David Kristofferson kristoff at
Mon Feb 27 17:08:46 EST 1995

In article <3io6l8$f8k at>,
David Steffen <steffen at> wrote:
>1) I am well aware that very harsh language is common on usenet (as
>distinct from bionet), but I consider that a bug not a feature (1).  I 
>beg everyone to make the effort to maintain the current level of decorum 
>on bionet even during debate on issues about which you feel strongly.

Definitely.  I was apprehensive to put this out on the net because I'm
well aware of the volatile nature of newsgroup discussions.  So far
the conversation has been remarkably civil though and I hope it
continues to be.

I have read all of the postings received here up to about 1 PM PST and
will respond to several points in this message instead of sending out
a rash of individual posts.

>2) I agree that there is considerable room for improvement over the 
>current system used for news and I agree that we all need to be thinking 
>and working on that.  However, I think that we need to make changes 
>before any new systems are available and think that that changes proposed 
>by Dave Kristofferson can dramatically improve bionet *NOW*.

I agree with David here.  Keith Robison, Mike Cherry and others raised
several points about deficiencies in the current system and I think
Ken Sallenger's reply about technical problems was excellent.  There
are "news" systems being developed with a strong WWW flavor but they
tend to run into the problems that Ken mentions.

The main thing that we have to remember with USENET news is that it is
"free" to end users and thus there is always going to be a certain
level of inconvience that people have to put up with in exchange for
this access.  Nonetheless, I have received enough testimonials to its
utility over the years that I am convinced that a place remains for
such a service despite its warts.  Our proposal tries to address ways
to reduce the number of warts while recognizing that we can't
eliminate them.  To make something that more closely approaches a
journal would require an investment and subscriptions that are alien
to the old Internet model of conduct.  This is changing though and it
remains to be seen how services like BIOSCI will fare in this
transition.  I, for one, would like to see it survive as not everyone
will have the ability to pay for commercial services who may also not
be interested in carrying their posts.

>3) RE: "Having to sign up first will represent an excessive barrier to 
>new users".  I absolutely agree that this is a big problem.  However, I 
>think that the current low signal to noise ratio is an even bigger 
>barrier to both new and experienced users.  

Several people addressed this issue.  BIOSCI/bionet usage is already
at the level where I am more concerned about losing current users on
some of the more popular newsgroups than attracting scores of new
ones.  I am trying to find out how others feel about this.  Once
again, the auto-moderation would *not* apply to all groups, just those
that want it, so students, etc., could still get access to pros on
unmoderated forums.  More specialized groups that wanted to block
postings would have that option.  Also there was never any mention of
restricting the system to only researchers *at major universities*.
If we asked people their profession, it might be limited to a simple
automatic note to non-registered users saying merely that, "The
BIOSCI/bionet newsgroups are intended for use by biology researchers.
There are other newsgroups on USENET such as where lay people
can post questions about biology.  Please only register on
BIOSCI/bionet if you intend to use the system for research purposes."
I doubt if such a warning would bother teachers.

Of course, an automatic registration system also offers only a thin
fig leaf of protection too.  As mentioned several times, it will not
stop determined spammers, but it will make newcomers stop and think at
least.  We could also implement filters for SUBSCRIBE and UNSUBSCRIBE
messages, etc., but this also would not be fool-proof.

Reverse moderation mentioned in a couple of posts (please no holy wars
on that item here) requires people to do work.  We have not succeeded
in getting sufficient volunteers in the past for regular moderation
and there is no reason to believe that we will change this in the
future *unless* we can start paying people.  One person wrote to me
about grant support for such an effort.  While I think it would be
hard to get approved, I'd be happy to support anyone's proposal to
become a newsgroup moderator if they think they could raise money for
this purpose.  I'm not so sure it will happen though.  This is why I
think that the automatic moderation scheme is the best compromise.

The other option would be to try to raise so much money that we can
pay moderators.  I'd love to be able to do this, but first I have to
see if we can meet our original goals before embarking on this
additional quest.  If we have the good fortune to be overwhelmed with
sponsorship requests, we can consider this, but I would be somewhat
naive if I predicted that this will happen.

While I know that some sites such as EBI are trying to solve the
problem with keyword filtering schemes via e-mail, (1) I think e-mail
is not the right solution, and (2) any automatic scheme without a
rather detailed set of rules is going to miss a lot of material, break
of discussion threads, etc., etc.

Finally, if everyone was moving away from mail to news then there
would be less of a need for some of these issues; unfortunately both
kinds of usage continue to increase although the percentage seems to
be gradually shifting towards news.


				Dave Kristofferson
				BIOSCI/bionet Manager

				biosci-help at

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