content as well as post to them. You can check just one or all of the newsgroups you’ve subscribed to. The simplest approach is to download all of the new responses from all newsgroups at the same time and then read them. If you have subscribed to a large number of newsgroups, this might take a while but it will be worth it since cool new things are posted on a daily basis. For more information to how to subscribe to newsgroups using GrabIt visit the GrabIt newsreader start-up guide.

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Viewing Newsgroups

A newsgroup list can be viewed in a few different ways. It can be viewed with an Internet browser, such as Edge,  Firefox, Google Chrome, or Safari using a web based newsreader. You can also view the newsgroup list with a 3rd party program like a newsreader. Most newsreaders let you view both text and binary newsgroup lists and some just let you see the binary list. There are also newsreaders that just pull up the text newsgroup lists.

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Creating Newsgroups

Newsgroups can be created upon the request of the user. Users may search for a particular newsgroup and find nothing that pertains to their subject and interest. Any newsgroup can be created as long as it falls within legal and acceptable guidelines. Most useful newsgroup names have already been taken but variations give users additional options. Creating a new newsgroup is a great way to keep Usenet alive and kicking with new ideas for people to share. Fast Usenet makes it very simple to add a new group. We can add any newsgroup to the alt* hierarchy. All you have to do is send us the name of the new newsgroup and your username and we can have it created within 24 hours.

But if you wanted a new newsgroup outside of the alt* hierarchy, it would need to be voted on by The Usenet Volunteer Vote-Takers, which is a group of neutral third-party vote-takers who currently handle vote gathering and counting for all new newsgroup proposals. The coordinators of the group can be reached at contact@uvv.org, you can contact them to arrange the handling of the vote for your proposed newsgroup. The mechanics of the vote are handled here:

Below is the same information that is quoted in this link, so you can read it here or read it there along with other information that might be useful when creating a new newsgroup. The voting process is as follows in a nutshell.

  • Your newsgroups goes through a discussion period.
  • Voting period lasts for at least 21 days.
  • A couple of repeats of the call for votes may be posted during the Vote.
  • ONLY votes MAILED to the vote-taker will count.
  • Votes may not be transferred to other, similar proposals.
  • Votes must be explicit.
  • A vote should be run only for a single group proposal.

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Naming Newsgroups

You may wonder how you should proceed when adding and naming a new group. You should follow a few basic rules. First issue to be considered is to group similar subjects together, in the same hierarchy if possible, so that people looking for a related subject will have a good idea where to find it. It is often better to put a new group with others in an approximately right “place” than to insist on getting the name precise at the expense of putting the group in some obscure area that many potential users will not look at.

Second, try to create general groups before creating very specific ones. If the group alt.video.games did not exist, creating one about a specific game (such as alt.video.games.nintendo) would be inappropriate. Next rule is to avoid abbreviation in naming newsgroups. Do not abbreviate or use obscure names. Your abbreviation may well be recognized by someone else as meaning something entirely different. At the moment, Usenet transport limitations restrict the length of any component to 14 characters.

This may sometimes force abbreviation. In this case, create as meaningful an abbreviation as possible within 14 characters, one that will be commonly understood by most users. Last, but not least, always use properly spelled English words in newsgroup names. If you are not sure how a certain word is spelled, look it up in a dictionary or a spell checker before naming newsgroups. The articles in a group should use whatever language is appropriate for that group, but group names should use English, as that is the one language that can be understood by almost all Usenet users.

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Newsgroup FAQs

Some Usenet newsgroups have what is known as a charter or F.A.Q. (Frequently Asked Questions). This file contains a list of rules for that newsgroup stating what types of posts are acceptable in the group. A group’s charter or FAQ is the written policy of either the group’s creator or of an elected supervisor called a moderator. Normally, only groups in “the big 8” hierarchies have an FAQ. Alt groups usually do not have such posting rules.

