27 February 2017

Finding newsgroups and subscribing to them

This article is based on material authored by members of the news.newusers.questions Moderation Board and nnq-workers mailing list.

While some newsreaders may come pre-subscribed to groups like news.newusers.questions, there are many other newsgroups out there! Here is how to get to them.

Ways to find newsgroups

Your own news server’s group list

Your newsreader software should have a way of listing all the newsgroups your news server carries.

As you download the list for the first time, be patient. You may need to wait several minutes before the download completes. If you interrupt the download, you may end up with a corrupted list. Should this occur, shut down your newsreader and delete the file that contains the group list. If you are unsure which file that is, ask for help!

When you have downloaded the list, your newsreader will show it to you either as one long list of groups or grouped by hierarchy, such as alt, comp, and the like. In the latter case, clicking on a hierarchy will usually show you the groups and/or sub-hierarchies within.

Other group listings

Many news servers only carry a subset of the newsgroups for a hierarchy, so you may find a comprehensive list useful. However, please note that such lists may be very long and that it can be difficult to use them to find newsgroups on specific topics. For that purpose, you will probably find it much easier to use a newsgroup search engine.

For the official list of newsgroups in the ‘Big Eight’ hierarchies (comp, humanities, misc, news, rec, sci, soc and talk), please see the article labelled Subject: List of Big Eight Newsgroups in the news.announce.newgroups newsgroup. You can also find the list on the ISC's FTP site.

The same site also carries a list of newsgroups in many hierarchies (including the ‘Big Eight’ and alt as well as many national, local and regional hierarchies). This list is large, but appending .gz will get you a compressed version in GNU gzip format. These lists should be authoritative for the ‘Big Eight’, but they are not authoritative for any other hierarchy.

Asking in news.groups.questions

You could also post a question to the news.groups.questions newsgroup. They have people who look for both newsgroups and mailing lists about any topic in which you are interested.

Searching Google Groups

Another thing to do would be a Google Groups search for a newsgroup on your topic. Enter a word or two that describe your topic of choice into the search box. The search should return a list of newsgroups that are most likely to discuss the topic you are interested in as well as some sample articles containing your search terms.

When you have found an interesting group

Subscribing

In order to read articles posted to a newsgroup, you would normally subscribe to that group. This is often done by ticking a box next to the newsgroup name in the newsgroup list or by clicking first on the newsgroup name and then on a Subscribe button.

You may also be able to subscribe using your web browser, either by typing in a news URI such as news:news.newusers.questions or by clicking on a hyperlink that points to a newsgroup.

The groups to which you subscribe should automatically reappear the next time you start your newsreader.

Controlling the download volume

Your news server might have a huge amount of messages for a group you select. If this is the case, you may need to do two things in order to avoid overloading your newsreader:

  1. Make sure your newsreader is set up to fetch only headers, not entire messages. Your newsreader will download the article bodies for you, one by one, as you select them for reading. An exception to this rule would be off-line usage, when you must download entire articles in advance so that you can read them while disconnected.
  2. Limit the amount of article headers (or entire articles) your newsreader will store at a time. An amount of 500 or 1,000 might be a prudent choice unless you have a slow connection or computer.

‘Lurk’ before you post

It is always a good idea to read at least a week’s worth of postings as well as any FAQs before posting to a group for the first time. That will familiarize you with the group and help you learn its culture. It is much better to start by finding out what kind of posts are appropriate in the group than to be flamed for posting in the wrong place.

For a quick and easy way to get a week’s worth of postings and any FAQs that are crossposted to news.answers, go to Newsreaders.com and enter a group name in the search box at the bottom of the page. As not all FAQs posted to the group may be crossposted to news.answers, also look for article subjects containing e.g. FAQ or Tip.