Frequently Asked Questions about Newsgroups


 

What are newsgroups?

Internet newsgroups are forums dedicated to the discussion of specifically defined topics. These range from general every-day non-computer related subjects to the mundane and sometimes highly esoteric. Subjects run the gamut from discourse on the rock group Nirvana to the mating habits of the drosophila fruit fly to self-help groups for recovering drug addicts.

Closer to home, many instructors at DePaul have requested newsgroups to be set up for their courses. Instructors can post answers to assignments, test and quizzes to these newsgroups. Students can post messages asking for help on various topics, trying to set up studying sessions with others and anything else that might be of interest. DePaul also has newsgroups devoted to various miscellaneous purposes such as buying and selling equipment, subletting apartments and discussion of university-related issues.

 

How do I find a newsgroup related to a specific interest of mine?

There are a variety of methods you can use to find a newsgroup related to your interest. More often than not, the problem is not a simply a question of determining the existence of the appropriate newsgroup, but rather, determining which particular newsgroup applies to your interest. To give but one (random) idea of a way in which might use Usenet, imagine a situation in whcih one is attempting to find a suitable filter for one's pet turtle's aquarium. A search through the fairly extensive lists of newsgroups to see if there was one on turtles did not prove fruitful. (A discussion on searching for a specific newsgroup follows shortly). However, a search for the word reptile, turned up the group rec.pets.herp dedicated to the discussion of herpetology (study of reptiles and amphibians). Within thirty-six hours a help request prompted the response of several responses from all over the world. The main factor to be aware of is that you have to be creative in your searching. Begin by searching as specifically as possible. If you have no luck at first, try generalizing your search somewhat. Chances are that you will find what you are looking for without too much trouble.

The following sites have been found to be quite helpful in searching for relevant newsgroups:

 

Are there any specific protocols or standards I should know about?

Individuals who wish to post to newsgroups should always follow the newsgroups for a few days before posting. They should also make a point of checking out the FAQs (FrequentlyAsked Questions, pronounced faks) for that newsgroup before posting. This protocol has been established so that new users to a newsgroup do not post messages that have been discussed countless times in the past. Many users of newsgroups and the internet pay for their online time by the minute. Spending time and money downloading redundant subjects and messages can be very frustrating.

Sometimes a user will respond to a message by saying RTFM. RTFM is a less than gentle way of suggesting that the poster of a give message read the manual (the FAQ) pertaining to the newsgroup. (The creative and curious will be allowed to deduce the full expression for themselves). However, it has become fairly common usage in newsgroup and internet lexicon, so the recipient of such a suggestion should try to not take offense.

FAQs are generally posted to newsgroups every week or two. Or you can use the web to find the FAQs for almost every established newsgroup at: http://www.cis.ohio-state.edu/hypertext/faq/usenet/top.html

 

Are newsgroups archived? If so, how can I search them?

Most newsgroups are archived. The best place to begin searching through archives is on the web at: http://www.dejanews.com. However, be sure to select the Power Search option and then choose Old when prompted for User Database.

Another site that may be somewhat easier to use but is not as thorough is: http://www.w3.org/pub/DataSources/News/Groups/Overview.html. To use this site most effectively you should already know the exact name of the newsgroup you want to search.

 

Where can I find out more?

The World Wide Web is probably the best place to begin. Chances are, it will enable you to find all of the information you will ever need on newsgroups. To start, try http://www.netannounce.org/news.announce.newusers/. It gives a primer on Usenet in general, newsgroup etiquette (a.k.a netiquette;) and more.

Another good place to check out is: http://www.yahoo.com/News_and_Media/Usenet/FAQs/.

Things to keep in mind: