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Detailed Instructions Page Index

Newsgroup basics

What are newsgroups?

A newsgroup is an online forum (usually with a single overall subject) that is hosted on a news server. A news server often hosts many hundreds or thousands of individual newsgroups. Many news servers are organized into large news networks on the Internet, the largest and most popular of which is called USENET. Many Internet Service Providers (ISPs) provide their users access to portions of the available USENET groups (few provide all groups, there are simply too many messages moving each day).

In contrast, the SFF Net Discussion News Server is a private news server that is not connected to USENET. This often confuses some folks who are not aware of private servers and are used to seeing the standard USENET discussion groups when they use a news server. In order to access SFF Net, you need to configure your newsreader to use the SFF Net server (see How to Set Up Your System for details.

Occasionally, an ISP somewhere will replicate some of the public newsgroups from SFF Net to USENET. This type of replication is against SFF Net policies, and if you come across this, please let SFF Net management know about it.

What is message threading?

Message threading is the way news readers keep track of conversations. There may be many separate conversations going on simultaneously in a single newsgroup and threading allows a newsreader to keep them organized. Threading lets you start at any message in the conversation and go forwards or backwards to see how the conversation has evolved.

If you've come from a non-threaded system (like GEnie), this can be a bit confusing at first, since non-threaded systems rely on subjects being confined by the poster to individual topics. In threaded systems, the subject line of the message is the topic. It doesn't take long for most folks to become accustomed to threading.

How do I start a new thread?

Starting a new thread is automatic when you post a new message to a newsgroup instead of replying to an existing message. Be sure to use a descriptive subject line for your new thread.

You can also change the thread in the middle of an existing conversation by posting a reply with a different subject line. Don't change the subject for each message you post in a thread - that makes it very difficult for readers to follow the conversation.

How do I create a new newsgroup?

The easiest way to create a new newsgroup is to use WebNews Create a New Newsgroup wizard. You'll find the button for this on the WebNews Subscriptions page. The wizard will create the group, announce it in sff.admin.announce.newgroups for you, and put the first post in the newsgroup.

Before creating a group, please take some time looking over the hierarchy and naming conventions of the existing newsgroup list. Pick a suitable spot and name for the group. You can only create groups if you're a member, and even then, only in certain areas (sff.discuss, sff.members and private groups where you have privileges).

How do I cancel (delete) a post?

Many newsreaders will allow you to delete your own posts. Another easy way to do this is to use WebNews. Find the post you want to delete in WebNews. When you read the post, one of the links at the top of the page is Cancel Article. Click that link and your message will be deleted from the server.

If you have a personal newsgroup (sff.people.yourname), you may delete any post in that group using WebNews as long as you log on first. When you are logged on, WebNews knows you are the "owner" of the newsgroup and lets you cancel any post; otherwise you'll only be able to cancel your own posts.

What is SpamGuardtm?

SpamGuardtm is SFF Net's Spam filtering system. Spam is any off-topic unsolicited commercial advertisement or other announcement made to a newsgroup or in email, usually done in a drive-by-shooting manner. SFF Net uses very sophisticated filtering to prevent spammers from disrupting conversations in newsgroups.

Occasionally, a creative spammer will slip past the shields. In that event, we ask that you report any spam to the sff.admin.helpdesk-spamhunt newsgroup. We'll then sic the spambots on all copies of the spam on the server. When SpamGuardtm deletes a spam message, it leaves a notice. This is done as a compromise between those who don't want to see spam at all and those who don't like messages just disappearing without a trace from newsgroups.

If you don't wish to see the SpamGuardtm messages, use the kill file (aka Blocked Sender's List or Twit file) function of your newsreader to block the message.

How do I access the newsgroup archives?

Most SFF Net newsgroups are trimmed regularly. Older posts are scrolled off into the archives, leaving only the most current posts online. Both public and private groups are archived, but only members can search or read the archives.

Newsgroup archives have their own search page. You may also browse the source files directly (requires login).

Newsgroup Policies

Please see the SFF Net General Policies and Procedures page for the official newsgroup policies.

Public Newsgroups

Many newsgroups on SFF Net are available to both SFF Net members and guests. These groups do not require any username/password access. This includes the SFF People newsgroups. You may see a list of Public Newsgroups.

Accessing Private Newsgroups

Much of SFF Net's content is for SFF Net members only. Access to these SFF Net private member areas is granted to all users who purchase an SFF Net membership (see the Membership Plans page for details).

