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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.
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.
Follow local customs.
A more extended discussion of these points and of some important
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
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
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,
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
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
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
- 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
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").
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.