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 noone 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.
Don't be rude or abusive.
Avoid sarcasm and facetious remarks.
Use descriptive titles.
Summarize the original item in followups.
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.
A more extended discussion of these points, of some important
newsgroups, and of some common questions 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. In particular, followups should never go to net.general.
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
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.
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.
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
While proper spelling and grammar do not necessarily improve the
ideas of an item, many readers feel that their absence reflects
a lack of care. And that lack of attention to English usage may
reflect a similar lack of attention to the ideas.
4. 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.)
5. Use an editor to prepare items for submission.
If you are using the standard version of readnews or postnews
you should set the EDITOR shell environment variable to the
editor you want to use. This lets you correct spelling,
6. 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.
7. Avoid sarcasm and facetious remarks.
Without the voice inflection and body language of personal
communication these are easily misinterpreted.
8. 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
9. Whenever possible, cite references.
This is especially true in discussions when you quote "facts"
that are not universally known. Many such "facts" turn out on
close examination to be opinions.
10. 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.
11. 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
12. 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.
13. 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.
14. 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.
15. Here is a list of some groups that are impory everyone. Followups and discussions
should never go here.
This is the place for continuing discussions that have
started in net.general. In the standard readnews program
the "f" command applied to an item in net.general will put
your submission in net.followup, but you can also submit
items directly to net.followup.
This is the place to carry on frivolous discussions,
arbitrary chat, and rambling discussions. New groups are
frequently spawned from these discussions.
This group exists for posting queries for help. ("I know
somebody must have a program to compute ...")
Jokes go here. Jokes that might offend any readers should
be encrypted. You can learn an encryption technique by
decoding some encrypted jokes.
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
Discussions about humor go here, not in net.jokes
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 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").
16. Here are some queries that seem to be submitted frequently by
new users. Please don't ask them out of idle curiosity.
- "Where does 'fubar' come from?"
In my opinion the best answer seems to be "Fouled up beyond
all recognition." There are lots of versions of this
acronym, in particular "Fouled" is usually replaced by a
less polite word. "foobar", "foo" and "bar" are all
derived from "fubar." (See discussion of net.jokes for the
reason I use the polite word.)
- "Does anybody know my freshman roommate, John Doe, who I
haven't seen in years but I think works at Bell Labs?"
If you really want to know, try calling any Bell Labs
location and asking the operator. (The Murray Hill number
is 201-582-3000.) They have lists and telephone numbers of
all employees. The same of course applies to DEC or UCB or
- "I can't reply via mail to some items. What can I do?"
There are two common causes for this. One is items from
ARPANET sites. (These have "@" in their names.) There are
technical, administrative and organizational problems with
communication between Usenet and ARPANET. The other cause
is machines that are on Usenet but won't forward mail.
(This includes some ARPANET sites and some uucp-only
sites.) The only (admittedly difficult) way to circumvent
both problems is to construct a path that avoids the
- "Is being called a 'hacker' a compliment or an insult?"
Some people think one, some think the other. If you want
to be unambiguous find another word.
- "How do I read followups to an item before I reply?"
This depends on how you read news. If you use the standard
readnews program then the easiest way is to use the "e-"
command after reading an item. This will tell readnews to
forget that you have read the previous item. When you have
read the followups you can "q" and start readnews again.
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.