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TUTORIAL: Introducing NewsGroups Print

One of the most important features of the Internet is the ability to not just obtain information, but to interact with others while you do. Newsgroups are an interesting tool. They combine the power of email to communicate, with the distribution capabilities of "mailing lists", but you can use them any time without needing to "join".


Newsgroups are like a huge electronic conference. Anyone on the net can participate in the conference at any time. Each newsgroup (there are currently over 20,000 of them!) centres around one basic topic. Some are very specific, and many are more generalised.


Each one is a place where conversations can be held, and you can ask seek the opinions of the participants. If you feel inclined, you can add your input to the discussion. There are newsgroups for help, support or discussion. For instance, the group alt.animation.waner-bros is a discussion group about Warner Brothers Animations, just as alt.autos.bmw is a discussion about BMW cars.


There are newsgroups on just about any topic that you can imagine. The name of each newsgroup generally gives you an indication of it's topic area. Newsgroups can be grouped according to the first part of their name. Here are a few examples:


alt "Alternative" - sort of like "other"
aus Australian newsgroups
comp Computer Related
k12 K-12 Education network
microsoft Microsoft product support
rec Recreation
sci Science
soc Society
talk A place to chat...


...and many more.


As with any Internet service, we recommend that you monitor the "Signal to Noise Ratio". Check out a group which may be of interest and then ask yourself "So how much garbage is in there? Will I spend all my time finding the quality messages?". If the answer is yes, see if you can find another group that may offer better value.


Accessing Newsgroups


There are two main ways to access Newsgroups. You can either use a "client" program, or access newsgroups using the World Wide Web via your browser. We'll talk about the web-based method, since that's the easiest place to start.


Google Groups is probably one of the best web-based news readers. You'll find Google Groups at http://groups.google.com.


On it's home page, Google Groups has a tree structured menu of newsgroup categories to allow you to select a group to read. The "Advanced Groups Search" option is useful from finding newsgroups or messages on specific topics quickly.


After you have chosen a newsgroup to read, you will be able to select messages from a list showing each one's subject and author. Once in a message view, you can follow "threads". Threads can be used to follow a conversation. They link messages with the same subject line.


Participate - Don't just spectate!


Newsgroups are a great source of information as they are, but they rely on people taking part to be really useful. There are two ways that you can participate in newsgroups. You can do it publicly by "posting", or you can respond to messages that have already been posted via email.


Joining in with Google Groups (or any news reader) is as simple as choosing the "post" option.


Newsgroup Terminology


There are a number of terms which are used in newsgroups. Some of them are:


POSTING - Putting a message in the newsgroup. Posting should be used when your message needs to be public, or when many of the people reading may be interested in what you have to say. If your message is of a personal nature, directed to only one or two individuals, or of limited general interest, you should use EMAIL instead. By choosing your communication method carefully, you contribute to the overall quality of the newsgroups you participate in.


CROSS-POSTING is a technique whereby you post the same message to multiple newsgroups. This is useful when you are seeking answers to questions which may come from one or more of several groups. Cross-posting (also called X-Posting) should be used sparingly and with a bit of thought and research.


ADVERTISING is generally frowned upon in newsgroups. The exception is in "announce" groups, which are intended for product release announcements, etc. Before entering an advertisement, check what's already in the group, and the response that it has generated. Also, look for the newsgroup "rules" which are generally posted on a regular basis (every 2-4 weeks) by the "moderator" (a person responsible for maintaining the newsgroup and keeping it on track).


UUENCODING is sometimes used to transfer programs and other 8-bit files via newsgroups. You will generally need a decoding utility to convert the message(s) to files, although some advanced news client programs will have this facility built-in.

Parental Warning


Newsgroups can contain information which you may not want your children to see. At Virtual Access, we always recommend that you monitor your children's activities on the Internet and act accordingly.