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Subject: So You Want to Create an Alt Newsgroup

This article was archived around: 11 Aug 2001 21:23:31 -0500

All FAQs in Directory: Root Directory
All FAQs posted in: alt.config
Source: Usenet Version

Version: $Id: alt-creation-guide,v 1.52 2001/04/20 15:54:52 barr Exp barr $ Archive-Name: alt-creation-guide
This FAQ is Copyright 1995 by David Barr and The Pennsylvania State University. This document may be reproduced, so long as it is kept in its entirety and in its original format. There are no Guidelines or Rules for creating alt groups. There is no one "in charge" of the alt hierarchy. The key to creating a successful alt newsgroup depends only on convincing the thousands of news administrators across the globe to carry your newsgroup. Here are some tips that will help you achieve this. This article is based on common-sense and real-life experience. This is not an attempt to codify rules or guidelines for alt, but merely a guide to help people get the most out of alt, as well as a reflection of some established procedures. This guide is split onto three parts. The first part covers some technical background as to why alt is the way it is, and how it fits into the larger Usenet. The second section lists many common reasons proposed alt groups are rejected. Some are technical, and some are philosophical. The third section includes some miscellaneous suggestions on making your alt group achieve the widest audience possible. This guide is also available on the World Wide Web at: http://www.cis.ohio-state.edu/~barr/alt-creation-guide.html. Note new address!! You can use use the e-mail server at rftm.mit.edu to request the FAQ if you do not have access to the web. Send an email message to mail-server@rtfm.mit.edu, with the following text in the body of the message: send usenet/alt.config/So_You_Want_to_Create_an_Alt_Newsgroup 1. Technical background * What is alt? Contrary to popular belief, "alt" is not named because it is for "alternative" topics. Back during the dawn of the modern Usenet, it was decided that newsgroups should be created by following a clearly defined set of "Guidelines", involving formal discussions and a voting procedure. There was a significant number of people who felt that there should be a provision for a place where people could create groups without having to go through any discussion or votes. Thus alt was born. It is a hierarchy that is "alternative" to the "mainstream" (comp,misc,news, rec,soc,sci,talk) hierarchy. "ALT stands for 'Anarchists, Lunatics, and Terrorists'." - ziegast@uunet.uu.net (Eric Ziegast) * Votes? Did someone say vote? Let me repeat. There are no votes in alt. Period. If you want to gather an "opinion poll" for your own purposes to see how popular the group will be, great. Do not post votes to alt.config. Every few months someone says "hey I've got a great idea for a newsgroup alt.widget, what do you think?". Someone responds "I vote yes!", causing a chain-reaction of posts to alt.config, lasting for days or weeks. These serve no purpose but to annoy readers of alt.config, and to distribute dozens of messages across the globe that should have ended up in someone's mailbox instead. Please, use a Followup-To: poster in your header and gather votes by e-mail. Then post a summary after a week or two. * News Administrators: Alt newsgroups are not created everywhere all at once. Each site has a news administrator, who ultimately decides whether to carry a new newsgroup on that site. Nevertheless, for simplicity, many sites automatically honor all requests to create a new group and (by default) ignore all requests to remove groups. Newsadmins can be very busy people who don't need the hassle of hand-approving every group. Thus, alt newsgroups are not necessarily created in a way that is fair, or just, or logical. That's life. * How do alt groups get created? Like any group in Usenet, a group gets created (typically) when someone sends out a special "control" message to "newgroup" it. This is injected into the news system mostly like any other article that you read, except it has special syntax. Different sites on the net behave differently when one of these messages arrives. The news software has various ways of acting automatically on the message based on who sent it, and what hierarchy the group to be created is in (alt in our case). With respect to alt, some sites will automatically honor any "newgroup" control message it sees, and some will mail the message to the news admin who will make the decision to carry the group or not. Read on on the section "Some Postitive Suggestions." Do not ask me how to