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USENET is a globally distributed bulletin board system that resides on the Internet, providing messaging and conferencing for Internet users. USENET does not have any central location or control. There is no system operator (sysop) who decides who can be a member, when you can have access, or how much information you can download per day. USENET is not a private information network used for the transportation of proprietary or secret data. Instead, information is placed on USENET for people to read, copy, rebut, and use in just about any way that they see fit.[1] USENET is a global community; what you and the people in your local community may consider to be "fair use" and "fair play" are not necessarily shared by your fellow USENET brethren on other parts of this great planet. Please practice tolerance and open-mindedness when browsing through the USENET global information village.

[1] Note, though, that an implicit international copyright is assigned to all information posted to USENET by authority of the Berne Convention of 1989.

Information is "posted" to a USENET newsgroup in the form of an "article." An article is just a piece of email that you send to USENET using a program called a newsreader. A newsreader is a special client program that enables you to read and post articles to USENET newsgroups. Any computer running USENET news hub server software will also have available one or more different newsreader programs, such as rn or tin.

When you post an article to one or more USENET newsgroups, your local news hub will send your article to other computers that are also running news hub software, who in turn will send it on to others. Your article will spread out over the earth--via the regional telephone companies--to be stored and made available to all of the other many thousands of computers linked to USENET.


The many thousands of newsgroups in USENET are organized as a hierarchy, with the most general grouping appearing first in the newsgroup name, followed by more specific subgroups. For example, graphics files are found in all the newsgroups in the hierarchy alt.binaries.pictures. We can be more specific and look for graphics of fine art in the alt.binaries.pictures.fine-art newsgroup. In doing so, we would see that this newsgroup contains three subgroups, one for the posting of original artwork, one for posting of scanned artwork, and one for the discussion of files posted on either of these two newsgroups. This branch of the hierarchy appears as follows:


Don't think that fine art graphics is all that you'll find on USENET. As of January 1, 1996, no fewer than 124 alt.binaries.pictures subgroups were listed on USENET. Most of these groups are frequented by regular readers and some receive dozens, if not hundreds, of posts a day. To give you an idea of what's available, here is a very abbreviated listing of the alt.binaries.pictures.* hierarchy:


The intellectual content of the images posted to these groups includes any person, place, object, or idea that may be captured with a camera, scanner, or graphics art program. You can find or request practically any image you might need or want. Such requests should only be posted to the discussion newsgroups (those ending in ".d").

Before you deem some subjects as "unsuitable" or even "illegal," remember that the Internet is a global information network. It is not owned by any one company that may set restrictions and policies, nor is it governed by only one social or cultural viewpoint. The Internet is truly the human race's first step at achieving a global community.[2] For a list of the newsgroups most often frequented by graphics programmers and others interested in graphics files, see "Internet Graphics Resources" later in this appendix.

[2] But note that as we write this, issues of censorship on the Net are being hotly debated in the governments and press of many countries, and by both free speech advocates and those who advocate restrictions of various kinds.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) Listings

FAQ listings are specialized newsgroup postings that contain a list of answers to questions commonly asked on a particular newsgroup. If you are new to reading a newsgroup, you should obtain and read a copy of the FAQ for that newsgroup before you post any questions to the group. This will give you an immediate answer to most common questions, lower the traffic on USENET, and reduce the need for regular readers of the newsgroup to answer the same basic questions over and over again.

Over the years, FAQs have evolved from simple Q&A listings to entire treatises on a particular subject, or even (unfortunately) infomercials for a particular product. FAQs have grown to the point where they have been published as books, and fierce battles have arisen when the freely available, yet copyrighted, material available in FAQs has been used without permission in for-profit ventures.

Nearly all FAQs may be found on the *.answers newsgroups. The master newsgroup is news.answers, and all FAQs registered with the FAQ administrators at rtfm.mit.edu are posted there. Every major newsgroup category also has a *.answers newsgroup as well (comp.answers, rec.answers, alt.answers, and so on). Each FAQ may also have one or more home newsgroups to which it is also posted. For example, the JPEG FAQ is posted to news.answers, comp.answers, and comp.compression.

FAQs are usually posted at regular intervals, which can be anywhere from once every two weeks to once every few months. The information in a FAQ may change each time the FAQ is posted or may hardly change at all, depending on the discretion of the FAQ's author and its subject matter.

FAQs are authored by people known as "FAQ maintainers." Each maintainer is just another member of the USENET community. Maintainers offer their time and service to the USENET community for free by accepting the responsibility of maintaining and posting one or more FAQs that may be used by tens of thousands of people. Maintainers are regarded as the de facto Internet experts on their FAQ's subject (even if they really are not). Maintainers must answer questions, gather accurate and up-to-date information, present it in a format that is easily readable, and make their FAQs freely available to the USENET and Internet communities.

