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Chapter 20. Participating in Internet Ne... > Practicing Newsgroup Etiquette

Practicing Newsgroup Etiquette

To help make Usenet a pleasant experience for all the participants, there are a few rules of newsgroup etiquette—sometimes called netiquette, a blend of network and etiquette—you should know. Here’s a summary:


  • Write good subjects— Busy newsgroup readers often use a message’s subject line to decide whether to read the message. This is particularly true if the recipient does not know you. Therefore, do not use subject lines that are either vague or overly general—for example, Info Required or A Newsgroup Post. Make your subject line descriptive enough that the reader can tell at a glance what your message is about.


    When you reply to a post, the newsreader adds Re: to the subject line. However, it’s common for the topic under discussion to change after a while. If you’re changing the topic in a reply, be sure to change the subject line, too. If you think other readers of the original subject will also be interested in this reply, quote the original subject line as part of your new subject, as in this example:

    Dog food suggestions needed (was Re: Canine nutrition)

  • Quote appropriately— When posting a follow-up, you can make sure that other group readers know what you are responding to by including quotes from the original message in your reply. However, quoting the entire message is usually wasteful, especially if the message is lengthy. Just include enough of the original to put your response into context.

  • Be patient— If you post an article and it doesn’t show up in the newsgroup five seconds later, don’t resend the article. A posted article goes on quite a journey as it wends its way through the highways and byways of the Internet. As a result, it could take several minutes or even as long as an hour before your article appears in the newsgroup. (This is why it’s bad Usenet form to post articles “announcing” some current news event. By the time the article appears, the event is likely to be old news to most readers, and you’ll end up looking just plain silly. If you’re aching to discuss it with someone, try the misc.headlines group.)

  • Don’t send flames— If you receive a message with what appears to be a thoughtless or insulting remark, your immediate reaction might be to compose an emotionally charged, scathing reply. Such a message is a flame, and it will probably only make matters worse. If you feel the message merits a response (and very often, it doesn’t), allow yourself at least 24 hours to cool down before responding to the message.

  • Ask questions— If you are just starting out with newsgroups, you might have questions about how they work or what kinds of groups are available. There is a newsgroup devoted to these kinds of questions: news.newusers.questions.

  • Read the FAQ— After you’ve subscribed to a newsgroup and before you post your first message, read through the group’s list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ). Some newsgroups post their own FAQs regularly, usually monthly. You can also find FAQs in the answers topic under each mainstream hierarchy: comp.answers, rec.answers, and so on. Alternatively, the news.answers group contains periodic FAQ postings from most groups that have FAQs.

  • Search existing posts— If you have a question that isn’t in the FAQ, there’s still a good chance that someone has asked it before and received an answer. Before posting, search the newsgroup to see if your question has popped up in the past.

  • Post something— Newsgroups thrive on participation and the constant give and take of post and follow-up. Merely reading posts adds no value to a group, so every subscriber is expected to post at least occasionally.

  • Post appropriately— When you want to post a message, think carefully about which newsgroup is appropriate so that you do not send a message that other people see as off-topic or even offensive. Also, unless it is absolutely necessary, do not post your message to two or more groups—a practice called cross-posting—even if they cover closely related topics.

  • Read existing follow-ups— Before posting a reply to an existing message, check to see whether the post already has any follow-ups. If so, read them to make sure that your follow-up does not simply repeat something that was already said.

  • Don’t advertise— For the most part, Usenet is not an advertising medium, so do not post ads to newsgroups. If you really want to advertise, use the appropriate group in the biz hierarchy. For example, if you have property you want to sell, you can post an ad on biz.marketplace.real-estate. Including the address of your website in your signature is perfectly acceptable, however.

  • Use summaries— Posts that act as surveys or that ask for suggestions can often generate lots of responses, many of which are repeats. If you want to post such a message, tell the respondents to send their replies to you via email and offer to summarize the results. When all the follow-ups are in, post your own follow-up that includes a summary of the responses you received.



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