send a control message, because I won't answer you. I don't have the hours it takes to go back and forth finding out what kind of news system you have, what kind of access you have to the system, and if you've followed the other guidelines as specified in this document. For more information, check out http://www.gweep.bc.ca/~edmonds/usenet/good-newgroup.html. * Newsgroup Name Components: A newsgroup name, e.g. alt.foo.bar-bar.baz, is made up of a series of dot-separated components, in this case alt, foo, bar-bar, and baz. The articles in newsgroups are usually stored in your machine's directory hierarchy. Basically, every component of the newsgroup name corresponds to a directory or subdirectory of the same name, and that subdirectory typically takes up 512 or more bytes on the machine all by itself. Also, since accessing any group requires eventually reading the contents of the directory, if there are lots of subdirectories off of alt access for any single article in alt can theoretically suffer a performance hit. Also, some newsreaders are hierarchically organized. To read alt.folklore.computers, you select alt, then select folklore, then computers. If there are lots of needless top-level components (e.g. More than four levels deep), then this is more work for the person reading news. * What is a newsgroup name for? A newsgroup is a collection of articles with a common purpose. A name for a newsgroup serves several purposes. + It tells those who want to read the group that this group is for them. + It tells those who do not want to read the group that this group is not for them. + It classifies similar groups together so that: o the group name can convey more meaning than just what can fit in 14 letters. (e.g. alt.music.monkees vs. alt.monkees) o similar groups can be placed logically nearer to each other in sorted or hierarchical listings. o It makes those who are interested in various aspects of a more general classification more able to find specific groups. (For example, those interested in philosophy can search for "philosophy" in the newsgroup name to find general groups as well as those about specific philosphies like alt.philosophy.zen) o The top-level hieararchy is not a jumbled mess of thousands of newsgroups, with often ambiguous names. o Small sites can more easily choose the kinds of newsgroups they want to get fed. (e.g. only alt.tv.*, and alt.sex.*, or no alt.binaries.*) * Newsgroup Longevity: There are some people who insist that once an alt newsgroup is created, it can never be destroyed, no matter what. These people make sure that whenever someone tries to remove a group, it gets re-created. Even if these people were not on the net, occasional mistakes (in such situations as people setting up new sites) can cause almost-dead newsgroups to get revived everywhere. Thus, alt groups are effectively immortal, at least for the foreseeable future; they can't be removed or even re-named. Alt groups never die, they just fade away. However, some alt groups fade away faster than others. 2. Common Reasons Proposed Groups are Rejected * "Harmful" newsgroup names: Newsgroup names which have components that are composed of the characters other than the letters 'a' through 'z', plus the characters '-' and '+' are considered non-standard and not encouraged. Numbers may be used as long as there are no all-numeric components. (e.g. alt.2600 is not valid) Some odd characters can tickle bugs in some software, or require news admins to make special modifications in order to carry the group. Newsgroup components must be non-empty. (like "alt..foo") One joke group, ".cabal", was created and lots of software mysteriously stopped working in bizarre fashion. * Component Too Long: Some systems cannot handle a newsgroup name component that is longer than 14 characters. Thus alt.fan.bgcrisis (length of "bgcrisis" = 8) instead of alt.fan.bubblegum-crisis (length of "bubblegum-crisis" = 16). This restriction may be becoming less and less critical, as software like INN handles this better. C news unfortunately enforces this limit, and makes it hard to accommodate exceptions. The author has no immediate plans to change this limitation. One proposed revision of RFC 1036 proposed to formalize the 14 character limit, and some have started removing or not accepting newsgroups which exceed this limit. * Useless Components: If you take away components at the end of the name, you should not be left with a directory name that is unlikely to have any other newsgroups in it. Thus alt.fan.bg-crisis instead of alt.fan.bubble.gum.crisis (other "alt.fan.bubble" newsgroups?). In other words, don't use a dot as a word separator, use