What is an ALT newsgroup

  • What is alt? newsgroup?
    Contrary to popular belief, “alt” is not named because it is for “alternative” topics. Back during the dawn of the modern Usenet, it was decided that newsgroups should be created by following a clearly defined set of “Guidelines”, involving formal discussions and a voting procedure. There was a significant number of people who felt that there should be a provision for a place where people could create groups without having to go through any discussion or votes. Thus alt was born. It is a hierarchy that is “alternative” to the “mainstream” (comp,misc,news, rec,soc,sci,talk) hierarchy.”ALT stands for ‘Anarchists, Lunatics, and Terrorists’.” – ziegast@uunet.uu.net (Eric Ziegast)
  • Votes? Did someone say vote?
    Let me repeat. There are no votes in alt. Period. If you want to gather an “opinion poll” for your own purposes to see how popular the group will be, great. Do not post votes to alt.config. Every few months someone says “hey I’ve got a great idea for a newsgroup alt.widget, what do you think?”. Someone responds “I vote yes!”, causing a chain-reaction of posts to alt.config, lasting for days or weeks. These serve no purpose but to annoy readers of alt.config, and to distribute dozens of messages across the globe that should have ended up in someone’s mailbox instead. Please, use a Followup-To: posterin your header and gather votes by e-mail. Then post a summary after a week or two.
  • News Administrators:
    Alt newsgroups are not created everywhere all at once. Each site has a news administrator, who ultimately decides whether to carry a new newsgroup on that site. Nevertheless, for simplicity, many sites automatically honor all requests to create a new group and (by default) ignore all requests to remove groups. Newsadmins can be very busy people who don’t need the hassle of hand-approving every group. Thus, altnewsgroups are not necessarily created in a way that is fair, or just, or logical. That’s life.
  • How do alt groups get created?
    Like any group in Usenet, a group gets created (typically) when someone sends out a special “control” message to “newgroup” it. This is injected into the news system mostly like any other article that you read, except it has special syntax. Different sites on the net behave differently when one of these messages arrives. The news software has various ways of acting automatically on the message based on who sent it, and what hierarchy the group to be created is in (alt in our case). With respect to alt, some sites will automatically honor any “newgroup” control message it sees, and some will mail the message to the news admin who will make the decision to carry the group or not. Read on on the section “Some Postitive Suggestions.” Do not ask me how to send a control message, because I won’t answer you. I don’t have the hours it takes to go back and forth finding out what kind of news system you have, what kind of access you have to the system, and if you’ve followed the other guidelines as specified in this document. For more information, check out http://www.gweep.bc.ca/~edmonds/usenet/good-newgroup.html.
  • Newsgroup Name Components:
    A newsgroup name, e.g. alt.foo.bar-bar.baz, is made up of a series of dot-separated components, in this case alt, foo, bar-bar, and baz. The articles in newsgroups are usually stored in your machine’s directory hierarchy. Basically, every component of the newsgroup name corresponds to a directory or subdirectory of the same name, and that subdirectory typically takes up 512 or more bytes on the machine all by itself. Also, since accessing any group requires eventually reading the contents of the directory, if there are lots of subdirectories off of alt access for any single article in alt can theoretically suffer a performance hit. Also, some newsreaders are hierarchically organized. To read alt.folklore.computers, you select alt, then select folklore, then computers. If there are lots of needless top-level components (e.g. More than four levels deep), then this is more work for the person reading news.
  • What is a newsgroup name for?
    A newsgroup is a collection of articles with a common purpose. A name for a newsgroup serves several purposes.

    • It tells those who want to read the group that this group is for them.
    • It tells those who do not want to read the group that this group is not for them.
    • It classifies similar groups together so that:
      • the group name can convey more meaning than just what can fit in 14 letters. (e.g. alt.music.monkees vs. alt.monkees)
      • similar groups can be placed logically nearer to each other in sorted or hierarchical listings.
      • It makes those who are interested in various aspects of a more general classification more able to find specific groups. (For example, those interested in philosophy can search for “philosophy” in the newsgroup name to find general groups as well as those about specific philosphies like alt.philosophy.zen)
      • The top-level hieararchy is not a jumbled mess of thousands of newsgroups, with often ambiguous names.
      • Small sites can more easily choose the kinds of newsgroups they want to get fed. (e.g. only alt.tv.*, and alt.sex.*, or no alt.binaries.*)


  • Newsgroup Longevity:
    There are some people who insist that once an alt newsgroup is created, it can never be destroyed, no matter what. These people make sure that whenever someone tries to remove a group, it gets re-created. Even if these people were not on the net, occasional mistakes (in such situations as people setting up new sites) can cause almost-dead newsgroups to get revived everywhere. Thus, alt groups are effectively immortal, at least for the foreseeable future; they can’t be removed or even re-named. Alt groups never die, they just fade away. However, some alt groups fade away faster than others.