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Subject: How to find the right place to post (FAQ)
This article was archived around: 22 Jul 1999 00:55:07 -0400
Posting-Frequency: every 2 weeks.
[The most recent version of this document is posted periodically in
several newsgroups, including news.newusers.questions, news.groups, and
news.announce.newusers. It can also obtained by anonymous FTP as
you do not have access to anonymous FTP, you can retrieve it by
sending email to email@example.com with the command "send
usenet/news.answers/finding-groups/general" in the message.]
There are thousands of Usenet newsgroups, and it is sometimes difficult
to find the right newsgroup to ask a question or start a discussion.
This document gives some general methods of finding the right newsgroup
or mailing list for a topic.
Resources for new Usenet users
Things that should not be posted to Usenet
Understanding the Usenet hierarchies
Finding the right newsgroup
Binaries (images, executables, sounds, etc.)
Crossposting to multiple newsgroups
Choosing a good Subject: header
Finding FAQs and other Periodical Postings
Finding public mailing lists
Starting a new Usenet newsgroup
About this post
Appendix: Anonymous FTP
Subject: Resources for new Usenet users
If you are new to Usenet, you should take the time to read the posts in
news.announce.newusers (n.a.n.) carefully -- if they are not available in
your newsreader, they also available by mail server or anonymous FTP
(see below) in rtfm.mit.edu:/pub/usenet/news.announce.newusers/*
A few that are most likely to be immediately helpful are:
To get started, send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org with the following
lines in the body of the message:
The server will mail you information on how to retrieve the other archived
postings mentioned in this article.
Another place you can look for helpful postings, or post general
questions, is the group news.newusers.questions. Some of the useful
articles regularly posted there are:
(Available at rtfm.mit.edu:/pub/usenet/news.newusers.questions/* )
Subject: Things that should not be posted to Usenet
1) Requests for help with your local system or software
When posting requests for help to Usenet, remember two things: people on
your local system can probably help you better and faster, and people on
the Net do not know what your local configuration and problems are. You
should always try to access local help (the 'man' command on Unix systems,
type 'man program' for help with a specific program, or 'man -k keyword'
to find out what program to use), or sending mail to your system
maintainers/consultants (try 'usenet', 'news', or 'postmaster' on most
Unix systems), before sending your question out to hundreds of thousands
of people using dozens of system types.
(By the way, on many Unix systems, the Pnews command posts news articles.
You could have found this out yourself by typing 'man -k post').
On some systems, you may also have local newsgroups, which are good
places to ask site-specific questions about systems and software.
If you have an AOL, Prodigy, Compuserve, or NetCruiser account, then you
should be able to get local online help about your system - it's part of
what you are paying for.
Usenet news is not centrally controlled or distributed. It trickles around
from one machine to another, at varying speeds. The rate at which news
gets to your system, and the order of the articles you see, are determined
by the way your system and its neighbors handle news.
2) Commercial Advertisements
The general rule of thumb is that you need to take the time to learn
where your advertisement is appropriate before you post it. If you are
not sure where your advertisement is appropriate, don't post it.
Another good rule of thumb is that unless the group's charter or FAQ
specifically mentions that some limited types of advertising are
welcome, you should assume that no commercial postings are allowed.
Most Usenet users strongly disapprove of business advertising in
non-business-related groups. In particular, anything that looks like a
pyramid scheme or chain letter will draw floods of critical e-mail to both
you and your machine administrators. Posting about a few items for sale, or
a job opening, in an appropriate newsgroup (such as misc.forsale.* or
misc.jobs.*) is OK; posting an ad for your business to a hundred groups
See also the Usenet Advertising FAQs in news.announce.newusers
For a more permanent commercial presence, you can create your own Web page,
and announce its presence in comp.infosystems.www.announce, and on the
What's New page in the NCSA home page.
3) Any article to a newsgroup you do not read
If you do not read a newsgroup, you cannot know what the subject of the
newsgroup is, what the standards of behavior are, what the frequently
discussed topics are. Usenet does not exist to give you a free research
tool. It is also considered incredibly rude to post a question to a
newsgroup you do not read, and ask for replies in e-mail - by doing so,
you are telling the people you want to answer your question that their
issues are not important to you.
Many people post surveys to Usenet. Most of the time, these surveys
are only designed to help the poster, for example by providing easy
material for a class assignment. Other times, the 'survey' is really
only a tool to gather a mailing list for advertisements. Even when the
posters take the time to post the collected results on the groups where
the survey was posted, the results are rarely of great interest. (In
particular, the results are only true for the people who chose to answer
the survey, and cannot be generalized to the population as a whole, or
even to the Usenet population as a whole.)
