Absolute Beginner's Guide to Usenet

2. Fundamentals of Survival


What follows is a simple guide to enjoying the delights of Usenet without making enemies. They are a few elementary guidelines based on my experience and observations and on agreed Netiquette i.e. acceptable standards of behaviour.

Netiquette (Network Etiquette) is largely a matter of common sense, courtesy and consideration for others. Usenet is a new kind of society and offers close to unbridled freedom. The only way such a degree of freedom can survive is when all citizens treat it responsibly. You have rights but so do other people and it is up to you to make sure that exercising your rights does not involve trampling all over others' rights. Liberty without responsibility isn't liberty at all, it's selfish bullying.

Naturally there are more "Do not's" than "Do's" but that is the nature of being a newcomer. And, as everyone and their auntie will tell you, there are no rules on Usenet. Until you break them.

Things to do on Usenet and things NOT to do on Usenet

Read the FAQs

The Golden Rule of Usenet is to remember at all times that the person on the other side of your moniter screen is a human being.

Do not say anything to anyone on a newsgroup that you would be afraid to say directly to their face if they were a 6'6 240lbs ex-professional heavyweight boxer carrying a baseball bat and accompanied by three unmuzzled Rottweilers and a posse of very short-tempered bikers. You never know, they might be - and they might live just round the corner from you. Get the idea? So be as courteous and polite as the circumstances call for.

Be aware that your anonymity is not quite as secure as you might think it is.

On Usenet you can run - but you can't hide. If you post to newsgroups, anyone with a bit of technical clue can normally discover your identity - and quite a lot about you - without too much difficulty. Many naive unsuspecting souls have amused themselves by being offensive and foul-mouthed on newsgroups, posting using a throwaway mail address on something like Hotmail, feeling secure in the knowledge that nobody could know their identity and so nobody could seek retribution - only to be completely dumbfounded and quite shocked when retribution knocked at their front door.

Newcomers are often not aware that every post made to a newsgroup carries a great deal of information in the 'header'. While this information can be masked or forged by someone who knows what they're doing, it is unlikely that any newcomer would have the necessary knowledge so just presume that anyone can find out your real identity without much effort.

Also be aware that your words of wisdom are archived in several places and can be accessed and read by anyone at any time, even several years later. So do not post anything to a newsgroup you would not wish to see spraypainted on a wall in the main street of your home town. Any words posted to a newsgroup can come back to haunt you at any time.

Do not Spam!

Above all else, please, please, do not Spam.This is the most serious offence you can commit on Usenet. The ultimate crime. It will get you reviled, despised, placed on the same level of evolution as pornographers and snake-oil peddlers and will probably result in you having your account closed for breach of your access provider's Terms of Service (TOS) or Acceptable Use Policy (AUP).

Do not post followup messages of protest to Spam!

Spammers do not read the newsgroups they spam their junk on and replying to them in the newsgroup is simply adding to the offence by wasting bandwidth and will irritate other readers of the group.

A newsgroup is an already existing community of people into which you have just walked.

Many of the people posting regularly there have been doing so for a long time, they will have established relationships with each other, many will be friends offline. It is up to you to fit in with them, not for them to adapt to suit you. Before you post your first message, lurk for a while. Forget any bad ideas you might have about the word 'lurk' - online it simply means to read without posting. By doing this, you will get a feel for the culture of the group, who the regular posters are, who is likely to be friendly, who is likely to be rude, what the group regards as acceptable in terms of thread drift, off-topic posts etc. Every newsgroup is different so get a feel for the culture before jumping in.

Before firing off a question on a newsgroup, read the messages posted there over the last week or so to see if someone else has already asked it and received an answer.

Nothing is more irrititating for a newsgroup's regulars than to have just taken the time and trouble to answer something and then next time they log on find someone else asking the exact same question.

Read the FAQs again!

Do not demand answers or responses or attack people if you don't agree with their answers or if they fail to provide them.

The other people on the group are not being paid to answer you, they are simply interested parties just like you. They are doing you a favour by answering you so be gracious and grateful if you receive a reply at all. Failing to observe this will get you branded as an ungrateful nuisance and you'll be ignored in future.

Do not post messages formatted in HTML

This is a recent phenomenon and is profoundly irritating. It happens when people use their WWW browser such as Netscape or Internet Explorer, or are using MS Outlook Express, to read newsgroups. The main problem is that many people do not know they're doing it. Their browser or Outlook Express is set to post messages in both plain text and HTML by default which means that most people will then have to download their words of wisdom twice, once as ASCII text and again as HTML. Decent newsreaders, such as the one I use, hide the HTML version but it still means I had to download all the formatting junk, costing me time and money. For this reason, I and many others immediately killfile people who post HTML to newsgroups. The only exception is on newsgroups where the topic is website authoring and posting HTML may be acceptable. If in doubt, don't do it.

If you need help in configuring your newsreader software to post in plain text see http://www.usenet.org.uk/ukpost.html.


Use of CAPS is the online equivalent of SHOUTING so don't do it unless you intend to be interpreted as shouting. An entire message typed completely in CAPS will immediately brand you as someone who has just opened their first free month's trial account with America Online.

Read the FAQs one more time!

Quote from previous messages to which you are responding but do trim the quoted text to the bare minimum necessary to place your remarks in context.

While it is very good Netiquette to quote relevant passages of the previous message to which you are responding, it is considered a waste of bandwidth to overquote. Do not include the sig of the previous message in your quote - in many cases, seeing it the first time was bad enough!

Quoting the entire text of a previous long message in order to add "I agree" or "Me too!" will immediately brand you as someone who has just opened their first free month's trial account with America Online. In fact, it has become such a cliche that you will often see old-timers who agree with something simply typing <AOL> as shorthand for "I agree"!

Adding "And me!" and quoting all of a message where someone has quoted the entire text of a previous long message and added "I agree" or "Me too!" will immediately brand you as someone who is clueless beyond redemption.

The rule of thumb is that if the amount of quoted text exceeds the new text then you're overquoting. Sometimes it will be necessary to do this in order to give context to your comments but in general try to avoid it.

You should also write your comments below the quote they are in response to. See: What is Top-Posting and why is it considered bad?

Do not post binaries to non-binary newsgroups.

With spam, this is considered as serious net-abuse; it violates most service providers' Terms of Service (TOS), or Acceptable Use Policy (AUP), and so could lead to you losing your account. If you are in any doubts as to whether you are posting a binary or not, there is a simple rule of thumb - if it is not a straight ASCII text message which you have typed in on your keyboard, then don't post it in a non-binary newsgroup.

Your graphic or soundfile might be 100% on-topic for the group you're posting to but if it is a non-binary newsgroup, it is net-abuse. Period. No exceptions. Ever. Put it on a website and post a message to the group saying what the URL is so that people who are interested can find it.

How do you know if it's a non-binary group?

If it doesn't have the word "binaries" somewhere in its name, then it is a non-binary group. You should be familiar with this and all other aspects of Net Abuse and you can find all the information you need by reading the Net Abuse FAQ.

As much as anything else, enjoy Usenet. For all its problems and failings, it is possible to use it for the purpose it was intended - to communicate freely, to learn and educate, to make friends, to discuss and exchange ideas. Have fun.

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