To familiarize yourself with USENET FAQs, look through the postings on the news.answers newsgroup. If graphics files are your interest, then you will want to check out James Murray's Graphics File Formats FAQ. This FAQ contains detailed information on graphics file formats, including where to find specifications, viewing programs, and source code, and on the problems and legalities of using certain formats. This FAQ is also available on the CD-ROM that accompanies this book (with links to the updated FAQ), and it also contains information on other graphics and file format-related FAQs.

USENET Posting Etiquette

There are a few rules to follow when you post articles to USENET. Because there are no USENET police, per se, no one will break down your door and haul you away in chains if you do not follow these rules. However, if you choose to ignore these rules of etiquette you are likely to receive everything from friendly advice to something close to death threats from your follow USENET newsgroup patrons.

  • Do not post an article to a "pictures" newsgroup that is not a graphics file or graphics file archive. Post all questions to the appropriate alt.binaries.pictures.*.d discussion newsgroup.

  • Do not post articles that do not follow the subject of the newsgroup. For example, if you have a picture of your pet cat that you wish to share, post it to a newsgroup that contains graphics of the same subject, such as alt.binaries.pictures.animals. Another newsgroup, such as alt.binaries.pictures.vehicles, would not be a good choice.

  • When in doubt about where to post a graphics file, post it on the alt.binaries.pictures.misc newsgroup. When in doubt about where to post a question, post it to the alt.binaries.pictures.d newsgroup.

  • Put an accurate description of the image in the post's "Subject:" line. For example, the line:
       Subject: TOSHI.JPG (01/01) "Picture of my cat, Toshi" [640x480x256]

    is more descriptive than, and is preferred to:

       Subject: my cat

  • Do not post more than 400K of articles to the alt.binaries.pictures.* newsgroups a day. This limit may be in the form of eight 50K posts, four 100K posts, one 400K post, or whatever. The pictures newsgroups account for nearly 50 percent of the traffic on the Internet and 75 percent of the alt.* newsgroup traffic; it costs time and money to transmit every byte of data that you post. Dumping many megabytes of data onto a newsgroup is like trying to pour 100 gallons of water down your kitchen sink. The water will only drain so fast, so it's better just to pour a little at a time.

  • Email graphics files, rather than post them, if you only need to get them to a few people. Making them available on an FTP site (see the section on FTP below) is also an option.

  • Don't attempt to compress GIF or JPG graphics files using a file archiving program, such as pkzip or zoo. Graphics files that contain compressed data cannot typically be reduced in size by further compression and may actually grow in size. If you need to store graphics files in an archive file format, then turn the compression feature off when you add the graphics files to the archive. For pkzip, use the `-e0' option; for zoo, use the `f' option modifier.

  • Use uuencode to convert all binary graphics files to ASCII text before posting. The uuencode scheme is the de facto standard used on USENET for converting binary data to ASCII text for posting. Although you can use mmencode, BinHex, btoa, and other encoders, not everyone has the programs required to decode the data created by these programs.

  • If you are unsure about how to post an article, try posting a test article on one of the test newsgroups, such as news.test, misc.test, or local.test. You should also change the distribution of your posting to "local" to limit its travel on the Internet. Once you post your test article, you can use a newsreader to check whether your article was posted to the test newsgroup to see what it looks like. If you post a uuencoded graphics file, you can save and decode it to see whether your posting method worked. Never post to any newsgroup unless you know what you are doing!

For further information on posting to the alt.binaries.pictures.* newsgroups, read Jim Howard's alt.binaries.pictures FAQ. This FAQ contains the official information on the alt.binaries.pictures newsgroups and their netiquette, gives a listing of graphics file viewers for all popular operating systems, and provides detailed troubleshooting information.

The FAQ is available on the alt.binaries.pictures.d and news.answers newsgroups. You can get a copy via email by sending a message with the body:

send usenet/news.answers/pictures-faq/part1
send usenet/news.answers/pictures-faq/part2
send usenet/news.answers/pictures-faq/part3

to [email protected].

All introductory information on USENET can be found in the news.announce.newusers newsgroup. Be sure to read through all of the documents posted to this newsgroup before you attempt to post messages or create a new newsgroup. A list of all the available documents may be found in the "Welcome to USENET!" FAQ , which may be obtained by sending email to [email protected] with the body "send usenet/welcome/part1". All of these documents may also be found on the World Wide Web at:


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This page is taken from the Encyclopedia of Graphics File Formats and is licensed by O'Reilly under the Creative Common/Attribution license.