3 April 2017

Finding information on the Internet

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

FAQs – frequently asked questions

In newsgroups, you may see people directing each other to ‘read the FAQ first’. FAQs are usually lists of questions (with answers) that newcomers to a group, or people who are new to a certain item or piece of software, repeatedly ask. Some FAQs are troubleshooting guides or pointers to helpful information, even if it isn’t asked about on a regular basis. These are often called periodic postings. In any case, FAQs are collections of helpful information for readers of a newsgroup.

If you’re new to a newsgroup, you should read its FAQs. These posts often start with the keyword FAQ:, but some start with INFO:, GUIDE:, ANSWERS:, ABOUT:, ADMIN:, HELP: or something similar. FAQs are usually posted with a frequency from once a week to once every two months. When in doubt, post the question ‘Where can I find a copy of the FAQ for this newsgroup?’ and then go find it!

Many of the more traditional FAQs are available in the newsgroup news.answers. You can also find more specific subsets of FAQ posts if you look in the other *.answers groups, such as alt.answers or rec.answers. Additionally, you can easily find some of a group's FAQs in the Internet FAQ Archives, which are searchable by newsgroup or keywords.

How do I find newsgroup charters?

Charters for newsgroups in the ‘Big Eight’ hierarchies (comp, humanities, misc, news, rec, sci, soc and talk) since about 1989 are available at ftp://ftp.isc.org/pub/usenet/news.announce.newgroups/. As that archive contains all formal proposals (RFD postings) and vote results, it also contains proposed charters for groups that did not pass their vote for creation. For newsgroups that did pass, the CFV (call for votes) and the final RESULT posting contain the official charter as passed. When your retrieve one of the files, look to its bottom for the most recent portion of the documentation. The RESULT posting is usually the last one at the end of each file.

For alt groups, there is no official source for charters. However, at ftp://ftp.isc.org/pub/usenet/control/ you will find a large archive of newgroup control messages, including those for alt groups. Those control messages often contain charters where such exist.

Files with a .Z extension have been compressed with the Unix compress program. To read them, you’ll need a program that can uncompress .Z files. Winzip handles them easily; just provide the txt extension when asked. You can also check various shareware and freeware sites to see if you can find a different program to use.

How do I find out who initiated the group, and/or if it is moderated?

For ‘Big Eight’ groups, the Request for Discussion (RFD) will tell you who proposed the newsgroup; the CFVs and RESULT postings include the charter, which will tell if the group is moderated. For alt groups, the control message will usually tell you this. The old-fashioned (and probably the best) way to find out if a group is moderated is to read the groups you’re going to post to, to make sure that your posts are appropriate there. While you’re reading the group, check the full message headers; if the group is moderated, they will include an Approved: line.

Watch you don’t get dusty while digging through those wonderful archives! ☺

In case you’re just looking for the topic of the group and to find out if it is moderated, some newsreaders show the information from the For your newsgroups file line, along with the name of the group, in the list of all newsgroups on the server. That line should include a ‘moderation flag’ for moderated groups: the letter m indicates moderation, while o means the group is open (not moderated).

Another method is to look at the article Checkgroups message (with INET groups) posted monthly to news.announce.newgroups, news.groups and news.admin.misc. This is a complete list of all official ‘Big Eight’ newsgroups and their moderation status.

Even if the checkgroups message has expired from your server, you can obtain a listing of current newsgroups, including their For your newsgroups file lines, via FTP from ftp://ftp.isc.org/pub/usenet/CONFIG/newsgroups. This file is some 2.5 MB in size (as of March 2017).

Searching the Web

At least some information about almost anything can be located on the WWW, so a Web search engine is a good place to start. Just enter a word or phrase to search for, and that’ll help you find some of the FAQ resources for that topic or group. If you don’t find exactly what you want on the first attempt, try again using a different search engine. They don’t all work the same, so you probably won't get exactly the same list of matches on different engines.

If you get too many matches, and the first few aren’t what you really want, check the page for an ‘advanced search’ button; it should lead you to instructions on how you can restrict the search to get a more manageable list of matches. Enclose phrases in quotes if you want only matches where the words appear together and in the same order.

You can also use the Web to search for information from newsgroups postings. Google Groups has a large, searchable archive of newsgroup articles.