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The free.* FAQ (version 2.0.1)

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Tim Skirvin

Mar 31, 2022, 8:04:04 PM3/31/22
Archive-name: usenet/free/charter
Posting-frequency: twice monthly
Last-modified: 2001/07/11
Version: 2.0.1

"Everything is permitted. Nothing is forbidden."
The Free FAQ
by Tim Skirvin

This document is an introduction to free.* and the issues surrounding it.
It assumes that you have at least some basic knowledge of Usenet history
and administration; if you don't, well, either go get them and come back,
or accept that there's going to be some parts of this FAQ that you don't
understand. All standard disclaimers apply, void where prohibited, you
may cancel at any time for a full refund, trust no one, <FISH><, fnord.

Table of Contents * = new material

I. General Questions
1. What is free.*?
2. Why was it made?
3. How can I get access to free.*? *
4. What groups are available?
II. Policy Questions
1. So, free.* has no rules then?
2. What about [fill-in-the-blank] cancels?
3. Won't the groups become massively abuse-ridden?
4. How are the rules enforced?
5. What about "(Free == absolutely NO rules)"?
III. User Questions
1. Why would I want to read free.*?
2. Can I post [fill-in-the-blank] here?
3. Can I make my own group?
IV. Other Questions
1. Can I issue cancels for articles cross-posted out of free.*?
2. Can I make my own hierarchy?
3. Why did you negotiate with terrorists?
V. Other documents
1. The free.* charter
2. The Freedom Knights
3. Other hierarchies
VI. Three Years Later - A Retrospective *
1. How well has free.* worked? *
2. Would you do it again? *


I. General Questions
1. What is free.*?

free.* is a Usenet hierarchy where the only rule is "do whatever
you want as long as you're not destroying somebody else's words". If you
know Usenet already, you can think of it as a more chaotic alt.*; if you
don't, know Usenet, the closest analogy is probably to a true anarchy.

2. Why was it made?

By the time free.* was created on July 18, 1998, the idea of free.*
had been kicked around for years - in fact, the idea had already been tried
once in 1994, though it met with limited success. The idea of a hierarchy
was appealing to many, from users that wanted a place where they wouldn't
be watched over to administrators that wanted to experiment with a true
anarchy; many others were disgusted by the idea, fearing that it would be
a barren wasteland filled with spam populated only with kooks and morons.
Nobody had any idea who was right, and it was left at that.

The initial catalyst for the creation of free.* was a continuing
cancelwar in news.*, reportedly over the rights of users to control their
own posts. Annoyed by the cancels and reposts, Tim Skirvin, a fairly
prominent poster to news.admin.*, decided to see what he could do about
the problem, so he entered into mock negotiations with the rogue canceller.
After several aborted attempts to figure out what the canceller wanted,
Tim remembered the idea of free.* and mentioned it off-handedly; he was
genuinely surprised to find that the canceller was actually interested in
the proposal. Confident that the hierarchy was a good idea whose time had
come, and not caring that he would probably be reviled for years to come
over his apparent negotiation, he posted a charter, sent out a few newgroups,
and declared the hierarchy open for business.

3. How can I get access to free.*?

Not too many educational or corporate news servers carry the
hierarchy; if you want to read it, you'll probably have to find yourself a
commercial provider. Google Groups ( - formerly
DejaNews), a free Usenet service, carries the hierarchy; most of the
other large news resellers carry at least some portion of it, and are
generally open to add more. Your best bet is probably to use one of them.

You could, of course, ask your news administrators to pick up the
hierarchy, which shouldn't be very challenging. If sufficient interest is
there, most admins will pick it up, and interest is often determined by
user requests.

4. What groups are available?

Because this is a FAQ that doesn't want to be updated every couple
of days, it's not going to list off the newsgroups in free.* here. Instead,
check out, part of the ISC's
canonical newgroup/rmgroup archive.

II. Policy Questions
1. So, free.* has no rules then?

In essence, yes. More specifically, there is one rule: anybody
can do whatever they want, as long as it doesn't destroy somebody else's
words. What this means in practice:

o No cancel messages or any derivitives thereof are allowed within
free.*. If any are issued, they should not be honored.
o rmgroups should not be issued for any group in the free.* hierarchy.
o Servers should not filter their free.* feeds.

