What Usenet is Not

Zen and the Art of the Internet

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What Usenet Is Not
 
Usenet is not an organization.
Usenet has no central authority.  In fact, it has no central anything.
There is a vague notion of ``upstream'' and ``downstream'' related to
the direction of high-volume news flow.  It follows that, to the
extent that ``upstream'' sites decide what traffic they will carry for
their ``downstream'' neighbors, that ``upstream'' sites have some
influence on their neighbors.  But such influence is usually easy to
circumvent, and heavy-handed manipulation typically results in a
backlash of resentment.
 
Usenet is not a democracy.
A democracy can be loosely defined as ``government of the people, by
the people, for the people.''  However, as explained above, Usenet is
not an organization, and only an organization can be run as a
democracy.  Even a democracy must be organized, for if it lacks a
means of enforcing the peoples' wishes, then it may as well not exist.
 
Some people wish that Usenet were a democracy.  Many people pretend
that it is.  Both groups are sadly deluded.
 
Usenet is not fair.
After all, who shall decide what's fair?  For that matter, if someone
is behaving unfairly, who's going to stop him?  Neither you nor I,
that's certain.
 
Usenet is not a right.
Some people misunderstand their local right of ``freedom of speech''
to mean that they have a legal right to use others' computers to say
what they wish in whatever way they wish, and the owners of said
computers have no right to stop them.
 
Those people are wrong.  Freedom of speech also means freedom not to
speak; if I choose not to use my computer to aid your speech, that is
my right.  Freedom of the press belongs to those who own one.
 
Usenet is not a public utility.
Some Usenet sites are publicly funded or subsidized.  Most of them,
by plain count, are not.  There is no government monopoly on Usenet,
and little or no control.
 
Usenet is not a commercial network.
Many Usenet sites are academic or government organizations; in fact,
Usenet originated in academia.  Therefore, there is a Usenet custom of
keeping commercial traffic to a minimum.  If such commercial traffic
is generally considered worth carrying, then it may be grudgingly
tolerated.  Even so, it is usually separated somehow from
non-commercial traffic; see comp.newprod.
 
Usenet is not the Internet.
The Internet is a wide-ranging network, parts of which are subsidized
by various governments.  The Internet carries many kinds of traffic;
Usenet is only one of them.  And the Internet is only one of the
various networks carrying Usenet traffic.
 
Usenet is not a Unix network, nor even an ASCII network.
 
Don't assume that everyone is using ``rn'' on a Unix machine.  There
are Vaxen running VMS, IBM mainframes, Amigas, and MS-DOS PCs reading
and posting to Usenet.  And, yes, some of them use (shudder) EBCDIC.
Ignore them if you like, but they're out there.
 
Usenet is not software.
There are dozens of software packages used at various sites to
transport and read Usenet articles.  So no one program or package can
be called ``the Usenet software.''
 
Software designed to support Usenet traffic can be (and is) used for
other kinds of communication, usually without risk of mixing the two.
Such private communication networks are typically kept distinct from
Usenet by the invention of newsgroup names different from the
universally-recognized ones.
 
Usenet is not a UUCP network.
 
UUCP is a protocol (some might say protocol suite, but that's a
technical point) for sending data over point-to-point connections,
typically using dialup modems.  Usenet is only one of the various
kinds of traffic carried via UUCP, and UUCP is only one of the various
transports carrying Usenet traffic.
 
Well, enough negativity.