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A cousin to the Internet email list is the BITNET LISTSERV. You will hear LISTSERV mentioned a lot because there are hundreds and hundreds of interesting LISTSERV groups. You may want to join one, so it's important to know what they are. Remember that BITNET is an outernet-type network, and the only application that can be sent between it and the Internet is electronic mail.

LISTSERV, which gets its name from "list server," is an automatic discussion list service. It's a program that runs on a BITNET computer (or BITNET node) and handles all the list administrative functions, such as subscribing and unsubscribing people to and from interest groups. There isn't such a powerful automatic list maintainer in widespread use on the Internet yet, where most subscription requests are still processed by an actual person, a maintainer of each list.

A LISTSERV accepts commands requesting different actions, such as subscribing to a list or listing members of a group. On BITNET these commands can be sent to the LISTSERV using an interactive message facility. If you're coming from the Internet, however, you have to send commands within an email message to the LISTSERV address. After the LISTSERV performs the requested functions, it will send you a status report via email so that you will know what happened.

Now, here's the tricky part. The actual BITNET interest group will also have a different email address from that of the LISTSERV. What this means is that discussion messages are sent to the list address, while commands are sent to the LISTSERV address. Many people get these two confused and end up sending LISTSERV commands to the actual list, where everyone gets a copy of your command message. Here's an example so you'll understand the difference. You want to join the Late Night Infomercial Reviews discussion group (fabricated for the purposes of this book, but it does have possibilities!). The list address for this example is INFOMERCIAL@CABLETV. The LISTSERV address is LISTSERV@CABLETV.

Note that BITNET addresses are different from Internet addresses. A BITNET computer name is easy to recognize because it's usually one word (no dots), and sometimes is cryptic-looking. When you're sending email from the Internet to BITNET, you will need to alert your computer to that fact. Usually you can just append .bitnet to the end of the BITNET node name and your system will know how to deal with it. In some cases, however, you may need to specify the actual email gateway, as mentioned above.Since you want to subscribe to this list, you should send an email message to the LISTSERV address:


Remember, you always send list commands to the LISTSERV address, not the actual mailing list address. It's the LISTSERV program that takes care of these administrative functions. Within the body of the message (you don't have to put anything in the subject field), you have to type the following command:


(This is assuming your name is Susan Powter. If it isn't, then substitute your own name.) As you can see in this example, the LISTSERV SUBSCRIBE command is easy:

SUBSCRIBE List-Name Your-Name

Your-Name should be your name as you usually write it, not your userid or email address. (The LISTSERV gets your email address from the message header, not the body.)Once you've put this command in the body of the message, you can send it. You should receive a welcome message saying that you are subscribed and giving you some important information about the list. You'll then get messages reviewing the latest in get-rich schemes and weight loss programs. Now, if you want to participate in the discussion—that is, send messages to this list—you should send email to the list address, not the LISTSERV address. So in this example you would send your contribution to INFOMERCIAL@CABLETV.bitnet. If you want to unsubscribe, repeat the steps above, sending email to the LISTSERV address, but instead of the SUBSCRIBE command, you type SIGNOFF INFOMERCIAL. That's it.There are many other LISTSERV commands besides SUBSCRIBE and SIGNOFF. If you're interested in learning more about these commands, send email to LISTSERV@BITNIC.bitnet , with the command INFO REFCARD in the body of the message. You'll receive an email message containing a list of general user commands from the LISTSERV at the BITNET Network Information Center (BITNIC).

List Caveats

If you join an Internet email or LISTSERV list, how much traffic will you receive? That depends. Some lists aren't very active at all, so you might see only a few messages a week. Other lists can become very animated, however, so you'll receive dozens of messages a day. Many people get really excited about joining lists and subscribe to a whole lot of them. Then they get more email than they can handle. It's a good idea to keep track of the lists to which you've subscribed. That way, if you go on vacation for an extended period and don't want to deal with hundreds (or thousands) of email messages when you return, you can unsubscribe to all of the groups on your list (LISTSERV gives you the ability to temporarily turn off or postpone receipt of messages while you're away).

The amount of traffic an interest group generates can be reduced considerably if members avoid sending unnecessary messages to the whole list—for example, subscription requests and "I agree" or "Me too" responses. Don't get "reply happy" and feel that you need to respond publicly to every question that someone sends.Often people use the reply feature in their mail program to offer a contribution to or continue a discussion, or to send a private message to the originator of the message. A word of warning here. You should always check to see to whom you're replying: is it the message sender or the entire list? Each email program is different, so you should familiarize yourself with your particular reply feature.