a dash. * Joke/Revenge/Shock Group: Because of newsgroup longevity (see below), newsgroups which are started just to get people to laugh at the name, and/or to get revenge on some specific person, and/or to shock people, are discouraged. They tend to generate a flurry of articles (sometimes) for a maybe even a month or two, but quickly die. * ".word.word.word" Ending: The first group was "alt.swedish.chef.bork.bork.bork". Since then, dozens of lookalike groups have been created. This was kind of funny at first (5 years ago) but the joke is old. * "All-numeric part of newsgroup name:" There is a technical reason why this is a bad idea. Most newsgroup articles are stored as numbered files in a directory - for example, article 119 of group "alt.indianapolis.500" would be stored on most Unix systems as "/usr/spool/news/alt/indianapolis/500/119". Other systems store articles in a similar manner. This creates a problem for some systems where "alt.indianapolis" might be a valid newsgroup, since "alt/indianapolis/500" would supposedly mean the 500th article in alt.indianapolis. While this isn't expressly against the rules of newsgroup naming today, there is a proposal in the works that intends to make significant changes and more strict specification of news, and this restriction is in place in the new proposal. If you want your group to survive, you may wish to plan for the future. See "Further Reading" at the end of this FAQ for more information. * Top-Level Mess: There are dozens of newsgroups named alt.something, where something is a very specialized subject. Wouldn't it be nice if there were some classification scheme for them? Well, there is; you can name your group alt.food.something, or alt.sport.something, or whatever. * alt.acronym groups: Related to "Top-Level Mess" is the attempt to name the newsgroup based on some acronym. (alt.acm, alt.aclu) This is extremely unwise. First off, an acronym is not a good identifier of what a newsgroup is about. Groups like these tend to have a significant amount of traffic devoted to answering "hey, I just found this group alt.abd, what's this group about?" Weekly FAQ postings don't help. Remember alt is a worldwide hierarchy. Just because an acronym is popular in the US, doesn't make it recognizable to most people in the rest of the world. Second, acronyms are not unique. You'd be surprised how many trade acronyms there are, especially in the chemical and medical professions. One person's organization is another person's chemical or disease. Third, alt.acronym groups are hard to find when you're just browsing around. If they're interested in chemistry, people will search for 'chem' in the newsgroup name, not 'acs'. (American Chemical Society) See below for suggestions. * Big 8 Move Threat: Because of newsgroup longevity, many newsadmins will actually oppose creation of a group if you suggest you may want to move it to the "big-8" hierarchy (rec, soc, talk etc.) sometime in the future. Try to create it there first. On the other hand, some newsadmins will then suggest you try out an alt group before trying to create a "big-8" group. * Extremely Limited Interest: Yes, alt groups can be created for subjects that the "big-8" hierarchy wouldn't touch, but if the discussion you propose is extremely faddish, or silly, or of extremely limited or regional interest, some newsadmins may oppose it. More on "local" or "regional" groups in alt. Usually they are a bad idea. Remember that your articles will be traveling across the globe, on the disks of hundreds of thousands of machines. People in Saudi Arabia generally don't care much about great places to eat in Houston, Texas, USA. * Not Proposed in alt.config: Some newsadmins will not create any groups that haven't been discussed in alt.config (and after waiting several days for the responses). Posting your idea for a new group to alt.config is a very good idea anyway. Someone may have already created the group you proposed, or something similar. They may also point you to a mailing list that you might not have known about. They also will probably tell you if your group is poorly named. Eric Ziegast has this to say about alt.config: "You don't have to take their advice, but then again, who wants to start a fight? At least when people discuss a group first in alt.config, news admins throughout the world can decide whether or not to accept/feed your group if/when it's created. If people like your group suggestion, you will be considered a net.hero, and your group will likely exist until the end of time (which is currently January 2038 for Unix)." * "If Other Silly Newsgroup Deserves To Exist, Then So Does Mine" Since