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Play Nice on Usenet

Revised 13 Apr 2016

Copyright © 2003–2017 by Stan Brown, Oak Road Systems

Summary: Usenet newsgroups are the greatest forum for discussion in the history of humanity. Like any other social setting, Usenet has its rules of conduct. The rules are a couple of decades old (the Age of Dinosaurs in Usenet terms). They weren’t thought up by some cabal trying to stifle your creativity; they evolved quickly as people saw what works well and what doesn’t. Here are some ways you can get the most out of Usenet.


See also: New to this Usenet thing? think it’s just some sort of Web deal? Think Microsoft can close a newsgroup? You’ll want to read these: Welcome to newsgroups and Usenet, What newsgroups are and how they work, and Common questions about using newsgroups.

See also: Play Nice in E-mail

Stick to the topic

Yes, each newsgroup has a topic

A great wave of irrelevant information beats against all of us. One way of coping is to select the topics we’re interested in. On Usenet those are called newsgroups, and each newsgroup has a particular subject matter. You should pick the one newsgroup that best fits your subject matter.

Don’t post an article to an irrelevant group just because you hang out there, or because your message is so important that everyone should see it. If they’re interested, they’ll see it if you post it in the group where it’s relevant because they’ll be reading that group. And if you post to irrelevant groups just because you want more people to see your message, how are you better than a spammer?

See also: How to find the right place to post (FAQ) (author not listed)—scroll down to “Subject: Finding the right newsgroup”

See also: Why not post to all relevant groups? by Jukka Korpela

Post tests in the right place

Don’t post tests in a regular group and annoy everyone. Use misc.test, alt.test, or alt.binaries.test—that’s what they’re there for.

See also: Usenet Test Newsgroups by “Living Internet”

See also: A Place to Test Your Posting Skills (part of the new.newusers.questions FAQ)

Ask for help in a smart way

If you have a problem, and you can’t find the answer yourself, you’ll want to write an article that’s most likely to get your question answered fast.

When asking for help, don’t make it too hard or too unrewarding to help you, and don’t annoy the people you’re asking for help. Making Good Newsgroup Posts gives excellent advice for almost any technical question, and Eric Raymond’s How to Ask Questions the Smart Way covers similar ground in more detail.

For questions about Web authoring, it’s very important to read Why We Won’t help You and follow its advice before posting; you’ll probably get flamed if you don’t.

Use standard English

No, your English doesn’t have to be perfect. But long paragraphs, “kewl” spellings, all capitals or all lower case, and random thoughts separated by “...” all make your article harder to read, and that makes it less likely someone will answer your question. (Non-native speakers know how important this is, and that’s why they always do the best they can.)

Ken Blake puts the point very well in “Re: please somebody help me” (18 Mar 2006 in microsoft.public.windowsxp.basics):

I have only so much time I can spend in these newsgroups, and I try to spend it as productively as possible. Trying to decipher cryptic messages is not a good use of my time and I don’t do it.

I don’t know whether I know the answer to his question or not, but because of the way he wrote it, he lost me as a possible helper. I’m sure he similarly lost many others.

... [This is] meant as practical constructive advice. Don’t make your messages easy for yourself; make them easy for the people you are asking for help. That means clear standard English, with standard punctuation, capitalization, and spelling.

Don't shout

Posting in ALL CAPITALS is the written equivalent of shouting, and many people consider it vey rude. Don’t do it: it’s bad strategy to annoy the people that you’re asking to help you. There’s a second reason: all-caps text is harder to read than mixed case. So even people who aren’t annoyed may simply ignore an article with all-caps text.

First, try to find the answer yourself

The easiest way to p— people off is to ask the same newbie question as everyone else. First check the newsgroup’s FAQ—see my How to Find FAQ Lists.

If there’s no FAQ list for the newsgroup, or there is and it doesn’t answer your question, then search the Web before posting a query. Remember, Google is your friend.

