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September 13, 1999
Come September 15, UConn will put into production a new news server, that will allow users access to Internet newsgroups with a Web interface. That means you won't need newsreader software to read newsgroup messages. Instead, you can do it on the World Wide Web at a new URL - http://newsgroups.uconn.edu (but remember, not until September 15).
What are newsgroups? As more and more people become Internet users, some of the basics that long-time practitioners take for granted get overlooked. Newsgroups are in that category. They are somewhat similar to e-mail lists, but they aren't email lists.
Subscribing to Newsgroups
Newsgroups involve e-mail, but there is a big difference. You control the number of messages you get - and they don't come to your e-mail account. Newsgroups are viewed using a newsreader - either stand-alone software (such as Free Agent, which is free) or the newsreader built into later versions of Netscape and Microsoft Web browsers. You subscribe to newsgroups just as you would subscribe to a magazine or journal (and, yes, similar to subscribing to an e-mail list).
Newsgroups are on Usenet, a worldwide system for discussion groups, a term that is a much more accurate description than newsgroups. Subscribers to a particular discussion group, or newsgroup, discuss topics of interest. There are tens of thousands of discussion groups, from the highly specific to the intensely inappropriate (enter newsgroups with caution if you are sensitive to certain subject matter). You learn very quickly that journalism is not what newsgroups are about (although there are newsgroups for journalists as well as those interested in current events). Closer to gossip, but often with interesting tips and information about a given topic, newsgroups are a place for discussion.
Your newsreader allows you to "subscribe" only to those groups which you select. Depending upon the topic, there can be a handful of "articles" or thousands, and you choose which ones you wish to read. You can delete both read and unread messages. You may check your newsgroups daily or occasionally, setting your newsreader to purge older messages.
Newsgroups are divided into category types, then subjects, and even subcategories. The category type comp is for anything relating to computers, biz is for business topics, news is for discussion of all things relating to Usenet newsgroups, from their administration to policies on how to create new newsgroups. In some categories, creating a new newsgroup requires an approval process that includes voting by interested individuals. The exception is the category type known as "ALT", which stands for alternative. Anyone can originate an "alt" group. Other groups include: REC for topics of recreational interest; and SCI for all things scientific.
You can read various discussion "threads" - messages which add to an ongoing subtopic - and you can join the discussion through your e-mail. Users who just read and never participate in discussions are known as "lurkers," and "delurking" is when you get up the courage to add your two cents. Any message sent is referred to as an article. And if you get tired of it all, you can unsubscribe and move on to other topics of interest. Again, similar to e-mail lists.
But the big difference is that anyone can subscribe to a newsgroup and read the messages. E-mail lists can be limited to a certain population. At UConn, for example, there is an e-mail list for webmasters, known as WWWADM-L. You can't subscribe to it - you have to be added by the list owners. Anyone can subscribe themselves to the UCFORUM-L discussion list, but it is limited to only those users in the University domain.
Tips on Netiquette
There have been newsgroups specific to UConn - accessible to users within the UConn domain - for several years. To date they have not been used very much, but with the new Web-based interface, traffic on the news server is certain to rise. In the past - and even in the future if you choose to do so - you could get to the newsgroups through the newsgroup client of your browser, like Netscape or Internet Explorer. The Web-based access has a strong advantage: you don't have to know how to set up the newsgroup client to get to the newsgroups on the Web.
Faculty and staff can apply to the Computer Center accounts office at U-138 to have new newsgroups set up. UConn newsgroups should pertain to one of three broad categories: research/instruction; administrative business; and university-sanctioned student activities. For student activities, a faculty or staff advisor must fill out the newsgroup application.