Newsgroups Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Qustions (FAQs) are just what the name says; a list or file of answers to common questions about a particular subject, usually asked by beginners. FAQs are an extremely valuable resource. They help you get up to speed quickly on a topic, without taking up other Internet users' time and resources. Almost all newsgroups, mailing lists, and other special interest groups maintain a FAQ file for new users.

Here, you will find answers to frequently asked questions about Newsgroups/Usenet. Check the list of questions to see if yours, or one like it, is among them. If not, use a search engine to track down the information. If you don't know what a search engine is, click here.

What are Newsgroups/Usenet?
How do I read news?
What is netiquette as it pertains to Usenet ?
What is the first newsgroup/discussion group I should read?
How to become a regular on a newsgroup/discussion group?
What do I call my post?
What should my post look like?
How should I sign a post?
What is spamming?
Can I troubleshoot by posting a test message?

What are Newsgroups/Usenet?

"Usenet" is the collective name for all newsgroups. For whatever reason, the words "news" and "group" are usually run together as one word. I rarely see the term Usenet used but apparently it's still the official umbrella term for newsgroups.

Whatever you call it, or them, it's a large bulletin board system. With tens of thousands of groups, each one hosting a different topic, it may be the largest body of collective reasoning in the world.

You might see the term Internet Discussion Groups (IDG) somewhere. For a while in the late 90s, it looked like IDG was being considered to replace the terms newsgroups and Usenet. As far as I can gather the term IDG has died, even though it's a better name, because there really is little news to be found in newsgroups.

Postings (also called articles) are like index cards, and they're posted on newsgroups, which are the electronic equivalent of bulletin boards. Each bulletin board is devoted to a different topic. A posting stays up for a long time. Days, weeks. Other people can add related, follow-up postings and that's where you find the interaction and discussion.

Unlike most other stuff on the internet, you don't necessarily use a web browser to view newsgroups, though some browsers display them. A web page can contain a link to a newsgroup, but in many cases if you click the link a news reader (if you have one) opens. If you're using Windows 98 or later, you have a newsgroup reader in the form of Outlook Express, an email/news reader included with the operating system. There are other news readers out there; more about that later.

For some, newsgroups are a way to discuss interests and passions with thousands of people worldwide. For others, they're a free and easy way to electronically publish poems, stories, song lyrics, speeches, opinions, advice, gossip, rants and raves, computer sourcecode, and just about anything else you can think of. For still others, they're a great resource for answers to problems and questions, or to uncover areas where research is needed. Newsgroups constitute an electronic community of people. "Regulars" can become friends or colleagues, though they never meet face-to-face.

Founded as the Usenet electronic bulletin board about 1980, newsgroups share the Internet's philosophy of openness: no one is "in charge" of them. Newsgroups are maintained on special "news servers" all around the world, using a series of Internet standards and protocols. News server sites pass content back and forth, enabling anyone to read the content online using newsreader software.

Like I said above, Windows 98 and later has built-in newsreader capability. But to add my personal opinion here, I think you'll find the best-organized and easiest-to-use newsreader program is Free Agent, and you can download it for free.

How do I read news?

Click here to read "How to Use News", a tour of how to read news with Netscape Navigator.
Go with a free news reader that's better-organized and easier to use than those lame things built into Netscape and Windows. Dr. Bob recommends that you download Free Agent.
Then return here for more information about Usenet news.

What is netiquette as it pertains to Usenet?

Netiquette is the etiquette of the Internet. Good manners and common courtesy should always be used.

What are the first newsgroups I should read?

The first newsgroups a new user might want to look through are: news.newusers.questions, news.announce.newusers, alt.newbies and alt.newbie After that you should use any of the search engines, and indexing services on the Internet to find the newsgroups you are interested in.

How do I become a regular on a newsgroup?

Newsgroups are available on a multitude of topics. Look around and find a few newsgroups you think you might like, and read them for a couple of weeks. Find the FAQ's for the groups you are considering, and read them. After awhile, post a message. Keep reading, and when you have something more to contribute, go ahead and make a posting. In short, what it takes to become a regular is to regularly read and contribute to a newsgroup.

What do I call my post?

Every message (or post) needs a subject. Give your posts meaningful subject titles so everyone will know what they are concerning.
Note - Many newsgroups are devoted to a common interest in a TV series. The problem is that maybe you've seen an episode someone else hasn't seen, and the wrong words in your Subject line could spoil the surprises for them. This is especially true for shows like The X-Files (, which airs new episodes in America long before they're seen in the UK. If you're going to discuss a key plot development, put the word "Spoiler" in your Subject line.

What should my post look like?

Do not use all uppercase letters in your postings. All uppercase is the Usenet equivalent of shouting. Follow traditional writing rules. Use correct grammar and spelling. And, break your message into logical paragraphs, and restrict your sentences to reasonable lengths.

How should I sign a post?

That depends on what kind of interaction you want with the group.
If you want plenty of response, both in the newsgroup and directly via email, use a signature that identifies you and and includes an alternative means of contacting you, e.g., name and e-mail address. Keep your signature short - four to seven lines is a good rule of thumb for maximum signature length.
If you prefer more privacy and don't want responses via email, you can use a pseudonym instead of your real name, and/or you can choose not to include your email address. If your news reader requires you to enter your email address, just enter an obviously fake address like "" It will fool the program and other users will understand your choice; many others do so. The Free Agent news reader doesn't even require you to use the "@" format; just type a fake name like "John Doe" or "X-Files Fan" in the space provided for your email address.

What is spamming?

Any message posted to more than 20 groups is spamming. Well, that's one unofficial, arbitrary rule. Some would argue for smaller or larger numbers. Most spams have nothing to do with the topics covered by the newsgroups that receive them. The best policy is to ignore spamming. Spamming can be an irritation, but inappropriate crossposting is more disruptive to newsgroups. Particularly, the posting of provocative messages to diverse or antagonistic newsgroups, e.g., and Again, the best policy is to ignore such messages. Sometimes people do things just to get a response. Try not to give them one.

Can I troubleshoot by posting a test message?

When something is wrong, but you're not sure what, you might want to post a test message. Send such postings to alt.test, a newsgroup dedicated to test messages. Because others use this newsgroup for testing purposes, use a subject line that will clearly identify the test as belonging to you. Otherwise, you won't be able to distinguish your test from someone else's.

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