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02 The philosophy of Usenet


This article is from the Advertising on Usenet FAQ, by Joel K. Furr jfurr@acpub.duke.edu.

02 The philosophy of Usenet

Usenet started out in 1980 as a UNIX network linking sites which needed to
talk about and receive prompt updates on UNIX system configuration and
other UNIX questions. Message traffic started out at a few messages per
week, but the system was so useful that traffic quickly boomed and Usenet
almost immediately expanded to include forums on science fiction, humans
and computers, and other subjects.

In the beginning, Usenet was largely confined to educational institutions
such as universities and colleges, and to research companies and other
commercial enterprises with UNIX machines on-site. It has now grown to
include millions of users at commercial sites such as America Online and
at companies around the world involved in every sort of business
imaginable. Nevertheless, many of the customs found on Usenet today have
their origins in the days when Usenet was very small and most Usenet sites
were universities.

That these customs and traditions began when Usenet was much smaller and
quite different in nature in no way lessens the anger many users feel when
these customs and traditions are violated.

One such custom is the tradition and belief that it is rude to advertise
for profit in Usenet newsgroups.

Advertising is widely seen as an 'off-topic' intrusion into the
discussions of any particular newsgroup (newsgroup is the Usenet word for
discussion group or bulletin board). Each newsgroup has a specific set of
subjects it is intended to cover, and in order for newsgroups to function
as effective discussion forums, it is important that people stay
'on-topic'. If everyone disregarded the particular topics each newsgroup
is intended to cover and simply posted whatever they wanted wherever they
want, the entire system would break down.

Due to the decentralized nature of Usenet, there is no one person or body
which can "enforce" the custom of staying on-topic. It falls on each
user to help preserve the culture of open discussion and free speech that
Usenet has come to embody by not posting off-topic material.

This, of course, includes advertising. Advertising is by far the most
pervasive form of off-topic posting, and therefore, gets most of the heat.


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