Picture this Maalox moment: You see a message from your best friend on an email list. She has made a contribution to a discussion. You want to reply to her personally and tell her about your bad day and how much you can't stand your boss, so you hit the reply button. You use words you shouldn't. You get descriptive in places. You finish the message and away it goes—to every single person on the list, including your boss! As unbelievable as it sounds, it happens all the time. The moral of the story is that you should always double-check to be sure your reply message is going to the right recipients. Either that, or stock up on the antacid pills.

Finding Lists

There are a lot of lists out there, and they can change quickly. You can download some online "Lists of Lists" and peruse them to find out which groups are for you. Just browsing the A's in one such List-of-Lists, you can find interest groups on Addictions, Art, and Animal Rights. Quite a range. The Appendix tells you where to access some online email list catalogs.

Network News

USENET was mentioned briefly in Chapter 2. It's a worldwide conferencing system, encompassing all sorts of organizations (universities, commercial enterprises, government agencies, even home computers) and supporting one service—news. USENET is a real community. People from all walks of life spend hours "together," reading, contributing ("posting"), and responding. Each group has its regulars, its "Norm Petersons." Others come and go. Some "lurk," while others seem to talk incessantly.

USENET is a breeding ground for free expression and thought. People are usually very frank on this network! It's a point of pride that USENET, for the most part, is an open and uncensored environment. As a result, some very explicit and candid discussions ensue, from political arguments, to religious opinions and holy wars, to explicit stories with indecent themes. Be aware of this if you're easily offended, and simply avoid the groups that focus on subjects unpalatable to you.

USENET is divided into newsgroups. Devoted to a certain topic, each newsgroup is made up of articles or postings that look like email messages (each has a header and a message body). There are thousands of different newsgroups on USENET, but not every computer or site gets all of these in its USENET feed. Each site can pick which newsgroups it wants to "carry" or let its users participate in. Why wouldn't a site want to provide every single newsgroup? One reason is that volume of daily traffic is huge (over a 100 megabytes per day), and it takes up valuable disk space. Or the site may be paying long-distance charges to transmit and receive traffic, so it participates only in a small number of groups. Another very common reason is that some of the newsgroups deal with explicit subjects that may not be appropriate to carry.

USENET newsgroups are similar to email lists, but there are a few differences. With Internet email lists, every message is sent to each person who has explicitly requested to be a participant. On USENET, every newsgroup article is received and stored on each participating USENET computer, instead of being sent to each user. Even when you're not participating in a newsgroup, all of its articles are still stored on the computer, so you have easy access to any you want. It's difficult to know how many people participate or lurk in each newsgroup. Something you say might be read by as few as five people, or by as many as 100,000.

USENET Hierarchy and Newsgroup Names. Newsgroups are organized in a hierarchical structure; their names have dots in them, just like Internet domain names. The top-level (left-most) word in the newsgroup name specifies the newsgroup's category. There are seven major USENET top-level categories, and a scattering of alternative categories, as shown below. Knowing what these categories mean can help you figure out what each newsgroup is about.


Computer hardware, software, and protocol discussions.

Topics that don't fit anywhere else, such as job hunting, investments, real estate, and fitness.

Groups that deal with USENET software, network administration, and informative documents and announcements.

Recreational subjects and hobbies, such as aviation, games, music, and cooking.

Topics in the established sciences, such as space research, logic, mathematics, and physics.

Groups for socializing or discussing social issues or world culture.

Lengthy debates and discussions on various current events and issues—politics, religion, the environment, and so forth.


Alternative group of discussions—not carried by all USENET sites. Some are controversial; others are "lite." Not considered a regular part of the USENET hierarchy. Alt newsgroups generate a lot of traffic.

Topics of interest to biologists.

Business-related groups.

Commercial news services gateway'ed to USENET by the ClariNet Communications Corporation.

Conferences devoted to K-12 education.

Russian language newsgroups.

rec.humor.funny comp.society

Access to USENET. As was noted at the end of Chapter 2, not everyone on the Internet has access to USENET. There's no one way to tell if you can participate, but with a little bit of sleuthing, you might have a better idea. Most universities and individual commercial Internet providers provide access to USENET newsgroups. Many businesses carry a subset (or all) of the groups. Remember, you can (and should) always call your provider's help desk and ask.

