Appropriate use of bionet newsgroups, FAQs, etc.

David Steffen steffen at
Mon Jul 8 12:10:32 EST 1991

To Dave Kristofferson, Tom Schneider, et al.:

   Y'all have raised my favorite topic of bionet.conversation; enough
so as to rouse me from my months of silence.

Tom started it with:
> I don't understand why such mailing lists exist.  I don't use them
> much because they clutter my mail box.  The net news programs (rn
> under unix) work very nicely.  Why would anybody want to use an
> alternative mechanism?  And besides, if you want to start a
> discussion on one of those topics, what's wrong with doing it in a
> general bionet group?

And Dave responds with:
> BIONEWS/bionet.general also really isn't intended for
> specialized discussions, but rather for meeting announcements and
> other items of widespread interest.  I have been contemplating setting
> up something like bionet.misc for discussions which don't currently
> have a "proper" home.

And then Tom "hits my nail right on the head" with:
> Most people didn't see the announcement of the purpose of the group,
> and don't recall it if they did.  Is there a mechanism for retrieving
> this information?  Some people discuss FAQ (Frequently Asked
> Questions), but these are irregularly posted, which implies to me that
> there is no general mechanism for obtaining the information.  What
> good is a FAQ if I can't just type a command to get it?  Anyway,
> although you may have a clear idea of what each group does, I doubt
> that everybody does.  I thought that bionet.general was for general
> discussions in net/computational biology, like  Why not?
...<continued in a later message>...
> Wouldn't it be nice if there were an automatic way to obtain FAQ
> information from the news reader directly?  New users could learn
> about the group, and old hands could contribute to the growing body of
> knowledge.  All news groups would have this feature.  Everybody could
> learn what each news group is about also, since the original founding
> postings could be included.

[I would refer readers to the discussions on "Highways of the Mind"
recently posted to these groups as well.]

(1) I am still in the midst of learning how to use Internet, and
therefore am painfully aware of the difficulties of doing so.
(2) I consider my level of competence at the boundary of almost good
enough/barely good enough to do something useful.  I also know that my
level of competence is vastly higher than 99% of the professionals at
Baylor College of Medicine, and probably of most biomedical research
(3) I think that efforts to vastly improve the friendliness of
software used to access Internet would be highly justified.
(4) Although the net.mail system works fabulously well, there is no
similarly effective way of dealing with static data (e.g. FAQ lists).
Such data is handled in a variety of different specialized ways such
that knowing how to access one body of data may not help at all in
accessing another.  (It would be as if every newsgroup had different
software, rules, etc.)
(5) Education is a critical part of solving this problem.  As one
deeply involved in graduate eduation in cell biology, this is
something in which I am very interested.  One problem is convincing
the establishment to set up the courses.  The other problem, however,
is that it is not clear what to teach, because many components of the
electronic information system are so chaotic.
(6) I assume discussion of this on bionet is worth while, although I
hear all kinds of political rumblings -re- who is going to do what
when in bio-electronics.
(7) People just getting involved in electronic information are easily
overwelmed and driven into total avoidance.  Thus bionet.general MUST
be low traffic.

A PROPOSAL:  Make bionet.general moderated, restrict it to general
interest announcements, etc.  Create bionet.misc.  Stuff "not
appropriate" for bionet.general would be automatically sent there.  In
addition, this group could contain discussions such as this one, as
well as discussion of topics not yet appropriate for their own group.

Just by $0.02 worth.
David Steffen
Department of Cell Biology, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston TX 77030
Telephone = (713) 798-6655, FAX = (713) 790-0545
Internet = steffen at

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