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Speaking up

"Threads" are an integral part of Usenet. When somebody posts a message, often somebody else will respond. Soon, a thread of conversation begins. Following these threads is relatively easy. In nn, related messages are grouped together. In rn, when you're done with a message, you can hit control-N to read the next related message, or followup. As you explore Usenet, it's probably a good idea to read discussions for a while before you jump in. This way, you can get a feel for the particular newsgroup -- each has its own rhythms.

Eventually, though, you'll want to speak up. There are two main ways to do this. You join an existing conversation, or you can start a whole new thread.

If you want to join a discussion, you have to decide if you want to include portions of the message you are responding to in your message. The reason to do this is so people can see what you're responding to, just in case the original message has disappeared from their system (remember that most Usenet messages have a short life span on the average host system) or they can't find it.

If you're using a Unix host system, joining an existing conversation is similar in both nn and rn: hit your F key when done with a given article in the thread. In rn, type a small f if you don't want to include portions of the message you're responding to; an uppercase F if you do. In nn, type a capital F. You'll then be asked if you want to include portions of the original message.

And here's where you hit another Unix wall. When you hit your F key, your host system calls up its basic Unix text editor. If you're lucky, that'll be Pico, a very easy system. More likely, however, you'll get dumped into emacs (or possibly vi), which you've already met in the chapter on e-mail.

The single most important emacs command is

control-x control-c

This means, depress your control key and hit x. Then depress the control key and hit c. Memorize this. In fact, it's so important, it bears repeating:

control-x control-c

These keystrokes are how you get out of emacs. If they work well, you'll be asked if you want to send, edit, abort or list the message you were working on. If they don't work well (say you accidentally hit some other weird key combination that means something special to emacs) and nothing seems to happen, or you just get more weird-looking emacs prompts on the bottom of your screen, try hitting control-g. This should stop whatever emacs was trying to do (you should see the word "quit" on the bottom of your screen), after which you can hit control-x control-c. But if this still doesn't work, remember that you can always disconnect and dial back in!

If you have told your newsreader you do want to include portions of the original message in yours, it will automatically put the entire thing at the top of your message. Use the arrow keys to move down to the lines you want to delete and hit control-K, which will delete one line at a time.

You can then write your message. Remember that you have to hit enter before your cursor gets to the end of the line, because emacs does not have word wrapping.

When done, hit control-X control-C. You'll be asked the question about sending, editing, aborting, etc. Chose one. If you hit Y, your host system will start the process to sending your message across the Net.

The nn and rn programs work differently when it comes to posting entirely new messages. In nn, type


and hit enter in any newsgroup. You'll be asked which newsgroup to post a message to. Type in its name and hit enter. Then you'll be asked for "keywords." These are words you'd use to attract somebody scanning a newsgroup. Say you're selling your car. You might type the type of car here. Next comes a "summary" line, which is somewhat similar. Finally, you'll be asked for the message's "distribution." This is where you put how widely you want your message disseminated. Think about this one for a second. If you are selling your car, it makes little sense to send a message about it all over the world. But if you want to talk about the environment, it might make a lot of sense. Each host system has its own set of distribution classifications, but there's generally a local one (just for users of that system), one for the city, state or region it's in, another for the country (for example, usa), one for the continent (for Americans and Canadians, na) and finally, one for the entire world (usually: world).

Which one to use? Generally, a couple of seconds' thought will help you decide. If you're selling your car, use your city or regional distribution -- people in Australia won't much care and may even get annoyed. If you want to discuss presidential politics, using a USA distribution makes more sense. If you want to talk about events in the Middle East, sending your message to the entire world is perfectly acceptable.

Then you can type your message. If you've composed your message offline (generally a good idea if you and emacs don't get along), you can upload it now. You may see a lot of weird looking characters as it uploads into emacs, but those will disappear when you hit control-X and then control-C. Alternately: "save" the message (for example, by hitting m in rn), log out, compose your message offline, log back on and upload your message into a file on your host system. Then call up Usenet, find the article you "saved." Start a reply, and you'll be asked if you want to include a prepared message. Type in the name of the file you just created and hit enter.

In rn, you have to wait until you get to the end of a newsgroup to hit F, which will bring up a message-composing system. Alternately, at your host system's command line, you can type


and hit enter. You'll be prompted somewhat similarly to the nn system, except that you'll be given a list of possible distributions. If you chose "world," you'll get this message:

This program posts news to thousands of machines throughout the entire civilized world. Your message will cost the net hundreds if not thousands of dollars to send everywhere. Please be sure you know what you are doing.

Are you absolutely sure that you want to do this? [ny]

Don't worry -- your message won't really cost the Net untold amounts, although, again, it's a good idea to think for a second whether your message really should go everywhere.

If you want to respond to a given post through e-mail, instead of publicly, hit R in nn or r or R in rn. In rn, as with follow-up articles, the uppercase key includes the original message in yours.

Most newsgroups are unmoderated, which means that every message you post will eventually wind up on every host system within the geographic region you specified that carries that newsgroup.

Some newsgroups, however, are moderated, as you saw earlier with comp.risks. In these groups, messages are shipped to a single location where a moderator, acting much like a magazine editor, decides what actually gets posted. In some cases, groups are moderated like scholarly journals. In other cases, it's to try to cut down on the massive number of messages that might otherwise be posted.

You'll notice that many articles in Usenet end with a fancy "signature" that often contains some witty saying, a clever drawing and, almost incidentally, the poster's name and e-mail address. You too can have your own "signature" automatically appended to everything you post. On your own computer, create a signature file. Try to keep it to four lines or less, lest you annoy others on the Net. Then, while connected to your host system, type

cat >.signature

and hit enter (note the period before the s). Upload your signature file into this using your communications software's ASCII upload protocol. When done, hit control-D, the Unix command for closing a file. Now, every time you post a message, this will be appended to it.

There are a few caveats to posting. Usenet is no different from a Town Meeting or publication: you're not supposed to break the law, whether that's posting copyrighted material or engaging in illegal activities. It is also not a place to try to sell products (except in certain biz.* and explicit for-sale newsgroups).

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