Access to other private newsgroups hosted on SFF Net is granted by the owner or organization responsible for the group. Please contact the group administrator for access. If you don't know who the adminstrator is, please write yog@sff.net.

Dealing with Obnoxious Users/Flamewars

In general, most people you'll meet here are decent, interesting folks who share many of your interests - after all, you're here too, aren't you? Unfortunately, occasionally someone you interact with online will rub you the wrong way, or actively set out to be annoying.

The nature of online communication makes it easier in some ways to escalate these kind of disagreements into heated arguments, name-calling, and vicious personal attacks. These are known as "flamewars." In offline life, this kind of thing is likely to get you a broken nose.

The best way to deal with a situation that appears to be escalating into a flamewar is... to simply stop posting. Although it may feel like it's imperative to get in the last word, or to correct that hideously stupid last statement, the fact is that most observers can form their own opinions. Continuing to gnaw on the issue or trading insults with a "flamer" will win you no friends, nor will it ever shut the other person up. Grace and discretion are the best choice in an online conflict.

Although there is a certain low class of online user who enjoys and seeks out these kind of squabbles, most people have outgrown any fascination and most of their patience with boorish behavior. As a result, flamewars here are often moved out of the regular newsgroups (including any innocent posts that got caught in the crossfire) to a flame group where the opponents can duke it out until they get bored without disturbing others (or often just summarily deleted if the sysop in charge doesn't have the patience to bother with the issue). Either action is entirely at the sysop's discretion - see the SFF Net General Policies and Procedures page for more.

P.S. If your posts get moved or deleted due to a flamewar, don't bother screaming "Censorship" or "It's not fair!" You'll be correct... and irrelevant.

Newsgroup Netiquette
  • Do - be courteous to everyone. SFF Net is a community, and just like in any gathering of people, manners make living with each other possible. We realize there are sometimes boors and bullies, but the majority of people you'll meet here, even those that may seem crusty on the surface, respond well to kindness.

  • Don't - jump into an existing conversation without reading the previous messages. Some discussions you'll encounter have a lengthy history or an emotional tone that will make an uninformed new poster (particularly one who repeats items or questions already discussed) somewhat unwelcome. Take some time to get a feel for the kind of discussion in progress before diving in.

  • Do - introduce yourself in the main SFF Net Introductions topic (sff.introduce-yourself). Also, if you are a member of private areas, many of these have introduction topics of their own.

  • Don't - post "This is a test"-type messages in active newsgroups. We have a special newsgroup (sff.test) devoted to letting you test your ability to reply and post new messages without disrupting conversations in progress.

  • Do - quote only the smallest portion of a previous message to which you are responding (or simply avoid quoting altogether). Readers get very weary of scanning through many paragraphs of messages they've already read looking for the new message, particularly if it's in the nature of a one-line "Me Too!"-type response.

    In most cases, people will have just read the previous notes and will remember very well what was said. Also, avoid point-by-point refutations and lengthy (more than a screenful or two) responses, you'll get more attention to your point if folks can grasp it quickly.

  • Don't - use HTML, Rich-Text, graphics or post binaries to newsgroup pages. People who don't have readers for those will see many pages of what appears to be garbage. Plain-text is your best choice.

  • Do - be tolerant of others' spelling and grammar. Although it is certainly more pleasant to read a well-written post, this is not a permanent medium and few have time or inclination to carefully craft each line or to proofread to correct typos. A good rule of thumb is to be as careful as possible when writing and as lenient as possible when reading.

  • Don't - use large or obnoxious signature files. Although a quick, clever tagline can be enjoyable, seeing multiple posts from someone with a lengthy signature is like fingernails on a chalkboard. And if you do use them, change your signature regularly.

  • Do - stay on topic, if possible. Although good conversations are often free-ranging, it is frustrating to users who come to a newsgroup to learn about publishing and find a discussion of pet grooming in progress instead. Take off-topic conversations to an appropriate newsgroup, or create one for it if none exists.

  • Don't - cross-post to multiple topics, people groups or private areas. People often read multiple groups, and seeing the same conversation or announcements in several places is tiresome. Also, private discussions are intended to remain private, and cross-posting from private areas to public ones (or vice versa) is verboten.

    Similarly, discussions in people groups are the purview of the owner of the group, and cross-posting to or from them is often considered rude. Check with the owner of a group to get their permission before cross-posting.


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