CompuServe, the nation's largest on-line computer service, recently started giving its members access to Internet newsgroups.
That means another 2.2 million people can now read messages in the USENET newsgroups, post comments and browse through the thousands of data bases on subjects ranging from astrophysics to Barney the dinosaur.Uh oh!
What CompuServe isn't telling its members is the lesson America Online users have learned over the past year.
Veteran Internet users don't like you, won't tolerate your mistakes and in general wish your modem would be connected somewhere else.
And who can blame them? For years, Internet was a haven for serious computer users who "surfed" around the world for free in search of interesting data, electronic pen pals and witty messages.
Somehow, then, Internet access became a buzzword and suddenly everyone had to have an e-mail address. And services aimed at newcomers, called "newbies" on Internet, suddenly made it easier to get connected.
But nobody is teaching newcomers the rules, called "netiquette." And you face some harassment (called "flaming") unless you know the ropes before you post a message.
Here's a short course:
- Buy "Zen and the Art of Internet" by Brendan Kehoe. An earlier version of the book is available on many bulletin boards for free. Also look for "Usenet: Netnews for Everyone" by Jenny Fristrup. Read and heed.
- Lurk before you post. If you have an interest in a newsgroup, read it for two months before you post anything. Then you'll learn the personalities involved and know the jargon.
- Remember when you post, about 15 million people have the potential to read what you say. That's good if your comment is interesting and to the point. It's bad if your post consists of "You're an idiot."
- The first newsgroup you should read is a file that's called "news.announce.newusers". It contains an overview of netiquette and common mistakes.
- Before you post, read the "FAQ," or Frequently Asked Questions. For instance, if you read "rec.aviation" look in "rec.answers" for the FAQ. If you post a question already answered in the FAQ, expect several thousand replies by e-mail saying "Read the FAQ, newbie!"
- If someone posts a question and you know the answer, send them private e-mail with the answer. Millions of other readers don't want to know about it.
- Use local resources first. A reporter recently posted a question to a journalism newsgroup asking how to spell Al Neuharth's name. There's a better way to find out about the founder of USA Today without posting a question to a newsgroup.
- If you comment, quote SOME of the original comment in your reply. It helps people keep up. But NEVER quote more than five lines.
- Don't post the same message to more than one newsgroup. And never post advertising. A law firm in Arizona that will go down in Internet history tried that and received so many "mail bombs" (huge files of gibberish) by return mail that its server went down.
- Never point out an error in someone's grammar or spelling.
- If you ask a question, put the topic in the subject line of the message. Don't just type "Help!" or "A question for you."
- Be careful out there. And have fun.
CALL OF THE WEEK - If you're serious about Internet, subscribe to Internet World. The monthly magazine has articles for veterans and newbies alike (1-800-573-3062).
INTERNET NEWSGROUP OF THE WEEK - alt.rec.skate, to learn how to stop on your Rollerblades.