anyone can create a newsgroup in alt without fanfare, frequently anyone does. It's not a question of whether either newsgroup "deserves" existence. Think carefully about this point: you're willfully likening your proposal to all the silly and ridiculous newsgroups that already exist in the alt hierarchy. If you really want people to take you seriously, don't you think you can find a better argument? * "But No One's Forced To Accept It" Considered Irrelevant: Sure, no newsadmin has to accept your group if they don't want to; but the newsadmins are going to curse you for the hassle of having to decide on it -- when it gets created and every time it gets re-created. Also consider the consequence on the readers of the newsgroup. If their articles are only getting to a small minority of sites, is it even worth it? * "But All These People Agree" Considered Irrelevant: You might get 20 people who haven't read this FAQ to agree that your newsgroup is a good idea. This isn't likely to convince anyone either, if any of the reasons above apply. 3. Some Positive Suggestions * Propose your group in alt.config. Be sure to include the proposed newsgroup name or topic for the group in the Subject line. Listen to constructive criticisms. Wait at week or so before acting on it. News propagation is not instantaneous, it sometimes takes as long as a week just for an article to be sent out and a followup to be sent back. Beware, the "discussions" in alt.config can seem very petty, vindictive, and altogether unpleasant at times. Alt.config is frequented by news admins, news.wannabes, net.gods, and net.idiots. Sometimes it's a wonder that anything useful comes out of it, but the alternative is total anarchy and mob ethics. Look past the ad hominem attacks, the finger pointing, the name calling, and political posturing. There are actually a few people in alt.config with good ideas on creating groups. * Look for an appropriate place in existing alt hierarchies. alt.binaries, .books, .comp, .culture, .fan, .games, .lang, .music, .politics, .religion, .sex, .society, and .tv are all fairly well accepted. Keep top-level hierarchies as broad as possible. * If the group your proposing is specific to the United States, then consider using the growing us.* hierarchy. Post your idea to us.config. * Put groups about sports under alt.sport. Put groups about individual sports teams under alt.sports (plural). * Spell the newsgroup name correctly. (or at least choose the most popular spelling :-) ) * And please, try using existing Big 8 newsgroups, existing alt newsgroups, or mailing lists before insisting on creating another alt group. For example, don't create alt.drink.recipes when there's a perfectly good group already, rec.food.drink, with wider (and probably more well-informed) readership. * If you are trying to create a sub-topic of a high-traffic Big 8 group, try to attempt to get the Big 8 group split first before attempting an alt group. For example, if you're tired of wading through rec.sport.golf for college golfing, don't try to create alt.sport.golf.college, try to create rec.sport.golf.college first. If the group is high-traffic, most likely readers will welcome a legitimate split. * If you want to create a group about something that has an acronym, try one of the following instead: don't use the acronym, but rather a generalized name of what the acronym is about (alt.society.civil-liberty instead of alt.aclu; spell out the acronym ; or put the acronym inside of a sub-hierarchy that clearly identifies what the group is about. (alt.autos.bmw instead of alt.bmw) * If your group is related to current events, then create the group under alt.current-events.*. Note that alt.current-events.* is for short-lived current events, not extended discussions about some ongoing topic that just happens to be in the news today. Remember that there's already an existing group for current events: misc.headlines. * If you intend people to post binaries, pictures, or other large files to your group, create or use an existing group under alt.binaries.*. You can create a group for discussion of a topic, just use another group under alt.binaries.* for posting of large files. (Example: You'd discuss a comic strip under alt.comics.*, but post pictures of comics under alt.binaries.pictures.comics.