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 item.
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 net.singles, 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 ideas.
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:
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 cbosgd!announce.
- 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.
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.
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 already.
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 groups.
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 net.news.group 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.
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.
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.