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Usenet is an interactive online news system that allows people around the world to participate in discussions about various topics. Usenet news is like the conventional news media such as newspapers and magazines in that information is distributed to a large audience. The big advantage of Usenet is that the readers can also participate in the discussions that take place. Usenet users divide themselves among different newsgroups with various topics. Currently there are about 7000 active newsgroups with topics ranging from genetic research to digital music, and about everything in between. Newsgroups can be created by nearly anyone, as long as a concensus about the usefulness and potential interest is discussed on the news administrators' newsgroup, alt.config. Contrary to the Big-Brother image this may provoke, the system of Usenet news remains a truly free, democratic forum where people can communicate with one another about a wide array of topics.

A Brief History of Usenet News

The software that makes Usenet news possible was originally created by systems programmers as a way of communicating with one another during the early years of the UNIX operating system's development. Once the network connections and news server software necessary to make Usenet news possible were in place, new uses for Usenet quickly became apparent. Scientists across the world began sharing research ideas and results through this system. Today Usenet is used by many students and faculty at universities across the world to communicate scientific knowledge. An additional population of commercial Internet subscribers has led to the creation of many art, recreational, and politically oriented newsgroups. With the continued growth of private Internet service providers and the further expansion of the communication infrastructure, the amount and variety of News will also grow. Internet service providers are dedicating new computer hardware to serving the demands of the ever-growing user base. It is hard to say exactly how many people read Usenet. However, it can be assumed that for every poster there must be at least a dozen other 'lurkers' who are just reading through the postings in a newsgroup. Traditionally Usenet was provided by educational and government institutions as a side-function to the normal operation of expensive computer hardware. The operation of these networks is now quickly being taken over by telecommunications companies (MCI, Sprint, AT&T, etc.) Putting the technical concerns aside, the challenge will remain to continue the philosophy of self-regulation as the virtual population grows. This is necessary to keep Usenet news the free and open forum that it started as. Already some newsgroups are filled with flame wars where the bulk of the postings have degraded to senseless name-calling and bitter personal attacks. Read alt.flame.abortion for some good examples of flame-wars, and try not to fall into a flame-war yourself.

Usenet Heirarchies

Newsgroups are categorized according to their topics following an established set of naming conventions. A newsgroup's name looks something like this: The top-level heirarchy name rec. describes the general topic level, in this case "recreation". Notice that periods separate the parts of a newsgroup's name. The next part of the name takes you to the recreation subdivision of .music., and finally to a specific band's name, such as .phish. Note: UNIX people rarely capitalize anything - all newsgroups are typed in lower case. Here is a brief list of some top-level news heirarchies:

Here are some more Newsgroups Resources

Netiquette - Politeness on Usenet

Once you begin reading the news on a regular basis, you will soon learn that some newsgroups seem to be composed of nothing but derogatory and insulting posts. Many people in the world have different opinions about various issues. Some people are only able to respond to posts that present differing viewpoints by yelling and screaming at one another and generally acting like a child. This is not the best way to convince people that your opinion is correct. In fact, screaming like an idiot on Usenet may go a long way towards discrediting your thoughts and opinions. When all you have to go on is someone's written text, it is hard to tell if they are joking or serious. It is often difficult to tell what a person's mindset was like when they wrote a post. They may have sat down and hurriedly scratched out their opinion, or they may have only been jesting. Some posts use the smiley, a series of punctuation that looks like a smile (or a frown) when you turn your head sideways. These are some smiley's ;) |-} :-=) Smileys generally indicate that someone was joking. Look for these cues before you conclude that "Bob in Nantucket" deserves the biggest dose of venom that you can type of because he thinks "Snowboarding is Just Morally WRONG". Leave Bob with his opinion, and go ride your snowboard.

Finally, realize that people will always have different opinions. All you need to do is hold your own opinions. If you make it your duty to try and change everyone else's opinion on Usenet, you will not only fail horribly, but you will waste a lot of your time insulting people who you don't even know. You may even receive an e-mail box full of hate mail! The point here is, ignore Flames and insulting posts. Spend your time reading messages that may have some interesting content. When you respond to a post, think about what you are saying first and try to express yourself in an intelligent manner. Remember, your written words are all the world will have to judge you and your thoughts by. Don't make a fool out of yourself by responding to someone else's flame-bait. It is a fact that some people will deliberately post harassing messages that are intended to make people like you respond with an emotional, heartfelt outcry. This is called flame-bait. Don't fall into these peoples' traps - you are just giving them their jollies and working yourself into a frenzy if you do so. You are best off ignoring these sorts of insulting posts.

Other Guides to Netiquette

Accessing Usenet

There are several ways to read the news. The simplest ways involve using some sort of graphical news reader running under Windows. Netscape has a simplistic news browser built into it. Other Windows applications are dedicated newsreaders, such as Free Agent, WinVN, News XPress, Q News, Trumpet News, and others. The newsreader we will use in this class is the Free Agent - one of the best free-ware newsreaders available today. Back in the old days before we all had graphical connections to the Internet, there were programs called trn and tin which ran on UNIX shell accounts. You can still use these programs to read to news if you login to your UCS account. The mail-reader pine also supports a limited kind of news reading now. Rather than get stuck learning the old ways of reading news, this class will focus on the newer graphical newsreaders, which are much easier to operate. Instead of having to memorize cryptic command keys, reading Usenet news is now as simple as pointing the mouse to an article of interest and clicking on the mouse button.

Oregon and Forestry Newsgroups

Here is a list of some newsgroups that you may find interesting. Use this page as a starting point to explore the world of Usenet news on the Internet. If you like reading the news with Netscape, then you'll enjoy the move up to Free Agent, which makes reading the news even easier.

the following is taken from the Usenet FAQ


  Those who have never tried electronic communication may not be aware
  of what a "social skill" really is.  One social skill that must be
  learned, is that other people have points of view that are not only
  different, but *threatening*, to your own.  In turn, your opinions may
  be threatening to others.  There is nothing wrong with this.  Your
  beliefs need not be hidden behind a facade, as happens with
  face-to-face conversation.  Not everybody in the world is a bosom
  buddy, but you can still have a meaningful conversation with them.
  The person who cannot do this lacks in social skills.
									 -- Nick Szabo

  Anarchy means having to put up with things that really piss you off.
									 -- Unknown

What is Usenet?
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Last Updated 21-February-96 by Douglas Grayburn