Magazine article Information Today

Updates on the Use and Abuse of the Net

Magazine article Information Today

Updates on the Use and Abuse of the Net

Article excerpt

Newsgroups are a tremendous source of information and exchange used by over 24 million people around the world. Unfortunately, a small number of individuals and companies are abusing the Usenet to the detriment of everyone else.

You and I and everyone who uses e-mail regularly ... we're all pretty much fed up to the eyeballs with spam, also known by the more dignified acronyms UCE (Unsolicited Commercial E-Mail) or UBE (Unsolicited Bulk E-Mail). Alas, "dignified" is hardly an apt description for most of the unsolicited messages that land in my inbox. More than half are come-ons for "adult" Web sites. I hold my nose and hit the delete key, and try not to think about ail the young children and other delicate souls who are undoubtedly receiving the same tasteless junk.

Virtually all the spam messages that are not sex-related come from various sorts of sleazeballs who are eager to get their hands into your wallet--multi-level marketing schemers, for instance, or jerks peddling software or lists of e-mail addresses so you can flood the Net with your own UCE.

Well, it spam has tainted our e-mail boxes, it has absolutely poisoned the world of Usenet newsgroups--that immense collection of topical discussion forums that propagates itself around the globe on a perpetual basis. "Usenet spam robs users of the utility of the newsgroups by overwhelming them with a barrage of advertising or other irrelevant posts," says Scott Hazen Mullen, keeper of the Fight Spam on the Internet! page (http://spam.abuse.net). "Furthermore, Usenet spam subverts the ability of system administrators and owners to manage the topics they accept on their systems." Indeed, some newsgroups have become glutted to the point that 50 percent or more of the messages posted can be considered spam.

Usenet has always been the Internet's quintessential example of controlled anarchy. Thus, a variety of unofficial solutions to the spam problem have been spawned by various individuals and loosely knit groups. One controversial but somewhat effective remedy is the so-called Usenet Death Penalty. Essentially, an informal group of site administrators from all over the globe takes it upon itself to block or cancel every message posted to Usenet from a site whose administration is deemed to be "soft" on the issue of spamming by its users. The controversial aspect is that this effectively punishes all of a site's innocent users, which, it is hoped, will increase pressure on the site's administrators to clamp down on the spammers. The Usenet Death Penalty FAQ, for those who crave further details, can be found at http://www.stopspam.org/usenet/faqs/udp.html.

Finding the Good Stuff

Then again, while Usenet may he clogged with spam and overrun by idiots obsessing on a staggering variety of niche topics, you can still extract useful information from newsgroups if you know what you're doing. The computing and science groups in particular tend to be closely moderated; discussions stay quite focused. Whereas Internet users were once required to install and configure dedicated newsreader software to access a Usenet newsfeed, there are now a number of sites where it can be done easily and conveniently via any Web browser. And the best of these filter out the spare for you.

DejaNews (http://www.dejanews.com) is at the top of the Web-based newsgroup food chain. While it has long been the premier site for power-searching newsgroup archives, it now offers you the opportunity to register as a member of My DejaNews. This provides real-time access to more than 50,000 different newsgroups. You set preferences as to which ones you want to read (subscribe to), and, when you log in, you are only shown those groups you requested. It's also easy to post messages to newsgroups from here.

Reference.COM (http://www.reference.com) is another site where you can search Usenet archives as well as register (free) to read and post messages. …

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