IMPORTANT! - DISCUSSION ON THE FUTURE OF BIONEWS/bionet.general

Dave Kristofferson kristoff at GENBANK.BIO.NET
Fri Dec 13 16:10:04 EST 1991


Given the volume of mail over the last few days (a lot of it to me in
private) concerning the BIONEWS/bionet.general proposed
reorganization, I am putting forward a few important options for
consideration by the readership.

In addition to the possible solution that I mentioned earlier, a
different proposal was sent to me by Fote Macrides.  Also, of course,
we have the option of doing nothing and maintaining the status quo.  

I will briefly describe these proposals under the headings of Plans A,
B, and C below and will then give my partisan reasons for preferring
Plan A.  Fote will post his reasons for plan B, and then we will open
this up for discussion in the event that anyone else has an even
better solution.

By the middle of next week (we want to get this rolling before the
XMAS holidays set in), we will issue a call for votes on the various
plans (including any new one).  

If no plan gets a clear majority (and the majority has to be composed
of at least 40 votes per our usual regs), then we will have a run-off
between the two highest vote-getters (what fun !!  It's not that we
are eager to bombard all of you with this, but we don't want to do
something which the readership is ***really dead set against***).

I sincerely hope that all of you will take the few minutes to read the
debate and respond because this issue is vital to the future structure
and type of use that these forums are given over to.  Thanks in
advance!

PLEASE NOTE!!!  There is no need to send me or the biovote addresses
ANYTHING until the call for votes is put out next week.  However you
are welcome to participate in the discussion by posting to your local
BIONEWS address or to bionet.general using your USENET new software.
Private mail to me on this subject in the interim will NOT count as
votes.

----------------------------------------------------------------------


				Plan A

The current BIONEWS/bionet.general newsgroups will be split into two
forums:

I. BIONEWS/bionet.announce

a *moderated* newsgroup (moderated by me, at least, and any other
BIOSCI managers that want to volunteer some time).  This means that
postings will be screened first (but NOT edited) before posting to the
newsgroup.  Only postings deemed to be announcements directed at a
widespread audience of biologists will be posted.  Other postings will
NOT be discarded or edited, but will be simply forwarded to the second
newsgroup (or other BIOSCI forum, e.g., methods questions to METHODS,
etc.) which is described as follows:

II. BIOFORUM/bionet.general

this will be a newsgroup for discussions on any topic of interest in
biology and will specifically be the appropriate home for discussions
which do not fit into any of the current BIOSCI/bionet specialty
newsgroups.  This forum will be unmoderated and unfettered, being
subject only to the usual network regulations prohibiting commercial
use, advertising, and job postings.

Current e-mail subscribers to BIONEWS/bionet.general will be
automatically subscribed to newsgroup I, BIONEWS/bionet.announce,
because this latter newsgroup adheres to the current stated purpose of
BIONEWS and is why current subscribers requested subscriptions.
E-mail subscriptions to BIOFORUM will have to be requested from your
local BIOSCI node.

----------------------------------------------------------------------

				Plan B

Four newsgroups have been proposed as follows:

BIONEWS           (bionet.general)
DISCUSS           (bionet.general.discussion)
BIOCHAT           (bionet.general.biochat)
BIOHELP           (bionet.general.helpme)

All of these forums will be open, i.e., they will be unmoderated as
are all current BIOSCI/bionet newsgroups (except for
COMP-BIO/bionet.biology.computational which is moderated).  The
following descriptions were provided by Fote:

DISCUSS

 1) A discussion group (general.discussion) for any matters which arise and
 don't yet have an appropriate forum.  This could help identify the need for
 new forums, as well as handle issues that might become of high interest or
 concern to biologists, but predictably for only a limited period of time.
 It could also be used for clarification of announcements.


BIOCHAT

 2) A chat group (general.chat) for informal, "let's get to know each other
 better" exchanges and occasional comic relief.


BIOHELP

 3) A helpme group (general.helpme) for brief, to_the_point exchanges like
 those in the specialized forums, but on matters that don't yet have a
 specialized forum to deal with them, and for commonly recurring questions
 like "How do I subscribe or unsubscribe to these forums?" and for new users
 who don't yet know about a specialized forum which already exists for help or
 information of the sort they are seeing.


BIONEWS

 The general parent could then stay an announcement forum, with a monthly
 posting explaining that it is only for announcements, and summarizing where
 to send other types of messages.  At least for USENET, the general
 sub-hierarchy would make the proper placement of messages (that are currently
 all going into general) self-evident.


Fote may provide additional information about the above in his
follow-on posting.

