by Dinesh Thakur

Derived from Users Network this is, again, totally separate from the WWW. Briefly, the Internet is also home to what are called news groups which are broadly divided into several categories and which cater for every topic imaginable.

These categories are:

ALT                        Alternative topics to those in other categories

COMP                    Computers

MISC                     Topics that fit nowhere else

REC                       Hobbies and pastimes

SCI                         Scientific research

Soc                         Social and cultural issues.

In each case the system is the same. A messages is left on what can best be described as an electronic notice board to which someone else replies by leaving a message on the same notice board, someone else replies to this and so the process continues. (In Internet speak the chain of messages is known as the thread.) Although some of these Usenet newsgroups can be at the bizarre end of the spectrum there are also many which cater for the technical and scientific community. Quite often researchers can collaborate on a project, or keep other scientists up to date with their research findings, by this medium alone.

It is, in other words, a very valuable source of information.

For companies trying to contact those who might be interested in their products this can be an excellent way of doing it, but do not under any circumstances blatantly advertise the company or its website. Newsgroups are there to build long term relationships with potential customers. They are not just another sales forum.

This is a warning which should be taken seriously because the people who use these news groups have strong opinions about keeping them free from all forms of commercial interests. They are also more than willing to punish any transgressors so heed the warning - or find out what it is to be flamed.

For those who would rather read about it than experience it to be flamed means thousands of email messages sent to the company account. As these messages can typically be the entire text of obscure novels (which some people keep in electronic form specifically so others can be flamed with them) any company email will be lost in the crowd. At the very least someone will have to spend all day deleting the junk from the company system, and will very probably have to spend several more days doing exactly the same thing. Not for nothing is this also referred to as a mail bomb.

The Internet is there to be used so use it for what it is: a gigantic information resource. Any other form of corporate activity should best be regarded as coincidental.