5) Chain Letters
Subject: Understanding the Usenet newsgroup hierarchies
Usenet newsgroups are arranged in a hierarchical structure. Related
groups start with one or more identical components. For example, the
many groups whose names start with rec.music are all about various
facets of music, which is in itself one facet of recreation.
Some of the hierarchies you probably have available are:
comp: Computer hardware, software, systems, languages, and theories
sci: Pure and applied sciences
soc: Social issues, socializing, and various cultures
talk: Discussion and debate of unresolved issues
news: The Usenet news network and news software
misc: Other topics, such as employment, children, and consumer issues
rec: Recreational topics - sports, hobbies, music, games, etc.
humanities: Literature, fine arts, and other humanities
alt: An anarchic collection of serious and silly subjects
Other widespread hierarchies your site may choose to carry include:
bionet: Topics interesting to biologists
bit: Redistributions of popular BitNet LISTSERV mailing lists
biz: Business products and services
clarinet: Online daily newspaper, from wire services (available for a fee)
gnu: The GNU project of the Free Software Foundation
hepnet: High-energy physics research
info: A collection of serious gatewayed mailing lists
k12: K-12 (primary and secondary) education
relcom: Russian-language newsgroups
vmsnet: Topics of interest to VAX/VMS users
In addition, your site probably carries local groups, such as yourcountry.*,
yourcity.*, yourorg.* (Some large sites choose to carry local news
hierarchies from many places.)
Subject: Finding the right newsgroup
To find what groups are relevant for your subject, you might search through
your local list of newsgroups (your .newsrc file on most Unix systems; use
the command grep <pattern> .newsrc), to see which group names seem related.
Then subscribe to those groups, and look at some of the recent traffic, to
make sure that your question is suitable for the group. (For example,
questions about Microsoft Windows belong in comp.os.ms-windows.*, not
[The asterisk, '*', means multiple objects (here, groups) are referenced.]
On some systems, your .newsrc file won't contain the names of newsgroups
you haven't subscribed to. In that case, read the documentation for
your newsreader to find out how to add newsgroups, and use the methods
mentioned below to find out the names of groups that might be available
on your system.
On some systems, the 'newsgroups' command will show you a file containing
a one-line description of the purpose of each newsgroup (the newsgroups
file), or longer descriptions of the purpose and contents of each
newsgroup (the newsgroup charters.) Ask your local news administrator
if these or similar resources are available on your system.
For widely-distributed newsgroups, you can also find the one-line
descriptions in the following news.lists postings (also archived at
The 'List' posts describe newsgroups in the comp, humanities, misc, news,
rec, soc, sci, and talk hierarchies. (Often referred to as "The Big 8")
(The humanities.* hierarchy was added in April 1995; you may still see
references to "The Big 7" in some places.)
The 'Alt' posts describe newsgroups in the alt, bionet, bit, biz, clarinet,
gnu, hepnet, ieee, inet, info, k12, relcom, u3b, and vmsnet hierarchies.
They will not describe groups that are available only in your region or
(These posts also available in garbo.uwasa.fi:/pc/doc-net/newsgrps.zip)
Another way to find newsgroups where your topic is discussed is to use
one of the Web Usenet search tools, such as http://www.dejanews.com/ or
http://www.altavista.digital.com/ and enter a keyword search for your
topic. As with all search engines, taking a few moments to learn how
to compose an effective search will make the results much more useful.
Once you have checked local resources, and the formal newsgroup
descriptions, if you are still uncertain as to what groups are 'right'
for your post, you can ask in news.groups.questions - this group is
designed for people to ask what existing newsgroup is appropriate for
a given topic or sub-topic of discussion.
Very few sites carry all available newsgroups (there are thousands).
Your local news administrator can help you access newsgroups that are not
currently available, or explain why certain groups are not available at
your site. If your site does not carry the newsgroup(s) where your post
belongs, do NOT post it in other, inappropriate groups.
Subject: Binaries (images, executables, sounds, etc.)
There are many newsgroups dedicated to posting various sorts of binary
files, such as images, computer software, etc. These are gathered under
the alt.binaries.* and comp.binaries.* hierarchies. (There are also
some local binaries hierarchies, such as de.alt.binaries.*) These
groups are the only places where you should ever post a file that is not
directly human-readable, such as pictures, software, or even Microsoft
Word files (which are not readable unless you have a copy of Microsoft
Word on your computer.)
For more information, please refer to the FAQs in alt.binaries.pictures.d
These groups were set up so that sites could easily choose whether or
not to accept binary traffic, or perhaps to keep binary posts around for
a different length of time than non-binaries. The average binary file
is many times larger than the average non-binary post, and many sites
and users do not want to devote resources to storing these files.
