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A Few Warnings About Usenet
Usenet is a wonderful thing . . . but it's not perfect. Here are a few things you should know before you dive in. Pardon the plain English here ...

Usenet can eat your brain.

You can't read all the news. You can't even read all the interesting news. Don't try. Keeping up with Usenet has been described as "trying to drink from a fire hose." There is just too much stuff! And there's more all the time. You could spend every waking hour in front of the screen, and you still couldn't keep up with everything that might interest you. So it goes. Pick the absolute most interesting newsgroups, and if you can't keep up, don't panic. Every so often, if you get behind, you can just mark all the unread messages as "read" and go on. Don't ever let yourself get compulsive. What's the worst thing that can happen if you miss a message? Not much.

Some people on Usenet don't have a clue.

The net is a great source of information. If you find the right newsgroup, you can get an answer to almost any question, from "Where can I get good sushi in Boston?" to "Who first described the dinosaur Ornithomimus, and in what year?" The trouble is, the answers that you get may not be right. The person who answers your query may not understand what you're asking. Or he may be a helpful idiot. Or he may just want to jerk you around. So don't rely on an answer from the net - not without checking. Of course, when you ask a question in a newsgroup, other readers are likely to comment, not just on your question, but on the answers that are offered. This can warn you when you get an off-base answer. But don't depend on it!

Some people on Usenet are total jerks.

You'll find this out the first time someone directs a "flame" at you. "Flame" is a general term for a harshly critical posting. A flame might be wise, witty and on-target. But it's more likely to be rude and offensive, and it might be obscene, insulting and even personally threatening. The first time you get flamed, you'll wonder "What did I ever do to this person?" But flamage is an unfortunate fact of life. The first time somebody flames you, try to strain out the content from the noise, just in case they have a point. But if you're the target of persistent stupid flames - or if the newsgroup is generally flame-ridden and you just don't want to read them - it's time to set a killfile. There is no central authority in Usenet. There are no net.police to call to stop offensive flaming. Some flamers can be reached by social pressure. Others are offensive on purpose, because it's the only way they can get attention . . . or because they feel so strongly about some subject that they lose all self-control when somebody disagrees with them. If you are really being victimized, or if a newsgroup is being destroyed by a single crazy, you can always complain to the system administrator of the site where the crazy is posting from. Send a polite letter to "postmaster@sitename." (For example, to complain about someone here, you would send mail to postmaster@io.com.) Include a copy of the offending post, to make it clear what you're complaining about. Of course, this does no good if the messages are anonymous or disguised, or if the postmaster just does not care! And if you have been personally threatened, you have a right to go to the police. Send a copy of the threatening letter to admin@io.com and we'll help you.

Etiquette Flames

You can also get flamed for violations of net.etiquette. A post that just says "Me, too!," or does nothing but correct the spelling and grammar of an earlier posting, or asks a Frequently Asked Question, will draw fire. So it goes. The sooner you learn your net manners, the sooner that kind of flaming will stop. (Yes, it's stupid to attack a newcomer for accidental bad manners, but some people are stupid.)

Some people on Usenet are crooks. Or worse.

You will see chain letters on Usenet. You will see false advertisements. You will see articles posted by people who want to scam your money, or get you into cults, or commit disgusting acts on your body. In other words, it's just like the classified section of any newspaper. Except when you post a Usenet article, you're not paying by the word. And some of these people can be really convincing. So never get the idea that the people on Usenet are anything special. The only thing they have in common is . . . they've got computers. Most of them are nice, regular folks. Some of them are dangerous predators. The general rule is: Don't agree to anything on the Net unless you'd agree to it if a total stranger called you on the phone!



Last revised August 29, 2000