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Emily Post for Usenet, last changed Tue Nov 1 17:45:09 1983

Jerry Schwarz Dec 2, 1983 1:37 PM
Posted in group: net.announce

                                  - 1 -

                               Emily Post for Usenet

       Usenet is a large, amorphous collection of machines (hundreds) and
       people (thousands).  Readers range from casual observers who
       infrequently scan one or two groups to active participants who spend a
       significant amount of time each day reading news.  Their ages,
       experience and interests also vary widely.  Some use the network
       solely for professional purposes.  Others use it to carry on a variety
       of exchanges and interactions.

       The kinds of interaction that occur in Usenet are new to almost
       everyone.  The interactions certainly aren't face to face.  On the
       other hand, submitting an item isn't like standing up before an
       audience either.  Nor is it like writing an article for publication.
       Nor, since no one moderates submissions, is it like writing a "letter
       to the editor." It combines aspects of formal and informal
       communications in a new way.

       Despite (or because of) these considerations Usenet is a powerful and
       pleasant tool when people submitting items follow the emerging "net
       etiquette." Users at new sites (those at which Usenet has been
       available for less than three months) should be especially cautious
       until they have adjusted to this new form of communication.

       This document is not a readnews tutorial.  In some cases I tell you to
       do something without saying how.  Ask around or consult whatever
       documentation is available.

       The following list of suggestions is long, but you can become a
       responsible member of the Usenet community by reading it.  Before
       presenting a full discussion I will boldly state the rules:

            Put all items in an appropriate group.
            Reply via mail.
            Exhibit care in preparing items.
            Read followups.
            Summarize the original item in followups.
            Use and editor.
            Don't be rude or abusive.
            Avoid sarcasm and facetious remarks.
            Use descriptive titles.
            In posting summaries of replies, summarize.
            Be as brief as possible.
            Don't submit items berating violators of these rules.
            Don't make people read the same thing more than once.
            Mark puzzles.
            Be fair.
            Follow local customs.

       A more extended discussion of these points and of some important
       newsgroups follows.

         1.  Put all items in an appropriate group.

             See below for a list of some important groups.  A followup to an
             item does not always belong in the same group as the original

             Groups exist both to accommodate different interests and to
             limit distribution.  Many geographic areas and organizations
             have groups that are only distributed locally.  For example, on
             eagle where I am composing this item there are "net" groups,
             "btl" groups (Bell Labs), "mh" (Murray Hill) and "nj" groups
             (New Jersey)".

         2.  Use mail instead of a followup item.

             When an item asks for specific information or requests a "vote",
             you should reply via mail to the originator.  Remember that many
             people will be reading the item at more or less the same time
             and if they all respond via a followup item, the net becomes
             flooded with almost identical responses that can annoy even
             people who were interested in the original question.  Followups
             are almost always inappropriate in response to an item that
             appears to have been submitted to the wrong group.

             When submitting an item that is likely to generate responses,
             remind people of this point by ending with "send me mail and
             I'll post the results to the net."   Of course, you then accept
             the obligation of doing so.

             This is one area where different groups have developed different
             standards. In opinion oriented groups, such as, it
             is acceptable for anyone to fire off a reaction to almost any
             item.  In more technical groups, such as net.physics, you are
             expected to submit a followup only if you are particularly
             knowledgable in the area of the question.

             There is some dispute over when mail sent in reply to an item
             can be forwarded to the net without permission.  If you send
             mail is response to an item that promises a summary it is
             assumed that you are willing to have it distributed on the net.
             Some ambiguity arises from items without such explicit promises.
             If you send mail that you don't want put on the net be sure to
             state that fact clearly.

         3.  Exhibit care in preparing items.

             While Usenet interactions sometimes take on the flavor of casual
             conversation, you should spend the time and effort to make your
             item readable and pertinent.  Be sure you have something new to
             say. In particular, be sure you have understood earlier items.
             If you are in doubt about an author's intent, carry on a private
             interaction.  Frequently a discussion starts with one or two
             carefully prepared "position papers" and then degenerates into
             repetitive claims.