Do not post anything other than plain text in non-binaries groups. If
the group does not have the word 'binaries' in its name, do not post
Subject: Crossposting to multiple newsgroups
Think very carefully before crossposting to more than one, or perhaps
two, newsgroups. It is considered highly inappropriate to broadcast
your message to a wide selection of newsgroups merely to have more people
read it. Note also that many people automatically ignore articles posted
to more than two or three groups. Follow the general rules of Netiquette
(Usenet etiquette) described in the news.announce.newusers postings above.
Often, even when an article is appropriate for multiple newsgroups, it
is desirable to redirect all followup discussion into one particular
newsgroup. You can do this by adding a Followup-To header line that
lists the single newsgroup where further discussion will go. (You should
also mention in the body of the article that you have redirected
followups to that group, so that people interested in following the
subject can find it.) For example:
Subject: Need product to remove cat odor from carpets
[Followups redirected to rec.pets.cats]
Text of article
Subject: Choosing a good Subject: header
Many people scan the Subject lines of newsgroups, and choose to only
read articles with a Subject line that is of interest to them. (This
is the '=' command in rn - check the documentation of your newsreader
to see if this ability is available to you.) If your Subject line does
not contain useful information about the contents of your post, relatively
few people will read it.
For example, you are more likely to get useful replies with a subject of
"PC-Write to WordPerfect file conversion" than with a subject of
"Help!". (In particular, many people ignore any message with a Subject
of "please read this" or similar pleas.) Subject lines that are longer
than 40 characters will be truncated on many nonstandard systems, so make
sure that your Subject is concise.
Some newsgroups have a 'standard' for what information should be
contained in the Subject line - for example, postings in
misc.jobs.offered are expected to contain the job title and location in
the Subject line, and postings in rec.games.board are expected to
list the name of the specific game. It is always a good idea to scan
the contents of a newsgroup to see if there is a common format in use.
If you are following up to another post, make sure that the Subject is
relevant to your post, too. If you change the topic away from the
original one, you should probably change the Subject line, too.
Subject: Finding FAQs and other Periodical Postings
Once you decide what newsgroup(s) are relevant to your question, make
sure that you're not asking questions that are frequently asked and
answered. In addition to looking at recent traffic in the group,
check whether your question is included in a FAQ (Frequently
Asked/Answered Questions) list. Most FAQs are archived at rtfm.mit.edu,
in directory /pub/usenet/your.group.name, if they're not available in
your newsreader in the specific group or in *.answers. Many groups also
have a periodic introductory post that describes the content and purpose
of the newsgroup - if one exists, you should read it before posting.
A listing of many of the periodical postings on Usenet can be found
in news.lists or its archives, as
(As of August 1996, this post is about 800K, in 20 parts. There are a
LOT of periodic posts on Usenet.)
If you have access to the World Wide Web (using software such as Mosaic,
Netscape, or Lynx), you can access the FAQs in HTML format at
These FAQs are easy to browse through.
If you use gopher, one site for FAQs is gopher.win.tue.nl, port 70.
Subject: Finding public mailing lists
There are a great many public mailing lists, on a wide range of topics.
Some of them cover specific topics that aren't often discussed on Usenet,
while others duplicate the topics of one or more newsgroups. A listing
of many of the public lists is in news.lists and archives, as
Publicly Accessible Mailing Lists, Part */*
(As of September 1996, this post is about 916K, in 19 parts. There are a
LOT of mailing lists out there...)
If you have Web access, one searchable database of mailing lists is at
Subject: Starting a new Usenet newsgroup
If you can't find a newsgroup or mailing list that holds discussion on a
specific topic, it is probably a bad idea to start a new newsgroup for
it. Most successful newsgroups are started to split off a sub-topic that
is already being discussed on one or more other newsgroups. You might
try posting an article on the appropriate *.misc newsgroup, and see if
there are others who are interested in the subject.
If you really think it is appropriate to start a new newsgroup, some
general guidelines can be found in:
New newsgroups in the comp, humanities, misc, news, rec, sci, soc, and talk
hierarchies are first proposed/discussed in news.groups. New newsgroups
for the alt hierarchy should be first proposed/discussed in alt.config.
Talk to someone local about starting new local newsgroups - send mail
to your local news admin to find out where to start.
It is recommended that you have several months experience with USENET and
watching the democratic group creation process in action for other groups
before you attempt to run your own proposal. In particular, read both
news.announce.newgroups and news.groups to see the way proposals are
presented and the sort of pitfalls you can stumble into. Also read
alt.config if you think you want to start an alt newsgroup. Make sure
you have read and fully understand the postings "How to Create a New
Usenet Newsgroup" and "Usenet Newsgroup Creation Companion" in
If you want to start a mailing list, you should talk to your system
administrator about what mailing list tools are supported for your
environment. Depending on your environment and the needs of your list,
there are a variety of methods available.
