4 Usenet News, Part 2 of 2

4.13 Usenet "Netiquette"

There are many traditions with Usenet, not the least of which is dubbed netiquette--being polite and considerate of others. If you follow a few basic guidelines, you, and everyone that reads your posts, will be much happier in the long run.

4.13.1 Signatures

At the end of most articles is a small blurb called a person's signature. In Unix this file is named '.signature' in the person's login directory-it will vary for other operating systems. It exists to provide information about how to get in touch with the person posting the article, including their email address, phone number, address, or where they're located. Even so, signatures have become the graffiti of computers. People put song lyrics, pictures, philosophical quotes, even advertisements in their ".sigs". (Note, however, that advertising in your signature will more often than not get you flamed until you take it out.)

Four lines will suffice--more is just extra garbage for Usenet sites to carry along with your article, which is supposed to be the intended focus of the reader. Netiquette dictates limiting oneself to this "quota" of four--some people make signatures that are ten lines or even more, including elaborate ASCII drawings of their hand-written signature or faces or even the space shuttle. This is not cute, and will bother people to no end.

Similarly, it's not necessary to include your signature--if you forget to append it to an article, don't worry about it. The article's just as good as it ever would be, and contains everything you should want to say. Don't re-post the article just to include the signature.

4.13.2 Posting Personal Messages

If mail to a person doesn't make it through, avoid posting the message to a newsgroup. Even if the likelihood of that person reading the group is very high, all of the other people reading the articles don't give a whit what you have to say to Jim Morrison. Simply wait for the person to post again and double-check the address, or get in touch with your system administrator and see if it's a problem with local email delivery. It may also turn out that their site is down or is having problems, in which case it's just necessary to wait until things return to normal before contacting Jim.

4.13.3 Posting Mail

In the interests of privacy, it's considered extremely bad taste to post any email that someone may have sent, unless they explicitly give you permission to redistribute it. While the legal issues can be heavily debated, most everyone agrees that email should be treated as anything one would receive via normal snailmail [Footnote: The slang for the normal land and air postal service] with all of the assumed rights that are carried with it.

4.13.4 Test Messages

Many people, particularly new users, want to try out posting before actually taking part in discussions. Often the mechanics of getting messages out is the most difficult part of Usenet. To this end, many, many users find it necessary to post their tests to "normal" groups (for example, news.admin or comp.mail.misc). This is considered a major netiquette faux pas in the Usenet world. There are a number of groups available, called test groups, that exist solely for the purpose of trying out a news system, reader, or even new signature. They include:

some of which will generate auto-magic replies to your posts to let you know they made it through. There are certain denizens of Usenet that frequent the test groups to help new users out. They respond to the posts, often including the article so the poster can see how it got to the person's site. Also, many regional hierarchies have test groups, like phl.test in Philadelphia.

By all means, experiment and test--just do it in its proper place.

4.13.5 Famous People Appearing

Every once in a while, someone says that a celebrity is accessible through "The Net"; or, even more entertaining, an article is forged to appear to be coming from that celebrity. One example is Stephen Spielberg--the rec.arts.movies readership was in an uproar for two weeks following a couple of posts supposedly made by Mr. Spielberg. (Some detective work revealed it to be a hoax.)

There are a few well-known people that are acquainted with Usenet and computers in general--but the overwhelming majority are just normal people. One should act with skepticism whenever a notable personality is "seen" in a newsgroup.

4.13.6 Summaries

Authors of articles occasionally say that readers should reply by mail and they'll summarize. Accordingly, readers should do just that--reply via mail. Responding with a followup article to such an article defeats the intention of the author. She, in a few days, will post one article containing the highlights of the responses she received. By following up to the whole group, the author may not read what you have to say.

When creating a summary of the replies to a post, try to make it as reader-friendly as possible. Avoid just putting all of the messages received into one big file. Rather, take some time and edit the messages into a form that contains the essential information that other readers would be interested in. Also, sometimes people will respond but request to remain anonymous (one example is the employees of a corporation that feel the information's not proprietary, but at the same time want to protect themselves from political backlash). Summaries should honor this request accordingly by listing the 'From:' address as 'anonymous' or '(Address withheld by request)'.

4.13.7 Quoting

When following up to an article, many newsreaders provide the facility to quote the original article with each line prefixed by '> ', as in:

     In article <1232@foo.bar.com>, sharon@foo.bar.com wrote:
     > I agree, I  think that basketweaving's really catching on,
     > particularly in  Pennsylvania.  Here's a list of every person
     > in PA that currently  engages in it publicly:

This is a severe example (potentially a horribly long article), but proves a point. When you quote another person, edit out whatever isn't directly applicable to your reply. [Footnote: But not changing their words, of course.] This gives the reader of the new article a better idea of what points you were addressing. By including the entire article, you'll only annoy those reading it. Also, signatures in the original aren't necessary; the readers already know who wrote it (by the attribution).

