How To Write a Good Newgroup Message

Copyright (c) 1996-2001, Brian Edmonds

$Revision: 1.19 $ $Date: 2001/07/23 06:50:23 $

This document may be freely retransmitted in Usenet or email; permission to reproduce in any other media should be requested from the author, Brian Edmonds <brian@gweep.ca>. The latest edition of this FAQ can be found on the web at:

While the information given here is specifically aimed at people interested in creating groups in the alt hierarchy, most of the advice is equally valid, at least at the technical level, in any hierarchy. Note that most hierarchies have their own local set of rules governing how new groups are created, so while advice given here regarding alt.config may not apply, you should consult whatever guidelines or rules may be in force in the hierarchy you are considering a new group for.

Thanks to Bill Hazelrig, Eli the Bearded, and others for ideas and suggestions in writing this FAQ.




Contents



What is a newgroup message?

A newgroup message, or more accurately a newgroup control message is fundamentally a news posting with a few special headers, and usually some extra information in the body of the message. The basic expectation is that such a posting will create the specified newsgroup on machines throughout the world. Technical information on the news system, including the format of control messages can be found in RFC 1036, available at

In keeping with the wording in many RFCs, I will be using the following terms in the rest of this FAQ:

MUST
This is an absolute requirement. If you do not follow it, then your newgroup message will be technically invalid and automatically ignored by any correctly functioning news site.
SHOULD
This is not mandatory, but following it will greatly increase the acceptance of your newgroup message and your newsgroup will get better propagation as a result.
MAY
This is optional, and will have little influence on the acceptance of your newgroup message.
SHOULD NOT
While not technically wrong, doing this will reduce the acceptance of your newgroup message and ultimately hurt the propagation of your newsgroup.
MUST NOT
This will make your newgroup message technically invalid and have a large negative impact on the future of your newsgroup.



Why do I need to write a ``good'' one?

Some people may tell you that none of the suggestions given below are important, and as long as you don't violate any MUST NOT restrictions your newgroup message will work. To a point this is true, and your newsgroup will be created at some sites. However, at many sites, the news admins will ignore newgroup messages that do not follow at least a good portion of the advice in this FAQ.

On top of this, some individuals (aka control freaks, or the cabal (there is no cabal)) will actively respond to ``bad'' newgroup messages with an rmgroup (remove group) message. This does not mean the newsgroup will be erased at all sites, but it will be at some, and at many others, the news admins will give serious consideration to such a message as a recommendation that the newsgroup not be created. The odds are that the news admin will know, and often respect the opinion of the person sending the rmgroup message, while you will probably be unknown to them. In short, your newgroup message is unlikely to be well received.



Do I really have to go through alt.config first?

You SHOULD propose every new newsgroup on alt.config, and allow at least a week for discussion before sending a newgroup message. While this is not an absolute requirement, if you do not propose the newsgroup in alt.config, many news admins will not create it, and you are almost guaranteed to get more than one rmgroup message in response.

You also SHOULD pay close attention to advice given to you about your proposal. Some of it may be flames or knee-jerk reactions, but some of it will be valuable in modifying your proposal so that it is likely to be created at a greater number of sites. If you accept and follow any advice as best you can, it is very unlikely that your newgroup message will attract any rmgroup messages.

In your newgroup message, you SHOULD include a brief summary of when you proposed the newsgroup, and the ensuing discussion. This is not strictly necessary, but if the discussion was more than a couple days ago, it helps to refresh the memory of those admins who participated. Some people try to pull a fast one by claiming that their newsgroup was proposed in alt.config, when really it wasn't. Almost always, someone will call them on it, and the resulting rmgroup messages will reduce the newsgroup's chance of survival.

You also SHOULD include in this section any traffic or readership statistics you have which show that this newsgroup is likely to be actively used by many people. This is actually the one area where many otherwise reasonable proposals fall down, so consider it carefully and try to collect as much quantitative (numerical) evidence as you can both before and during the discussion in alt.config.



The ``For your newsgroups file'' information

This information SHOULD be in every newgroup message. It contains the descriptive text that many news readers will display to users as extra information to help them decide if they want to subscribe to the newsgroup. The description SHOULD be meaningful, as it is part of the way you will be advertising the newsgroup to prospective readers. The description SHOULD fit with the newsgroup name on one line (80 characters), otherwise it will display unattractively in many news reading programs. For some newsgroups with particularly long names, this may not be reasonable, however, so it is by no means an absolute requirement.