Other than that, everything is allowed by the hierarchy.

2. What about [fill-in-the-blank] cancels.

Spam cancels, binary cancels, spew cancels, forgery cancels,
persoanl cancels, and in fact every form of cancel are right out. Any
filtering that needs to be done should be done on the poster- or user-side

3. Won't the groups become massively abuse-ridden?

Probably. Then again, this might not be that much of a change -
much of alt.* is already effectively flooded, thanks to the tenacity of
the spammers, and even* survives in some fashion or another. In
addition, the prohibitions on filtering do not extend to complaints about
abusive users; service providers are still free to cancel accounts for
usage violations as they see fit. And, of course, it's possible that the
spammers will recognize a good thing when they see it and let the
hierarchy survive.

free.* will probably have more spam than most hierarchies; few
people doubt that. What's in question is whether or not it will be able
to survive it - and, given a little ingenuity and hard work, there's few
reasons it wouldn't be able to.

4. How are the rules enforced?

Well, in essence, they aren't. Sure, it might be possible to
track down everybody that issues cancels within the hierarchy and beat them
upside the head with a clue stick, but that's hard to do when there's
nobody really in charge; all that's really possible is to encourage people
to pay attention to the hierarchy's rules or drop the hierarchy entirely.
Administrators that carry the hierarchy are also encouraged to update
their software to ignore cancels and rmgroups within the hierarchy, which
solves the problem permanently within that server.

As for the rules regarding filtering, well, it's not really much
of a rule anyway, and it's ignored to one extent or another by just about
every server out there. It's more useful as a statement of principles
than a rule...

5. What about "(Free == absolutely NO rules)"?

*sigh* Alright, a history lesson: free.* was originally created
in late 1994 by John Palmer, during a flamewar over alt.* creation policies.
It enjoyed a brief period of semi-popularity, before fading into almost
complete obscurity for several years. While several people continued to
use the hierarchy during this time, few noticed their crossposts; free.*
may as well have not existed.

That didn't stop the old residents from piping up and complaining
when the hierarchy was made.

The original charter for free.* was "(Free == absolutely NO rules)".
This is, of course, not entirely compatible with the current charter; still,
to most it's close enough to make no difference. While there is a slight
rift over the matter between the old and new hierarchy residents, it's
probably more practical to follow the new rules than the old.

III. User Questions
1. Why would I want to read free.*?

In most cases, you probably don't - there isn't a whole lot of
content there, and it's a lot harder to sift the wheat from the chaff in
an unfiltered hierarchy. Still, it's got its advantages - your posts will
go out exactly as you made them, you can talk about things just about
anywhere you want to, you probably won't be made fun of for being silly,
and you can just generally do what you want.

If any of that stuff sounds appealing to you, then I guess this
hierarchy's for you. If not, then I highly recommend you ignore it.

2. Can I post [fill-in-the-blank] here?

It depends on what you're talking about and what your ISP's
policies are. You can get away with posting spam, binaries, and whatever
else to free.* without the threat of any administrative retaliation; you
may get bitched at by your service provider, though, and there's not too
much that anybody else can do about it. Flames, off-topic posts, cascades,
and everything else is probably going to be just ignored. Nobody's going
to yell at you for forging the approval to a moderated newsgroup, except
maybe one of the other users. Pretty much, you can do whatever you want,
as long as your admins know what's up and are okay with it.

That doesn't mean you *should* do any of this, of course. But at
least it's an option.

3. Can I make my own group?

Certainly. Just post a message that looks something like this
(headers and all):

Newsgroups: free.control,free.fishhead
Subject: cmsg newgroup free.fishhead
Control: newgroup free.fishhead
From: (Fish Head)

For your newsgroups file:
free.fishhead Eat them up, yum!

There's no guarantee that anybody will carry your group, of course,
but at least you tried. Better names will probably ensure that more servers
will carry your group, so you might want to put some thought into it.