             While proper spelling and grammar do not necessarily improve the
             ideas of an item, many readers feel that a lack of attention to
             English usage may reflect a similar lack of attention to the

         4.  Summarize the original item in followups.

             Remember that although you may have an item in front of you when
             you submit a followup, others won't.  Remind the reader of the
             point of the original item.  But don't repeat a long item.  That
             would violate the "be brief" principle.

         5.  Read followups before reacting.

             When you read an item, followups may have already reached your
             machine.  Before reacting to the item (either with mail or by
             submitting a followup) you ought to know what others have said.

             The standard readnews interface doesn't make this easy, but it
             should be done.  (See below.)

         6.  Use an editor to prepare items for submission.

             If you are using the standard version of readnews or postnews
             this will happen automatically in some older software it may be
             neccessary to set the EDITOR shell environment variable to the
             editor you want to use.   This lets you correct spelling,
             grammar, etc.

             It is usually better to followup with an "f" command in readnews
             than to submit an new item.  This insures that useful header
             information is included.

         7.  Don't be rude or abusive.

             I regret having to say this, but I have seen too many items that
             start "John, you idiot, ...", or contain phrases like "People
             who think ... should be shot." I suspect much of this rudeness
             is just carelessness.  Modes of speech that would be reasonable
             in private conversation may not be reasonable in a semi-public
             forum such as the net.

         8.  Avoid sarcasm and facetious remarks.

             Without the voice inflection and body language of personal
             communication these are easily misinterpreted.  A sideways
             smile, :-), has become widely accepted on the net as an
             indication that "I'm only kidding".  If you submit a satiric
             item without this symbol, no matter how obvious the satire is to
             you, do not be surprised if people take it seriously.

         9.  Use descriptive titles.

             Readers should be able to decide whether to read or skip items
             based on their titles.  For example if you are having trouble
             with your dishwasher you might submit an item titled "need help
             with G.E. dishwasher" to net.wanted.  Don't submit an item
             titled "Need Help."

             Followups should be titled "Re:" followed by the title of the
             original item.  This is done automatically by the "f" command in
             standard readnews.

        10.  In posting summaries of replies, actually summarize.

             Sometimes people just collect the items they received.  The
             mailed replies might just as well been submitted to the net.  At
             the least the replies should be edited to eliminate redundancy
             and irrelevancy.

        11.  Be as brief as possible.

             Some people read news over slow (300bps) terminals, and watching
             a 15 line "signature" that you have seen ten times before gets
             boring.  (I hope you don't consider this item a violation.  I
             have tried to keep it brief, but there is a lot to say.) Even
             people who read news on faster terminals don't like to wade
             through extraneous material to get to the heart of the matter.

        12.  Don't publicly berate violaters of these rules.

             They probably didn't realize the anti-social nature of their
             behavior.  Besides, if you didn't want to see the original item
             nobody wants to see your complaint.  These complaints fall into
             the category of reactions that should go directly to the
             originator via mail.

        13.  Don't make people read the same thing more than once.

             When you have something to say that is of interest to more than
             one group, submit it as one item to the groups with one command.
             If you use a separate command for each group, readers who
             subscribe to several of these groups will see it more than once.

             If you must retract or revise an item, use the "cancel" command
             on the original.

             If your item provkes negative followups, don't submit more items
             unless you have something new to say.  There isn't much point in
             submitting an item which just repeats your original submission.

        14.  Mark puzzles.

             Puzzles (questions to which you know the answer) are appropriate
             in certain groups (e.g. net.rec.bridge).  When submitting a
             puzzle make it clear that you know the answer and are submitting
             the item for the amusement of others. This will prevent people
             from putting the solution into followups. It will also let
             people who know the solution (most submitted puzzles are old)
             ignore the item without feeling guilty about not "helping" you.

        15.  Be fair.

             Remember that the net is a large audience.  Probably larger than
             any other you have addressed.  Do not present a negative
             evaluation of equipment or service unless you have given the
             supplier a fair chance to respond to your complaints, and you
             are sure of your facts.