Consequences for violating a newsgroups charter or FAQ range from being flamed by others in the group to being reported to your ISP’s abuse department. You may be asking, why would a newsgroup want to control what gets posted, isn’t that censorship? FAQs are necessary as a way to maintain a newsgroups identity and integrity. If there were no posting rules, the subject and spirit of a popular newsgroup could be lost.

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Non Moderated Newsgroups

First, newsgroups are the places where you can post and share messages on Usenet. Basically, a non moderated newsgroup is a newsgroup that is completely unrestricted with it’s access. A non moderated newsgroup does not have to worry about censorship from internet service providers or governments.

The biggest benefit of a non moderated newsgroup is that you have access to a free flow of ideas without the worry of certain information getting censored. This allows you to talk freely with people all over the world. You can say what you want or pass along material to others without it getting cut off before the millions of other people on Usenet have a chance to view it. Since free speech is important to so many people in this world, a non moderated newsgroup is great because it gives you that freedom.

The most important thing to remember is that it is up to the people on Usenet to post their opinions in newsgroups, and those opinions are the sole responsibility of the people who expressed them. An example of a quality Usenet service provider that has millions of non moderated newsgroups is Fast Usenet. We provide an excellent service that allows you to exchange ideas and material freely, through the use of non moderated newsgroups. Fast Usenet gives you easy and affordable access to all the information you want.

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Moderated Newsgroups

Newsgroup moderators are usually energetically active Usenet members who donate their time and efforts to moderating certain groups that they are interested in. You can think of a Usenet/newsgroup moderator as a newsgroup administrator. This person regulates the content of the newsgroup and decides what goes in it and what doesn’t.

It is a simple, but sometimes time-consuming process. Depending on the popularity of the group, being a newsgroup moderator can be a full time job or a job that takes 1-2 hours a week. It all depends on how many people post in that newsgroup and how often they post. Moderation works in the following way: once a posting attempt has been made to the group that is being moderated, the moderated is notified (via email) about the post. His or her job is to quickly review the post and decide if it should go to the group or be deleted without ever making it to the group.

Their role is not to censor what you see in the newsgroups; they do not filter out content because they don’t what you to see certain stuff. Their role is to simply make sure that the discussions and posts in the newsgroups stay on topic. They also prevent spam from reaching the group, which helps discussions stay on the subject. These are some definite advantages of having newsgroup moderators.

When it comes to Newsgroups, there are a few manners that you should become familiar with have before entering into these groups. I am going to list some of the rules below for having newsgroup etiquette before you continue into the newsgroups. You, as an individual should be going into these newsgroups, knowing some of these manners that will keep you from making any mistakes.

Basic Rules (Etiquette) to Follow in the Newsgroups

 

  • Lurk. Waiting is the most important thing to do when it comes to newsgroups. You want to make sure you check these groups out before posting. Make sure that the content of the group is relevant to what you are going to post.
  • Read the FAQ. Finding out some of the commonly asked questions and other important information can be very helpful to you. This is one of the fastest ways to learn more about a given newsgroup.
  • DON’T YELL. Watch the typing, which in other words means you should not use all capital letters when typing a message. When another user is reading your message, this makes him or her feel like you are hollering at them.
  • “GET RICH QUICK.” Do not post messages with subjects such as this because to be honest people get angry with this and don’t believe you anyway.
  • Advertisements are a no-no. This type of posting should be avoided as well. This approach at things will also make your users furious at you.
  • Disregard “Trolls.” The last thing that you should post in a newsgroup is hateful things about newsgroups because you just won’t get anything accomplished that way.
  • No Spam. Another important thing to think about is when posting something you really want people to see, don’t go “overboard”. Limit what you post and don’t splatter it all over as it’s just not worth doing.
  • Be Unique. Being yourself is another major rule that you should follow. If everyone was like each other in the newsgroups it would not be as interesting as it is. When you reply to a post, cut out the rest of the message and only reply with the part of the message that you are reacting to.
  • Plain and Simple! The most important rule is if you don’t think someone would think a posting is appropriate, then don’t do it.

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