PART 1 - CHALLENGES FACING BIOSCI/bionet

BIOSCI Administrator biosci-help at net.bio.net
Thu Feb 23 18:57:53 EST 1995


	         Why You Should Dump E-mail ASAP
                 -------------------------------

"Spamming" - I've always loved the low-brow terminology that seems to
evolve on the network.

Most readers of the daily newspaper have probably run across this
term by now.  It refers to the indiscriminate broadcast of ads across
USENET newsgroups.  In some cases even moderated newsgroups have been
invaded by overriding their protection mechanism.  The classic example
is the law firm of C&S (who will go unnamed to avoid even further
publicity) who have also written a book describing their techniques to
others as part of their continuing quest for fame and fortune on the
Internet.

While looking at the messages awaiting approval for posting to
BIONEWS/bionet.announce as recently as this last Monday, I noticed to
my dismay that about four of five postings in the queue were ads!!  I
am also aware that people are violating our rules routinely by posting
ads in other unmoderated newsgroups.  I personally just don't have the
time to hunt all of these people down, and I am sure that the readers,
who I also assume have serious work to do, may eventually tire of this
task too.  The concern, of course, is that a growing barrage of
commercials will backfire and cause readership on the net to drop.

Ads are not the only challenge.  The number of Internet users is
skyrocketing.  Many of these new users are going through the same
stumbling first attempts that all of us "old hands" went through years
ago, e.g., learning not to send SUBSCRIBE messages to newsgroup
postings addresses, etc.  The problem is that an increasing number of
them are all taking their halting first steps at the same time.

Not only are we confronted with new scientists coming on-line, we are
also faced with students down to the elementary school level coming on
line to get help on their homework from research scientists.

Given all of these problems, one is tempted to throw up one's hands
and say simply, "Well, that's USENET - what did you expect?" and then
walk smugly away from the system.  Several "savants" warned of such an
outcome years ago anyway.

I beg to differ.  We can solve all of the above problems by
*moderating the newsgroups* except for cases in which unethical people
intentionally breach the moderation protection.  Fortunately to date
the number of these incidents has been small.  Moderation, of course,
brings up a whole series of issues discussed in the next message in
this series (PART 2), and it will take some time to implement, so
first let's consider what people can do in the interim.

The interim solution is not new - dump e-mail and switch to a threaded
newsreader.  E-mail users have to delete postings from their personal
mail files and always run the risks of problems due to exceeding disk
quotas, etc.  Furthermore, messages from a variety of lists are mixed
together in one's personal mail file and have to be sorted out.

A threaded newsreader 

	 (1) keeps your mail file clean 
	 (2) sorts message by newsgroup 
	 (3) within each newsgroup sorts messages by discussion topic,
	     not by time of arrival

As I mentioned in a recent posting regarding the hardcopy scientific
literature: 

> I don't know about the rest of you, but if I had to read a part of
> each article in a journal before I could decide whether or not it was
> of interest, I would quickly conclude that the journals were full of
> junk that wasted my time.  Everyone reads journals by first skimmimg
> the table of contents and selecting the small number of articles of
> interest in each issue.  A newsreader sorts the messages by discussion
> topic, thus automatically creating a table of contents for you, and
> lets you quickly skim what is being discussed.  You don't have to
> delete anything out of your mail file that is not of interest.  You
> can quickly skip SUBSCRIBE messages and other off-the-topic or
> inappropriate postings without having to delete them.  It's usually
> e-mail users that get bent out of shape about chain letters, etc. on
> the net.  News users rarely even look at them.

The downside to using news, even though news software is freely
available on the net, is

	 (1) You need a news administrator to set the system up, usually
	     on a campus fileserver computer;  Fortunately, at least in
	     the U.S., many low cost commercial providers also give USENET
	     news access now without timed or per message charges.
	 (2) You need to make sure that the news administrator
	     configures the system correctly.  This entails among other
	     things

	       (A) creating new newsgroups when the control messages
		   announcing them are received - this requires manual
		   intervention at most sites now.
	       (B) if a distribution problem develops, working with
		   the network site that feeds you news to make sure
		   that it gets resolved.
	       (C) making sure that your news feed for the bionet
		   USENET newsgroups is not so convoluted that it takes
		   days or weeks to get the latest postings - we have
		   offered direct bionet newsfeeds from net.bio.net
		   when other options have not worked out
	       (D) configuring the news system for the ease of use of
		   the users.  Most biologists are not on-line every
		   single day.  If the news system deletes bionet
		   messages after only a couple of days, discussion
		   threads will be incomplete.  Expiration times can be
		   set by the administrator for each newsgroup.

Of course, one can avoid all of the above by adding one's address to
the mailing lists, but then one gets hit with the problems mentioned
earlier.  Guess you can't win in some places, right??  Wrong! (as will
be explained in the next message in this series).

I can only hope that, by now with stories about the Internet on the
cover of most magazines and newspapers, it is evident that some
investment must be made in network tools at each site.  A single
competent news administrator can make life so much easier, more
efficient, and more convenient for hundreds of other users at your
site that it is an investment that must be seriously considered.  The
alternative is to fall increasingly behind other sites in the quest
for current information.

Not only does it make your life easier, it also reduces the amount of
administrative work that must be done here and at Daresbury in the
U.K. to maintain the BIOSCI mailing lists.  Each day we are confronted
with people who added their mailing address to our lists some time
back, changed addresses (but forwarded their mail) and now want to get
off the lists, but don't remember that they signed up under a
different address (and sometimes at another site!) and, of course,
don't tell us.

While we are not going to turn off e-mail access, we *do* want to halt
it's continuing growth and reverse this trend.  It not only wastes
your time and our time, it also sends many more copies of messages
across the net than need to be delivered.  This wastes network
bandwidth.

In conclusion, you can use your time more efficiently and avoid a lot
of the current problems simply by using a newsreader instead of
e-mail.  This makes it possible to easily ignore ads and other
obnoxious postings, but it does not eliminate them.  How to do this is
discussed in the next message.

				Sincerely,

				Dave Kristofferson
				BIOSCI/bionet Manager

				biosci-help at net.bio.net



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