----------------------------------------------------------------------

Plan C

Change nothing, i.e., BIONEWS/bionet.general is acceptable to the
majority of the readership in its current format.  HOWEVER, plan C
might require a change of the description of BIONEWS/bionet.general's
purpose in the BIOSCI info sheet because the newsgroup has in practice
indisputably deviated from its original purpose.  Any proponents of
this plan need to provide such a modified description or tell us how
to get people to adhere to BIONEWS usage guidelines.  The current
description reads:

BIONEWS                      General announcements of widespread
                                interest to biologists

----------------------------------------------------------------------


		     Partisan Argument for Plan A
			by David Kristofferson

Both Plans A and B sound good in theory.  I wouldn't waste all of this
time if I thought Plan C merited consideration.  My reasons for
preferring plan A are due to my expectations about what will actually
happen on the newsgroups based on a lot of "historical" observations
(history = 5 years here).

There are *at least* two main subsets of people that read
BIOSCI/bionet newsgroups.  The first set is composed of active
participants who like to make frequent postings.  The second (and I
believe far larger group based on my private mail) is composed of
those who want to utilize the benefits that electronic communications
can bring to their research, but have very limited time and do not
want to be hassled with a lot of postings that are of limited interest
to them from the first group of users (sorry about this posting 8-)!
They signed up for BIONEWS because they thought it was an
announcements newsgroup as described in our information sheet.
Unfortunately for them, it has become a general discussion forum, and
they are now starting to unsubscribe from BIONEWS.

Plan A was designed to serve the needs of this second group (which I
believe is the majority or else I wouldn't have put this forward; Plan
A means **more** work for me) while SIMULTANEOUSLY creating a forum
that also satisfies the needs of the first group.  Thus, it is a
"win-win" situation for everybody.

Of course, Plan B has a general announcements newsgroup, i.e., BIONEWS
will revert to its previous purpose.  A monthly reminder (or maybe
possibly more frequent if needed?) will alert people that they should
only post announcements in this forum and use the other forums for
other items.

I contend that Plan B will degenerate and not work according to its
intent.  Too many users do not consult "proper usage guides," , i.e.,
the BIOSCI info sheet, before they post.  BIONEWS seems like a catchy,
important name and people have a tendency to think that their personal
METHODS question is important enough for such a forum even if they
*do* consult the info sheet.  They tend to post to BIONEWS because
they figure it will have more readers and believe that they will get a
bigger response; thus the whole spiral of off-the-topic postings
grows.  

I contend that the BIONEWS/bionet.general newsgroup would NOT be
reformed under such a plan.  In fact, there will be an even a greater
need for people to remind users to post elsewhere precisely because
***more options would*** be available.  Because new users are
continually coming on-line, this would be a continual education
process, not one that would go away after an initial start-up period.
It means ***even more time spent on managing the system***.  Even if I
personally "did not butt in" and allowed the readers to self-regulate,
it means that the readers will be sending these messages around to
each other (hopefully mainly in private, but I'm sure that many will
appear on the newsgroups as well).

In a nutshell, I think that plan B holds out the potential for at
least the same noise level as currently occurs on BIONEWS.  Four
general options are ***too confusing*** for occasional users.  The
only way to maintain a low volume, announcements newsgroup is through
moderation.  

The main fear of moderation seems to be that it equates to Stalinism
8-).  On the contrary, this solution seems to me to be common sense.
I am sure that if plan A is implemented, and I pass something sent to
BIONEWS on to BIOFORUM, if BIOFORUM readers really believe it *should*
be posted on BIONEWS, they will pummel me into compliance, so there
are safety mechanisms built in 8-)!!

Also if someone else wants to volunteer to be the moderator for
BIONEWS under plan A, I would be perfectly happy to step aside and let
them assume that role.  I want it to be "perfectly clear" that Plan A
was put forward not because of any "lust for power" on my personal
part, but simply because, after reading my personal mail from users,
this seems like the best solution to keep everyone happy.

----------------------------------------------------------------------


Fote Macrides will post a follow-up argument for Plan B and then
others are welcome to comment and/or propose other solutions.  

I also want to make it clear here that my relations with Fote are
completely friendly, cordial, etc., and that he has *** NOT***
privately accused me of "lusting for power," etc.  Please don't jump
to any such conclusions by reading things into my statements above.
Fote believes that Plan B is preferable and has made friendly,
level-headed, rational arguments in its favor.  The two of us simply
disagree and concluded that it would be best to put this out for the
community's decision.  Please give Fote's points your careful
consideration before deciding.

				Sincerely,

				Dave Kristofferson
				GenBank Manager

				kristoff at genbank.bio.net



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