News Readers. In order to read or post news, you need to have a news reader program. There are thousands of newsgroups, and you don't want to have to sift through every one of them. A news reader will let you select which newsgroups you want to participate in by allowing you to "subscribe" to them (without having to send email to an administrator). The reader program will organize the newsgroups, display the articles for you to read, and allow you to post articles. Just as there are many email programs, there are many news readers. Some are user-friendly, while others use terse commands and are difficult to learn.

You'll have to get used to how your news reader works and how it displays newsgroups and articles. Some readers offer a "threaded" function that organizes articles within a newsgroup according to discussion threads—a helpful feature if you want to follow a particular discussion within a newsgroup instead of hopping from one debate to another.

If you're not sure about your choices of news readers, check with your system administrator or news provider. If you're faced with a Unix command line prompt, try typing the name of some of the newsreaders mentioned in the "Unix Survival Guide" in Chapter 6 and see if that gets you anywhere.

PC and Mac owners should ask their Internet providers what user-friendly graphical applications are available to them. The Appendix also lists some pointers to PC and Mac newsreader applications.

Here's what a posting (or article) looks like in the newsgroup. This one was posted by "The Man" himself:

Xref: world
From: (Dave Barry) 
Subject: Re: Hey. 
Organization: Pro-Entropy +1-305-265-9073
(DAR Systems Int'l--Miami, FL) 
Date: Tue, 25 Jan 94 07:38:14 EST 
Message-ID: {} 
Lines: 9
I'd be SORELY ALARMED if people started posting intelligent statements here. I think that stuff should be posted in the area, where it belongs. This area should be reserved for the ISSUES, such as nasal humor. ---------------------------------------------------------------- Pro-Entropy (C)1993 by DAR Systems International, All Rights Reserved Real Name: Dave Barry Internet: Call PRO-ENTROPY for the latest chaos at 305-265-9073 (14.4K Baud)

Getting Started. Once you're able to access USENET news, the first thing you should do is read all the articles in the news.announce.newusers newsgroup. The many useful articles in this group are regularly updated and chronicle the history of USENET, explain concepts and common problems, provide a list of frequently asked questions along with the answers, give information on available news readers, explain USENET software and how to become a USENET site, and provide lists of USENET groups. This chapter cannot cover every detail you need to know, but these articles will get you up to speed. This newsgroup ( news.announce.newusers) is not a discussion group—that is, you can't post questions or follow-up articles to it. If you have new-user questions, there is a newsgroup where you can post them, the news.newusers.questions group.

Posting Articles. When posting an article in a newsgroup, you're asked for some information. As when you send email, you're asked for a subject. Be descriptive, since there are many people participating and it's polite to give them a good idea of what your posting is about.You also need to specify how far and wide you want your article distributed. Many times you'll want to make sure that everyone in the USENET world can read it, but sometimes your article may apply to a local geographic area. For example, if you post an article asking if anyone has any tickets to the Neil Diamond concert on Friday, you probably want to restrict it to your home town of Toronto rather than sending it to Tokyo and everywhere else. It's important that you exercise good judgment, not only by specifying geographic areas, but also by posting articles only to appropriate newsgroups. For example, it's probably not the best idea to post your resume to rec.folk-dancing.

If you write an article that is relevant for more than one newsgroup, you can cross-post that article. For example, you may decide that your article posted to about how you almost burned the house down cooking dinner should also be posted to the rec.humor newsgroup. Be careful when cross-posting, though. Sometimes it can anger the regulars in the cross-posted newsgroups because you're essentially "forcing" them into a conversation that originated somewhere else.


The normal operation for most email lists and USENET newsgroups is to let everyone participate, sending or posting whatever they want. As you can imagine, this practice quite often results in what's called a low signal-to-noise ratio—lots of junk submissions that offer little or no quality to the discussion.

As a preventive measure, some email lists and newsgroups are moderated. Instead of being sent straight to the group, messages or articles are submitted to a moderator, who decides whether or not the submission has relevance to the topic at hand. The moderator may accept (or reject) each submission or may combine messages and articles to create a digest that gets posted periodically. Moderated lists and newsgroups usually contain a higher proportion of useful information, but many people don't like the idea of their postings being evaluated.

Backward Forward Copyright © 1994 by Tracy LaQuey and Editorial Inc.

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