IV. Other Questions
1. Can I issue cancels for articles cross-posted out of free.*?

Sure. The most restictive ruleset of any newsgroup present in a
cross-posted article applies; considering that every other hierarchy has a
more restrictive ruleset than free.*, there's not much that our policies
are going to affect.

This does mean, of course, that crossposting into free.* is not a
way around standard Usenet policies. If you want your articles to remain
safe, I wouldn't recommend crossposting them out of free.*. Period.

2. Can I make my own hierarchy?

Sure. It'd probably be a good idea if you kept it within free.*
if you want the same policies (or lack thereof) to apply to it; however,
there's really not much anybody can do to stop you from making whatever
top-level hierarchies you want.

3. Why did you negotiate with terrorists?

Oh, for Gods' sakes...look, people, free.* was created because it
was a good idea, not to be anybody's personal playground. Any reports you
may hear about me doing it for any specific individual are a) exaggerated
b) silly, and c) a damned fine disinformation job on my part.


V. Other Documents
1. The free.* charter

From the original hierarchy announcement:

free.* is a hierarchy where anything is allowed, and nothing is
forbidden. Period. There will be no cancels here, no rmgroups, no
supersedes, and no central control. If somebody wants a group, they can
create it. If somebody wants to post something, they can post it. If
somebody wants to forge something, they can forge it. If somebody wants
to do something, they can do it - as long as it doesn't involve the
destruction of somebody else's words.

There will be no spam cancels in free.*, no binary cancels, no
forgery cancels, no spew cancels, no cancels period. Administrators are
encourged to not filter the newsgroups in any way, including server-based
filters and NoCeM. Administrators are also encourged to not honor cancel
messages crossposted to the hierarchy.

These rules will be enforced by anybody that cares to enforce
them. Considering the type of rules, this enforcement will most likely
take the form of educating people on just what free.* is about.

Above all, free.* is about free speech without authority. Enjoy
it or ignore it. It's your choice.

2. The Freedom Knights

Many of the ideas for free.* came from years of discussions on the
Freedom Knights mailing list. The Freedom Knights are a group dedicated
to free speech on Usenet; so far as I know, free.* is exactly what they want
Usenet to be like. As such, you might want to check out their webpages,
at <URL:>. Enjoy.

3. Other hierarchies

free.* is not the only new Usenet hierarchy to pop up over the
last couple of years.

o mod.* (<URL:>)
A hierarchy for only moderated newsgroups; it's a kindof of flip-side
to free.*. Not yet started, but it probably will be fairly soon.

o net.* (<URL:>)
A hierarchy that tries to work through the application of rules,
rather than a lack of them. It currently exists, is fairly popular,
and is pretty much the domain of news administrators.

VI. Three Years Later - A Retrospective

(You may have noticed that most of the above FAQ was written back
in July 1998, shortly after the creation of free.*. It is now three years
later, just a week until the third anniversary of my brainstorm/brainfart,
depending on who you ask, and a bit of perspective is necessary...)

1. How well has free.* worked?

About as well as could be expected. A lot of groups have been
created (2322, by my count, as of Wed Jul 11 09:36:05 CDT 2001), and not
all (or even most) of them are joke groups. Are they filled with spam?
You bet. But a lot of them are also used, if intermittently, and that's
really enough of an excuse (in my mind) for the cost in disk space and
processor time.

If one thing of interest has come out of free.*, it's the regional
sub-hierarchies. There are two truly substantial sub-hierarchies of note
-* (Italian) and* (United Kingdom) - but other, smaller
sub-hierarchies also thrive (*,*,*, etc). These
groups have served the same purpose as alt.* does for the Big-8 (rec.*,
sci.*, etc) - offering an alternative group creation process - for regional

2. Would you do it again?

Yes, though I doubt I'd go about it the same way - the impression
that free.* was an appeasement for net abusers still holds strong, becuase
not enough effort was spent avoiding that stigma early in the hierarchy's
creation. It would probably also have been useful to work with some others
to create some advisory namespace guidelines; steering people towards four
or five different solutions would have also been an interesting experiment.

But overall, I'm reasonably satisfied with free.*. It hasn't
exactly changed the world, but I didn't want it to.

Copyright 2001 by Tim Skirvin <>
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