What/who is bionet

Roy Smith roy at phri.nyu.edu
Thu Sep 20 10:13:07 EST 1990

steffen at merlin.bcm.tmc.edu (David Steffen) writes:
> If the questioner receives all responses, summarizes, and posts back to the
> net, what is lost?  Further discussion, if necessary, can take place then.

	Personally, I prefer real round-table discussions where everybody
just replies to the whole audience of the original question.  It makes for
more lively discussions.  In the reply-to-sender-and-he'll-sumarize mode,
two basic things can go wrong.  First, the sender might forget, or just not
bother.  This happens a lot, and I'll admit that I'm probably as guilty of
it as anybody else.  Second, even if the sender does produce a summary, the
time lag between the original question and the appearance of the summary is
usually enough to take it out of context.

	On top of all that, producing a good summary is not trivial.  You
don't want to just string all the replies together into a bundle and send
them back out.  At the very least, you want to edit away extra headers and
all those multiple copies of your original message that people sent back to
you (finding the right balance between not giving enough context for the
answer to make sense and just blindly reproducing the entire original query
is not trivial either).  Better, is to restate the question, summarize the
major points of the various replies (which may include several dissenting
opinions), and then provide enough quotes to fill in the details and give
proper attribution.  Starting to sound like writing a review paper, no?  No
wonder you see so few really good summaries, it's just too much work.

	On the other hand, in a free-for-all round table, you get a lot of
noise, a lot of duplication, people tending to go off on tangents (and/or
flame wars), and often the topic of discussion drifts away from the
original to something totally unrelated.  Is this good or bad?  I don't
know, I suppose both ways have their advantages.  Some people like formal
sit-down dinners with featured speakers making presentations, some like
cocktail parties.

> In terms of making it easier for network novices to get involved in 
> newsgroup discussions, it  might help to have the return address of the 
> *newsgroup* as part of the message.

	My understanding of bionet is that it's a melange of newsgroups,
bboards, mailing lists, notesfiles, etc.  Each type of media has its own
constraints and traditions.  While I sort of feel that while it's a good
thing to get the word out in as many fora (plural of forum?) as possible, I
can't help but think that the conflicting media just don't mesh very well.
Many of the messages I see on the bionet newsgroups appear to be
unconnected, or somehow disembodied, almost as if I'm not hearing all of a
conversation.  I wonder how much of that is because of media mismatches.  I
barely understand how it's all pieced together (and that's what I do for a
living), so how can Joe Biologist be expected to deal with it all?

> while composing this response I noticed that the newsgroup was listed
> as bionet.followup rather than bionet.general, so I changed it.

	Yeah, I got bit by that a few weeks ago (you, apparantly, are a lot
more observant than I am; I didn't notice it until a few days later when a
few of us were trying to sort out why a message I posted got seen by some
people but not by others).  It's a holdover from the dim dark days of
usenet history.  There was once a group called net.general, which was to be
used as a sort of emergency channel.  All followups to net.general were
supposed to go to net.followup, and many bits of news software turned
followups to articles in X.general to X.followup automagically.  A lot of
that software is still around, and probably will be for a long time.

> One further point. The return address of the poster is often not
> decipherable by a network novice, so why not include it after you
> signature to make it easier?

	Hah!  The return address is often not decipherable by a network
wizard either.  I've seen machine-generated addresses with enough @'s, !'s,
:'s (and ::'s), and %'s in them to make your head spin.

> Only the (Internet) one do I understand.  I have no idea how someone
> not on Internet should reach me.  Thus, I remain...
> -David Steffen- (steffen at mbir.bcm.tmc.edu) <= Internet

	I'm not a real authority on these sorts of things, but here's my
understanding of how email addresses should work.  The address you give is
not so much an Internet address as a Doman Name System (DNS) address.
While domain names certainly started on the Internet (and I would guess
that the majority of domain names do actually correspond to machines on the
Internet, there is no requirement that a site be connected to the Internet
to have a domain name.  Many uucp or bitnet sites have domain names.  Some
site that is on the Internet has agreed to put their domain name in the
appropriate network database in such a way that appropriately smart mail
software will automatically send mail for the non-Internet site to an
intermediate Internet site, which in turn promises to deliver (via some
unspecified method) the mail to its final destination.  Sort of like an "in
care of" on regular paper mail, except that you don't have to spell out who
it is in care of, the mail system takes care of that for you.

	Part of the problem is the DNS has not yet universal.  This is a
polite way of saying that the current state of email addressing is still a
bit of a mess, and somewhat of a black art.

	What does this have to do with your real question, i.e. "what do I
tell people they should type to reach me?"  Unfortunately, the answer is
that there is no way you can predict what somebody else will have to type
to send you mail!  You don't know what type of software they are using, nor
what type of network connections they have (and, unless they are mail
gurus, they probably don't either, nor should they).  The best you can do
is tell them "my domain name is roy at phri.nyu.edu.  Try using that.  If it
doesn't work, seek out your local mail guru or system adminstrator and ask
him or her how to transform that into something which fits your local

	I would argue that you should never tell somebody that your address
is something which has any more than one @ in it, and if it has an @, then
it shouldn't have any !'s, %'s, or :'s.  That's a hybrid address, and just
asking for trouble.  For example, all the folks at Los Alamos seem to give
out their addresses as something like "person%life at lanl.gov".  Why they do
that, I don't know, since as far as I can tell, "person at life.lanl.gov." is
a perfectly valid domain name, and much less likely to be misunderstood or
munged by over-eager mailers.

> Pnews discarded my original message because I quoted more than I said.

	Volumes have been said on this topic on the news adminstrator
newsgroups over the past few years.  In an attempt to urge people to be
more selective about how much text they quote (see my comments above about
providing just the right amount of context), various news software writers
have put things in the news software to make sure the volume of new stuff
is greater than the old.  Mostly this was intended to prevent people from
quoting a whole 100 line article and adding "Me too!" to the end as their
only original contribution.  I won't say more about it other than to say
that many informed experts insist that this is a good thing, while just as
many insist it isn't.
Roy Smith, Public Health Research Institute
455 First Avenue, New York, NY 10016
roy at alanine.phri.nyu.edu -OR- {att,cmcl2,rutgers,hombre}!phri!roy
"Arcane?  Did you say arcane?  It wouldn't be Unix if it wasn't arcane!"

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