The actual format of such an inclusion consists of two lines (with no text immediately before or after). The first is the phrase ``For your newsgroups file:'', while the second line is the newsgroup name, one or more spaces or tabs, and the description. Both lines should have no other text or spaces before them on the same line. An example:

For your newsgroups file:
alt.video.laserdisc  LD players and selections available for them.

Typically, this section will be placed first in a newgroup message, though placing the summary of the alt.config discussion first is also reasonable.



What is a charter?

Every newgroup message SHOULD contain a description of what the newsgroup is supposed to be for, commonly referred to as its charter. Ideally you should write this before proposing the newsgroup on alt.config, and adjust it according to recommendations given there.

One or two short paragraphs is usually sufficient for a charter. If you can't explain what the newsgroup is for in this amount of space, then you should probably give serious consideration to whether or not it's really a good idea. This isn't a hard and fast rule though, so if there is a lot that needs to be said about the newsgroup, do so. Just remember, you don't want to bore the news admins who are reading this...

As part of the charter, you MAY also include pointers to more information on the topic of the newsgroup, such as web pages, mailing lists, or ftp sites.

You should also keep a copy of the charter, as it makes an excellent starting point when creating a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document for your new newsgroup.



What should I not include in a newgroup message?

In your newgroup message, you SHOULD NOT argue that any merits of the subject matter imply that it deserves a newsgroup. This is at best irrelevant, and to some news admins is a very bad argument, serving only to annoy them (thus making an rmgroup response more likely). The main consideration for most news admins is simply how many people are likely to read the newsgroup.

You also SHOULD NOT refer to the newsgroup as having passed a vote for its creation. There are no votes in alt, so any such implication is likely to provoke an rmgroup response.

You also SHOULD NOT make reference to the existence of any other alt newsgroup as justification for the creation of your newsgroup, as almost invariably this will be a bad argument, even if it doesn't seem like one to you. If you equate your newsgroup with one that some news admin somewhere considers to be a bad newsgroup, then you will be hurting the acceptance of your newsgroup.



What is a ``Control'' header?

That, and the ``Approved'' header are the two special headers that every newgroup message MUST contain. In addition, the message SHOULD contain a specially formatted ``Subject'' header. The special ``Subject'' header is not strictly required, but is strongly recommended for compatibility with older news servers.

The ``Control'' header MUST be comprised of the word ``newgroup'', followed by the name of the newsgroup. The ``Approved'' header SHOULD contain your email address, or that of your news admin if he/she is sending the newgroup message for you. The ``Subject'' header SHOULD be identical to the ``Control'' header except that it is prefixed with the word ``cmsg''. (Inclusion of a Subject header in this format is no longer required, but is a good idea for backwards compatibility). An example:

Subject: cmsg newgroup alt.video.laserdisc
Control: newgroup alt.video.laserdisc
Approved: brian@gweep.ca

Note that the contents of the ``Subject'' and ``Control'' headers SHOULD NOT contain uppercase letters. Use of mixed case is not strictly prohibited, but it is rarely used and may break some software. Use of uppercase letters in newsgroup names is strongly discouraged in proposed revisions to RFC1036.

These headers MUST occur with all the other message headers, and if they only occur in the body of the message, it will be treated as if they were absent. How you can accomplish this depends on your system and the news software you use. You may even be prevented by the system from including them. In any case, if you are unsure how to include such headers, ask your news admin.



I've written a control message, where do I send it?

Control messages are posted just like any other news article. There are two schools of thought over what newsgroup(s) they should be posted to, however. The first approach is to post them to the group which you are creating. This has the advantage that the control message will only travel to sites which carry related groups, and will not bother sites which do not carry them. However, some news servers will not allow local posting to groups which do not exist, resulting in a chicken and egg problem.

The other school of thought is to post them to alt.config, as it is a centrally recognized group that is likely to be carried at every site that carries the alt hierarchy. If your server allows posting to non-existent groups, then combining these two approaches, and crossposting the control message to both alt.config and the group you are creating is entirely reasonable.

Note that if posted correctly, a control message will not actually appear in any of the groups you post it to. This is because the server recognizes it as special and posts it to the pseudo-group control (or on some servers control.newgroup). You should not post directly to any of the control groups, as while it does not generally seem to cause problems, they do not function in quite the same way as normal newsgroups. On many sites there is no guarantee that messages so posted will not simply vanish into the ether.

If you do post a technically correct control message, but find it shows up in the normal groups instead of in control, check the headers of the posted message. It is likely that either your reader or your server does not allow users to post control messages, and strips the ``Approved'' and/or ``Control'' headers. In this case, you will have to contact your local news admin and request his or her assistance. Providing him or her with a prewritten copy of the newgroup message will make his or her job much simpler.