             The possibility that you may cause real damage to a small
             company exists, as does the possibility that it could take legal
             action against you or your employer.

        16.  The net should not be used for advertising.  Informative
             announcements of products are acceptable providing they are
             placed in the proper groups, but repeated announcements or
             blatant propoganda is not.  "Classified" advertising may be
             acceptable if you are not conducting a business, however
             individual organizations may have specific rules against this.
             Somebody posted Amway ads once.  That was clearly inappropriate.

        17.  Here is a list of some groups that are important to the smooth
             functioning of the network or are frequently used improperly:

                - net.announce

                  This is a group for short announcements and queries that
                  need to be read by everyone on the net. It is a moderated,
                  which means that submissions should be sent to

                - net.general, net.followup, net.misc

                  In the early days, net.general was the place for items that
                  intended to reach everyone who read netnews. As the net
                  grew people began to unsubscribe to net.general because
                  there were too many inappropriate items submitted.
                  Net.followup and net.misc were created to reduce the
                  traffic in net.general, but even that was not sufficient.
                  Recently this has led to the creation of net.announce.

                  It is too soon to be sure what will happen to these groups,
                  but for the moment the proper use seems to be that
                  net.general is for short announcements and queries that
                  want a wide audience but are inappropriate for
                  net.announce.  Net.followup is for followups to items in
                  net.general, and net.misc is for discussions that have no
                  other natural home.

                - net.wanted

                  This group exists for posting queries for help.  ("I know
                  somebody must have a program to compute ...") "For sale"
                  and "wanted to buy" items can also go here.  But try to
                  limit the distribution to a reasonable geographic area.
                  Also note that some institutions have rules against using
                  computers for such purposes.

                - net.jokes

                  Jokes go here.  Jokes that might offend any readers should
                  be encrypted.  The common encryption scheme is called
                  "rot13" and is a simple subsitution cipher that displaces
                  each letter by 13 positions in the alphabet. Some news
                  interfaces have commands for encrypting or decrypting
                  items.  If the version you are using doesn't a simple shell
                  script using "tr" can be written.

                  This group is often seen by people who do not regularly use
                  computers, and there have been several instances of
                  problems raised by offensive jokes.  There have also been
                  several extended discussions of the relation of this issue
                  to free speech.  The conclusion of these discussions has
                  always been that because the net exists largely at the
                  sufferance of large institutions who foot the bills we
                  should all be very careful about offending anyone.  Almost
                  any racial, ethnic, or sexual reference will offend
                  somebody.  The safe rule is: don't submit an unencrypted
                  joke unless you have seen similar ones in this group


                  Discussion of all aspects of Usenet itself belong here.


                  Creating a new group affects all the machines on Usenet.
                  Normally the need for a new group should be demonstrated by
                  the submission, over a period of time, of items that might
                  properly belong in a new group.  If you are new to Usenet
                  (less than 3 months) you probably shouldn't be creating new

                  If you want to discuss a topic and can't find anywhere
                  else, try net.misc.

                  In any case before you create a new group, submit an item
                  proposing the new group to and to specific
                  groups that may share interests with your proposed new
                  group.  If after a week or two, you have received support
                  for the idea, and you haven't received any strenuous
                  objections, go ahead and create the group.  You should also
                  create an item in the new group with a distant expiration
                  date describing what the group is about.

                - net.sources

                  After being announced in some appropriate place useful
                  programs and shell scripts are put here.  These should be
                  well enough commented so that even people who miss the
                  announcement can understand what they do.

                - net.test

                  This exists so that Usenet administrators can test the
                  functioning of the software.  It should be used only as a
                  last resort since items will go to all machines.  In most
                  instances there will be a more limited group in which to
                  put tests (e.g. "mh.test").

       Phew!!  Don't let this long list intimidate you.  The net exists to be
       used.  It is a powerful tool and as long as people treat it as a tool
       rather than a toy, it will prosper.

       Jerry Schwarz