Avoid being tedious with responses--rather than pick apart an article, address it in parts or as a whole. Addressing practically each and every word in an article only proves that the person responding has absolutely nothing better to do with his time.

If a "war" starts (insults and personal comments get thrown back and forth), take it into email--exchange email with the person you're arguing with. No one enjoys watching people bicker incessantly.

4.13.8 Crossposting

The 'Newsgroups:' line isn't limited to just one group--an article can be posted in a list of groups. For instance, the line

     Newsgroups: sci.space,comp.simulation

posts the article to both the groups sci.space and comp.simulation. It's usually safe to crosspost to up to three or four groups. To list more than that is considered "excessive noise."

It's also suggested that if an article is crossposted a 'Followup-To:' header be included. It should name the group to which all additional discussion should be directed to. For the above example a possible 'Followup-To:' would be:

     Followup-To: sci.space

which would make all followups automatically be posted to just sci.space, rather than both sci.space and comp.simulation. If every response made with a newsreader's "followup" command should go to the person posting the article no matter what, there's also a mechanism worked in to accommodate. The Followup-To: header should contain the single word 'poster': Followup-To: poster

Certain newsreaders will use this to sense that a reply should never be posted back onto The Net. This is often used with questions that will yield a summary of information later, a vote, or an advertisement.

4.13.9 Recent News

One should avoid posting "recent" events--sports scores, a plane crash, or whatever people will see on the evening news or read in the morning paper. By the time the article has propagated across all of Usenet, the "news" value of the article will have become stale. (This is one case for the argument that 'Usenet news' is a misnomer. [Footnote: Note that the Clarinet News service (see Section 7.3 "Clarinet") offers news items in a Usenet format as a precise alternative to the morning paper, et. al.])

4.13.10 Quality of Postings

How you write and present yourself in your articles is important. If you have terrible spelling, keep a dictionary near by. If you have trouble with grammar and punctuation, try to get a book on English grammar and composition (found in many bookstores and at garage sales). By all means pay attention to what you say--it makes you who you are on The Net.

Likewise, try to be clear in what you ask. Ambiguous or vague questions often lead to no response at all, leaving the poster discouraged. Give as much essential information as you feel is necessary to let people help you, but keep it within limits. For instance, you should probably include the operating system of your computer in the post if it's needed, but don't tell everybody what peripherals you have hanging off of it.

4.13.11 Useful Subjects

The 'Subject:' line of an article is what will first attract people to read it--if it's vague or doesn't describe what's contained within, no one will read the article. At the same time, 'Subject:' lines that're too wordy tend to be irritating. For example:

     Good Subject: Building Emacs on a Sun Sparc under 4.1
     Good Subject: Tryin' to find Waldo in NJ.
     Bad  Subject: I can't get emacs to work !!!
     Bad  Subject: I'm desperately in search of the honorable Mr. Waldo in

Simply put, try to think of what will best help the reader when he or she encounters your article in a newsreading session.

4.13.12 Tone of Voice

Since common computers can't portray the inflection or tone in a person's voice, how articles are worded can directly affect the response to them. If you say

     Anybody using a Vic-20 should go buy themselves a life.

you'll definitely get some responses--telling you to take a leap. Rather than be inflammatory, phrase your articles in a way that rationally expresses your opinion, like

     What're the practical uses of a Vic-20 these days?

which presents yourself as a much more level-headed individual.

Also, what case (upper or lower) you use can indicate how you're trying to speak--netiquette dictates that if you USE ALL CAPITAL LETTERS, people will think you're "shouting." Write as you would in a normal letter to a friend, following traditional rules of English (or whatever language you happen to speak).

4.13.13 Computer Religion

No matter what kind of computer a person is using, theirs is always the best and most efficient of them all. Posting articles asking questions like 'What computer should I buy? An Atari ST or an Amiga?' will lead only to fervent arguments over the merits and drawbacks of each brand. Don't even ask The Net--go to a local user group, or do some research of your own like reading some magazine reviews. Trying to say one computer is somehow better than another is a moot point.

4.14 Frequently Asked Questions

A number of groups include Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) lists, which give the answers to questions or points that have been raised time and time again in a newsgroup. They're intended to help cut down on the redundant traffic in a group. For example, in the newsgroup alt.tv.simpsons, one recurring question is 'Did you notice that there's a different blackboard opening at the beginning of every Simpsons episode?' As a result, it's part of the FAQ for that group.

Usually, FAQ lists are posted at the beginning of each month, and are set to expire one month later (when, supposedly, the next FAQ will be published). Nearly every FAQ is also crossposted to news.answers, which is used as a Usenet repository for them. 4.14.1 The Pit-Manager Archive

MIT, with Jonathan Kamens, has graciously dedicated a machine to the archiving and storage of the various periodic postings that are peppered throughout the various Usenet groups. To access them, FTP to the system pit-manager.mit.edu and look in the directory '/pub/usenet'.

"Be it true or false, so it be news."
Ben Jonson,
News from the New World

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