Posting to Usenet Groups


2006/11/29

It seems that Google Groups has introduced a large number of new Usenet News users. To us old timers, "news" was the only way to have public discussions: early web pages seldom allowed for comments, and the old dial-up bulletin boards hadn't transitioned to the web.

But new Internet users (especially Windows users) often didn't know about newsgroups simply because they had no software: newsreaders existed for Unix, but were text based and although powerful, not usually user friendly. That changed, of course; GUI news readers became available, but because this was still separate software that needed to be installed, and because you had to in the first place know that you even WANTED to read News, many new users were blissfully unaware that any such thing existed at all.

Google Groups changed that. The earliest versions only allowed reading, but posting capability wasn't too far behind, and as Google searching started offering to search the News in addition to web pages, people started realizing what was available to them.

Unfortunately, there were problems. Google itself was part of the problem: whoever wrote the interface obviously hadn't used other News posting software and didn't understand the way the old timers were used to doing things. Part of this was a culture clash too: web pages by now allowed comments, and bulletin board style web pages (forums) were now common. Many users who stumbled across Google News assumed quite naturally that these were just more forums. That misunderstanding caused bad feelings on both sides (Google is probably the best known now, but both Microsoft and AOL made their own contributions to the mess).

If you are a newcomer to News, there are some things you should understand.:

  • Google Groups is disdained by many old-timers.

    That's a bit undeserved now. Originally the software was extremely ill-suited to newsgroup posting: for example, it didn't automatically quote replies. But that's all been fixed, and it isn't half bad now. But since the old guard wouldn't dirty their fingers with this, they don't know that, so they'll sneer at you for using it.

  • It is necessary to quote the post you are replying to.

    The reason is that Usenet News is NOT a forum on a web page. It is widely distributed data with some unique characteristics:


  • News articles expire. With the advent of very large hard drives, servers keep articles around longer than they used to, but you cannot assume that anyone has a particular message.

  • News articles get to servers late, out of sequence and sometimes never at all. News is much faster and more reliable than it ever was, but you cannot assume that anyone has a specific message or that the messages are in the same order you see them.

  • Some people read News by email gateways or other indirect means. Everything above applies to them in spades. This is why you need to quote: people reading may have no idea what you are talking about if you don't. Even if the original article is available, good newsreaders don't bother to display articles you've already read, so quoting is polite: it keeps the reader from having to go find what you are talking about. Aside from that. it's tradition: quoting is what newsgroup readers expect.




  • You shouldn't top post.

    Top posting is when somebody asks a question like "What's a good text editor?" and your reply looks like this:

    Vi is the ONLY Editor!

    >Tommy Smith wrote:
    >
    > What's a good text editor?


    There is nothing intrinsically wrong with top posting, but the Usenet tradition does not like it. It's silly, yes (see Top posting or Bottom? WHO THE HELL CARES!), but it annoys the grumpy old folks. See Usenet is not a web site for some thoughts on why they get so crazy about this, but simply put: if you don't want more scorn and derision, when in Rome, do as the Romans do: intersperse your reply with the quoted original content. And please: trim unimportant stuff first. Trimming is an art; some people do it better than others, but you at least should try.

  • If you are posting a question to a newsgroup, and are tempted to post to several, please think carefully first and then, if you still think you must, make it ONE post going to multiple groups. Google lets you do that simply by separating the groups with commas: comp.unix.shell, comp.os.linux.misc, for example.

  • Make intelligent posts. See How To Ask Questions The Smart Way. If you have not read that yet, do NOT post, period.



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