Subject: About this post
Following these suggestions will help not only to ensure that your
post reaches its intended audience, but to make Usenet more useful
for all of us.
The following people have contributed to this article:
email@example.com (Jim Jewett)
firstname.lastname@example.org (Mark Brader)
email@example.com (Juha Laiho)
firstname.lastname@example.org (Bob McCormick)
email@example.com (Edmund Schweppe)
firstname.lastname@example.org (Prof. Timo Salmi)
Mark-Moraes@deshaw.com (Mark Moraes)
email@example.com (Adam Lieberman)
firstname.lastname@example.org (Scott Southwick)
email@example.com (G?ran Thisell)
FLAVELL@cernvm.cern.ch (Alan J Flavell)
GROBE@ins.infonet.net (Jonathan Grobe)
Bill Wohler <firstname.lastname@example.org>
email@example.com (Todd C. Lawson)
firstname.lastname@example.org (Joachim Astel)
many people who pointed me to http://www.liszt.com/
<win your fifteen bytes of fame by helping to improve this article>
Questions about the contents of this article, suggestions for improvement,
and corrections should be sent to email@example.com
Please don't ask me to mail you copies of the articles cited here. I'm
trying to teach you to find things for yourself. If you can't find them
on your news spool, get them through the Web, or by ftp, or by e-mail,
then ask your local sysadmin or service provider for help.
This article is copyrighted by its author, Aliza R. Panitz
(firstname.lastname@example.org). It may be copied and redistributed, in
its entirety, for free redistribution. In particular, you are encouraged
to save this article and send it to people who post inappropriate
material to your newsgroups. All other rights reserved.
Subject: Appendix: Anonymous FTP
Pretty much everything mentioned here is available by anonymous FTP.
FAQ lists cross-posted to news.answers and rec.answers can be gotten
from rtfm.mit.edu (126.96.36.199), under /pub/usenet/news.answers or
"anonymous FTP" is just a way for files to be stored where anyone on
the Internet can retrieve them over the Net. For example, to retrieve
the latest version of the FTP FAQ, do the following:
> ftp rtfm.mit.edu /* connect to the site; a message follows */
> anonymous /* type this when it asks for your name */
> <your email address> /* type your address as the password */
> cd /pub/usenet /* go to the directory you want to be in */
> cd news.announce.newusers
/* one level down (no slash). */
> dir /* look at what's there */
> get Anonymous_FTP:_Frequently_Asked_Questions_(FAQ)_List
/* get the file; case-sensitive */
> quit /* stop this mysterious thing */
If your FTP program complains that it doesn't know where the site you
want to use is, type the numerical address instead of the sitename:
> ftp 188.8.131.52 /* connect with numerical address */
If you don't have ftp access, send e-mail to email@example.com
with the single word "help" in the body of the message.
Getting binary files (executables, or any compressed files) is only
slightly more difficult. You need to set binary mode inside FTP before
you transfer the file.
> binary /* set binary transfer mode */
> ascii /* set back to text transfer mode */
FAQs and other lists are generally ascii files; everything else is
generally binary files. When in doubt, use binary transfers, since
they will work for all files.
Some common extensions on binary files in archive sites are:
.Z Compressed; extract with uncompress
.tar.Z Compressed 'tape archive'; uncompress then untar or tar -xvf
.gz or .z Gnu gzip; use gunzip (prep.ai.mit.edu:/pub/gnu/gzip.*.tar)
.tgz Gnu gzip of a tar archive; read the gzip man page.
.sit (Mac) StufIt archive
.zip (PC) Extract with Zip or Unzip
.zoo (PC) Yet another archive/compress program
.lzh (Unix and PC) Yet another...
.arj (PC) and another...
.lha (Amiga) Common archive format.
.exe (PC) Self-extracting archives - just execute them.
[Note: sometimes non-archived executables are stored.]
.uue or .UUE Transfer as text file; use uudecode to convert to binary
.hqx (Mac) BinHex format; transfer in text mode
Generic help can be found in the FAQs of comp.binaries.<your_system_type> for
how to transfer, extract, and virus-check binary files. (At rtfm.mit.edu)
If you can't FTP from your site, use one of the following ftp-by-mail servers:
For complete instructions, send a message reading "help" to the server.
Some FTP sites, such as ftp.cis.ksu.edu, have dedicated mailservers that
will send you files only from that site; it causes less network load to
use local FTP servers where they exist.
If you don't know exactly what you're looking for, or exactly where it
is, there are programs and servers that can help you. For more info,
send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org with the body of the