*. Newsadmins will thank you for this, as they typically expire these groups more quickly to compensate for their large size. It also allows small sites to participate in discussions about a topic, yet not get deluged with large files. It is generally considered rude to post large files to a discussion group. * Once you decide that it's time to create your newsgroup, contact your local news administrator, not me. If you are a news administrator, the consult your news software documentation on how to issue a "newgroup" control message. The format of Usenet messages is defined in RFC 1036, which you may want to refer to. Alternatively you can modify someone else's control message if you forget all the syntax. Just look in the "control" newsgroup. It would be too hard to give a cookbook recipie for sending out a newgroup message, given the dozens of operating systems and news software programs out there. Contact a knowledgeable person at your own site - not me. If you don't know how to reach any knowledgeable people at your site, (or you are the knowledgeable person at your site) I feel sorry for you. Try sending mail to "usenet" or "news". Failing that, try "postmaster" or "root". One thing that is nice is to include a "For your newsgroups file:" line in the body of the message, to automatically have news software enter a description for the newsgroup. Many newsreaders use this description. The format is: For your newsgroups file: alt.group.name.here A one-line description Make sure that those two lines above are each on the beginning of a line, and that the first line appears exactly as you see here. Do not include any spaces between the lines, and do not try to make a description which spans a line. * Also, many sites do NOT automatically honor "newgroup" messages; the news software at these sites will send mail to the news administrator, who will who will evaluate your request and decide whether or not to create the group. It is an extremely good idea to include a paragraph or two in the body of your control message explaining the purpose of the group, and if you have followed these guidelines. Remember that above all, for good or bad, you have to convince news admins to carry your group. Spending a little bit of extra effort will pay off. Also, it may take a couple of days for the control message to propagate and be acted upon, so don't expect instant availability of the new group, particularly if you post the control message on a Friday night. Epilogue by Mark Weber: Here ends the lesson. This may sound like a lot of rigamarole, and it is. The purpose is to discourage creation of alt groups that might be better off as mainstream groups, or that might be better off left uncreated. Don't take this all too seriously, though. The "alt" net is the last remaining refuge away from the control freaks, namespace purists and net.cops (like myself) that maintain and enforce the mainstream newsgroup guidelines. There is still some room for spontaneity out here on the "alt" frontier. Successful groups have been created without following these suggestions. Almost any non-forged, serious newgroup message will at least be considered by most news admins. Some groups have been created just on a whim. The concept behind the group better be good (or a least entertaining), though! For Further Reading: * There's a good guide of how to decide on a good name for your newsgroup, from David.W.Wright@bnr.co.uk. See "Guidelines on Usenet Newsgroup Names", crossposted to many newsgroups including alt.config, news.groups, and news.answers. * There exist several RFC (Request for Comments) documents that pertain to Usenet news. The draft proposal for the restructuring of Usenet news articles is also publicly available. These documents are not for the faint of heart, however, and are quite technical in nature, but if you are truly interested in how Usenet works then they should be a fasinating read. For more information on these subjects, look for the following documents. RFC documents are available on a number of sites, most notably rs.internic.net:/rfc and nic.ddn.mil:/rfc. * There's also "How to Write a Good Newsgroup Proposal" by newgroups-request@uunet.uu.net (David C Lawrence). It is posted regularly to news.announce.newgroups. While it is written to address formal RFD submissions for the so-called "Big 8" newsgroups, most all of the arguments contained therein apply equally well to alt. It's worth reading. * To generate a newgroup, check out "How to Write a Good Newgroup Message" by Brian Edmonds. http://www.cs.ubc.ca/spider/edmonds/usenet/good-newgroup.html. Credits: Based on previous work by: + jamie at cs.NOSPAMsfu.ca (Jamie Andrews) "Common Reasons Why People Oppose Proposed Alt Newsgroups" + ccs@aber.ac.uk (Christopher Samuel) "Creating a new "alt" group -- guidelines" originally by markw@gvlf8.gvl.unisys.com (Mark H. Weber) + ziegast@uunet.uu.net (Eric Ziegast) "Welcome to ALT" With submissions from: + twpierce@unix.amherst.edu (Tim Pierce) + jgeorge@nbi.com (Joe George)