Get answers in a polite way

If you ask in the group, plan to read answers in the group; you will antagonize people if you ask for answers in e-mail. Frank Slootweg explained it well, in an article archived here:

“Please email” requests are considered bad Netiquette (because they imply that the poster is too lazy to check for possible answers to his/her own questions, they waste the time of all but one of the respondents, and they leave other users in the dark). This makes that many/most people often do not respond to “please email” questions, which obviously is the poster’s loss. Because I assume you mean well, and I am a nice guy :-), I am posting this response anyway, and will e-mail you a copy.

Of course there are some valid reasons for asking for an e-mailed *copy* of a (posted) response, like fast(er) notification, (too) short expiry times for News articles, etc. If you have such a valid reason, then I suggest to just say so in future, in order to prevent “lectures” in Netiquette like this one.

There’s an additional reason to post answers in the newsgroup: that way the answer will be in the archives right with the question. Someone who has a similar question and searches the archives will find the answer quickly and won’t need to post a query at all.

Post in plain text

Don’t post pictures or other binaries, unless the newsgroup name contains the word “binaries”. If you need people to see a picture, post the URL with a brief description of the picture.

Usenet is not the Web: don’t post in HTML. If your article contains things like “’”, you’re posting partly in HTML.

Stay away even from special characters like em dashes, en dashes, bullets, and curly quotes (Microsoft’s misnamed “smart quotes”). There is simply no way to post those characters to Usenet reliably.

See also: Posting News Using HTML (part of the new.newusers.questions FAQ)

See also: Here are two references about HTML in e-mail. What they say applies to Usenet as well.
What’s wrong with HTML-formatted email? by Marek Jedlinski
7 Reasons Why HTML E-mail is Evil by George Dillon

Post an article once only

Wait before posting again

“My question is urgent. It’s been two whole hours and nobody has responded. Maybe they didn’t see it. I’ll just post it again—it’s only electrons.”

Please don’t. Usenet is not like e-mail: it takes time for articles to reach all the servers they’re going to reach, and you have to allow time after that for people to log on and get to your article. Hard as it may be to be patient, wait at least a couple of days before reposting your query. And then, be courteous and put the notation “(REPOST)” in the subject line.

“I don’t see my article in the newsgroup. It must not have gone through. I’ll post it again just in case.”

Please don’t. There is often a time lag between your sending an article and your news server sending it on, another lag until your server displays it in the message list. Also, your newsreader probably doesn’t constantly refresh the list of articles in the groups.

First of all, do whatever it takes to make your newsreader reread the list of unread articles in the newsgroup you posted to. If you’ve waited an hour, and refreshed your newsreader, then it’s likely that something happened and the article didn’t get posted. But that’s likely, not certain. If this happens to you more than once, there’s probably a problem at your ISP and you should call up your server administrator. Never repost more than once, and don’t even repost once unless you’ve tried everything listed above.

Crosspost, don’t multipost

You should always post in the one best newsgroup. But sometimes an article genuinely fits the topic of multiple groups very well. For instance, if you’ve had an especially good or bad experience with an online vendor of DVDs, it might be appropriate to post it to misc.consumers and But when this is appropriate, you want to crosspost, not multipost.

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To crosspost, you put both newsgroup names on the Newsgroups line of your article. (The way to do this depends on your software: consult your help file under “Crossposting”.) Crossposting sends out only one copy of the article, marked so that it shows up in both newsgroups. With most newsreader software, anyone who looks at either newsgroup will see it, but people who happen to read both newsgroups will see it only once.

Multiposting means posting one copy of an article to one newsgroup and a completely separate copy to another newsgroup. A specially bad form of multiposting is posting the articles with different subject lines.

Crossposting has lots of advantages over multiposting:

See also: What is the accepted way to share a message across multiple newsgroups? by Stewart

See also: Why and how to crosspost by Jukka Korpela

Quote it right

Quoting the previous article in your follow-up makes for controversy, but it shouldn’t. The principles are easy: put your comment after what you’re commenting on, quote just what is necessary, and keep track of who said what.

See also: Quoting Style in Newsgroup Postings by Jon Bell, for the n.n.q Moderation Board

See also: The advantages of Usenet’s quoting conventions by Gareth McCaughan

A correspondent tells me that a few newsgroups have specialized quoting rules. He gives good advice: hang out in a newsgroup for a while and watch how the respected regulars do things.