What if I want the newsgroup moderated?

In this case, all of the above requirements and advice still apply, and there are a few additional things you need to know. First off, running a moderated newsgroup is often tough work, and you will need to have a good understanding of how both news and mail operate. In fact, if you didn't already know and understand most everything I've said already in this FAQ, you may not be ready to undertake newsgroup moderation.

That said, there are two additional requirements for creating a moderated alt newsgroup. First, you SHOULD provide both submission and contact email addresses in the body of the message. The submission address is where postings are mailed for approval, and the contact address is where other moderator related mail, such as questions or comments, should be sent. These are typically included immediately following the ``For your newsgroups file'' section, and are in a form resembling the following:

Moderator submission address:  alt-fred-moderated@gweep.ca
Moderator contact address:  brian@gweep.ca

The submission address MUST be the address where you will be accepting postings for approval, and it is strongly advised that it be an address which is dedicated to this task alone (your private email address is a bad choice). You SHOULD make arrangements for a backup moderator who can monitor this address and approve postings in the event of the primary moderator suffering an extended absence from the net. You also SHOULD include a brief summary of the intended moderation policy, and a list of the names and email addresses of all initial moderators.

Note that while including this information is not strictly mandatory, if you fail to do so, your newsgroup will not work. Most sites are configured by default to send postings to a special address at moderators.uu.net, so unless you have made prior arrangements with them all postings will be going into a black hole. It may be possible to arrange for the moderation address to be honoured at UUNET, which is in fact a very good idea, but do not assume it will happen automatically. You can email the moderation contact at moderators-request@isc.org to inquire.

Second, you MUST append the word ``moderated'' to the ``Control'' header of your message (and to the ``Subject'' header too, though this is only strongly recommended). This is what will actually indicate to the news software that this newsgroup is to be moderated.

While `self-moderated' groups are technically possible, and have been implemented on a few special occasions such as alt.hackers and alt.sysadmin.recovery, you should not consider it for your group. Many newsreaders will not allow users to self-moderate for the simple reason that this is abuse when done in regular moderated groups. If you cannot find a real moderator for your group, a self-moderated version will almost assuredly be a failure.



I've been rmgrouped, what should I do?

The most important first step is if this has made you upset, take a break. Go for a walk, fix yourself a snack, take a nap, but most of all, give yourself time to cool off. A hasty, emotional response will only make things worse.

Next, carefully read any explanation included in the text of the rmgroup message, and read over this FAQ again. If there is anything here that you failed to do, or or anything that you did and should not have, then you're in trouble. Your best bet in this situation is to privately mail the individual who sent out the rmgroup and admit your mistake. Explain that you did your best, and appeal to them to help you correct your error and and either send a new newgroup message for you, or if necessary return to alt.config again for another discussion period.

If you did in fact do everything right, and the rmgroup message has cited you for a mistake you did not make, then you should again mail the individual who sent the rmgroup. Politely explain that you have in fact followed all the guidelines and give them any more evidence you have of this that is not already in the newgroup message. Most of the time it will simply have been a lapse of attention on the other person's part, and he/she will be only too happy to remedy the situation by resending your newgroup message for you, with a note to the fact that their earlier rmgroup was incorrect.

If, in either of these cases, you have mailed the originator of the rmgroup message and a few days pass with no response, you should then go back to alt.config and post a polite message explaining your dilemma. Do not attack the person behind the rmgroup message, or complain about the unfairness of the situation, simply state your case as clearly and concisely as you can. Once the situation has been resolved, you may then want to request that one of the alt.config regulars resend your newgroup message for you.



What is a ``booster'' message?

A ``booster'' message is essentially exactly the same as a newgroup message. In fact, all it is is just sending another newgroup message so that hopefully sites which either did not see, or which ignored the first message will create the group the second time around. When sending a booster newgroup, you SHOULD add a short paragraph at the beginning of the body of the message explaining that this is a booster message, and include information such as when the group was first created and why you're sending the booster.

Note that you should not send boosters too often, as typically news admins are notified of newgroup requests by email from the news server, and you don't want to annoy anyone by cluttering up their mailbox. After creating a new group, sending a booster every couple weeks for the first month or so is typically a good idea, and then perhaps every six months to a year after that, but be careful not to overdo it. It is generally far more effective in getting a site to carry a new newsgroup to have one of their users request it, than it is to send multiple newgroup messages.



Brian Edmonds, July 23, 2001
EOF