Avoid Windows Live Mail 15

Don’t use Windows Live Mail for newsgroups. Its quoting style is completely broken, and in many newsgroups a lot of people simply killfile anything posted with WLM. (Outlook Express is also broken, but can be fixed with OE QuoteFix. WLM has nothing similar: it’s just broken.)

Attribute your quotes

Attributing your quotes means having a line like

    So-and-so said:

before the quote. Some people add the date or message ID, but identifying each author is the important thing.

The other part of attributions is the “>” widgets at the left of each quoted line. Don’t screw these up: the number of widgets, combined with the “So-and-so said” lines, keeps straight who said what.

This is important so that you don’t inadvertently make someone say what in fact someone on the other side of the argument said.

You might think attributions are more trouble than they’re worth, that what is said is more important than who said it. But ask yourself: don’t you find in real life that some people are more trustworthy than others? The same is true on Usenet, and who said what is important information for this reason.

See also: What’s this about attributing properly? by Jon Bell, for the n.n.q Moderation Board

Trim your quotes

Probably a better question than “what should I trim away?” is “what should I keep?” Keep just enough so that your reply makes sense in context, no more and no less. Unless you have a very good reason to quote more, a good guideline is that the amount of quoted matter should be less than the amount of new matter. If the previous author was long-winded and any direct quote is too long, write a one- or two-line summary in lieu of a quote.

Of course you’ll trim away any signature lines (unless that’s what you’re commenting on), and of course you’ll keep all the relevant attributions and trim away the ones that don’t apply to what you’re quoting.

See also: How much should I quote? by Dirk Nimmich (tr. Jan Schaumann); also “What should not be quoted?” and “Why should I not attach the entire original article in the end?” on the same page

Post right side up

That means you first quote what you’re responding to, and then you respond to it—just like a conversation.

Some people say that their newsreader places the cursor at the top of the quoted article. So? Even if your quote doesn’t need trimming (unlikely), you still need to put your reply afterward. If you force thousands of readers to scroll back and forth, that adds up to hours of other people’s time to save yourself perhaps a second. Unless you’re the most important person in the world, that doesn’t make sense.

See also: Top Posting by David Stevenson—excellent reasons for not posting upside down, but also makes the point that failing to trim quotes makes the problem far worse

See also: What do you mean “my reply is upside-down”? (author not listed)

See also: Why should I place my response below the quoted text? by Dirk Nimmich (tr. Jan Schaumann)

Use your real address, or mark it as fake

If you use your real address, what’s the worst that can happen? You’ll get some spam, maybe a lot of spam. But virtually all of it is easy to spot and delete without downloading, if you’ve got a decent mail program or a decent mail host.

But let’s say you just don’t want to deal with spam. That’s your privilege. But realize that people, real people, will be writing to you about your articles. Just as you don’t want to waste your time on spam, others don’t want to waste time writing to a bogus address.

Caution: Before munging your address, make sure your provider allows that; some require you to use a real address. Check your Terms of Service or Acceptable Use Policy.

There are two alternative polite ways to use a fake address:

See also: Address Munging Considered Harmful by Matt Curtin

See also: Address Munging FAQ: “Spam-Blocking” Your Email Address by WD Baseley

Identify any cc you send

When they post a public follow-up, some people like to e-mail a “courtesy copy” to the previous author. Usenet propagation is much faster (and somewhat less chancy) than it used to be, so the need for this practice has largely disappeared. Still, it probably comes from good motives.

But for heaven’s sake, if you do this then identify it as a courtesy copy. Think of the person receiving it. They get what looks like a personal mail from you, so they spend time writing an answer—sometimes just “Thanks”, sometimes quite a bit more. Then they get on Usenet and find that their reply should have been made publicly, if at all. That can be kind of irritating.

Please, if you send a courtesy copy, then be courteous and identify it as such. (No, most people cannot tell this from the headers, especially on non-UNIX systems.)

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