4.1 Flame, Blather and Spew
Big Dummy's Guide to the Internet

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     Something about online communications seems to make some people
particularly irritable.  Perhaps it's the immediacy and semi-anonymity
of it all.  Whatever it is, there are whole classes of people you will
soon think seem to exist to make you miserable.
     Rather than pausing and reflecting on a message as one might do
with a letter received on paper, it's just so easy to hit your R key
and tell somebody you don't really know what you really think of them. 
Even otherwise calm people sometimes find themselves turning into
raving lunatics.  When this happens, flames erupt. 
     A flame is a particularly nasty, personal attack on somebody for
something he or she has written.  Periodically, an exchange of flames
erupts into a flame war that begin to take up all the space in a given
newsgroup (and sometimes several; flamers like cross-posting to let the
world know how they feel).  These can go on for weeks (sometimes they go
on for years, in which case they become "holy wars," usually on such
topics as the relative merits of Macintoshes and IBMs).  Often, just when
they're dying down, somebody new to the flame war reads all the messages,
gets upset and issues an urgent plea that the flame war be taken to e-
mail so everybody else can get back to whatever the newsgroup's business
is.  All this usually does, though, is start a brand new flame war, in
which this poor person comes under attack for daring to question the
First Amendment, prompting others to jump on the attackers for impugning
this poor soul...  You get the idea.
     Every so often, a discussion gets so out of hand that somebody
predicts that either the government will catch on and shut the whole
thing down or somebody will sue to close down the network, or maybe
even the wrath of God will smote everybody involved.  This brings what
has become an inevitable rejoinder from others who realize that the
network is, in fact, a resilient creature that will not die easily:
"Imminent death of Usenet predicted. Film at 11.''
     Flame wars can be tremendously fun to watch at first.  They
quickly grow boring, though.  And wait until the first time you're
attacked!
     Flamers are not the only net.characters to watch out for. 
     Spewers assume that whatever they are particularly concerned about
either really is of universal interest or should be rammed down the
throats of people who don't seem to care -- as frequently as possible.
You can usually tell a spewer's work by the number of articles he posts
in a day on the same subject and the number of newsgroups to which he
then sends these articles -- both can reach well into double digits.
Often, these messages relate to various ethnic conflicts around the
world. Frequently, there is no conceivable connection between the issue
at hand and most of the newsgroups to which he posts.  No matter.  If you
try to point this out in a response to one of these messages, you will be
inundated with angry messages that either accuse you of being an
insensitive racist/American/whatever or ignore your point entirely to
bring up several hundred more lines of commentary on the perfidy of
whoever it is the spewer thinks is out to destroy his people.
     Closely related to these folks are the Holocaust revisionists, who
periodically inundate certain groups (such as soc.history) with long
rants about how the Holocaust never really happened.  Some people
attempt to refute these people with facts, but others realize this only
encourages them.
      Blatherers tend to be more benign.  Their problem is that they
just can't get to the point -- they can wring three or four screenfuls
out of a thought that others might sum up in a sentence or two.  A
related condition is excessive quoting.  People afflicted with this will
include an entire message in their reply rather than excising the
portions not relevant to whatever point they're trying to make.  The
worst quote a long message and then add a single line:
 
           "I agree!"
 
or some such, often followed by a monster .signature (see section 4.5)
      There are a number of other Usenet denizens you'll soon come to
recognize.  Among them:
     Net.weenies.  These are the kind of people who enjoy Insulting
others, the kind of people who post nasty messages in a sewing
newsgroup just for the hell of it.
     Net.geeks.  People to whom the Net is Life, who worry about what
happens when they graduate and they lose their free, 24-hour access.
     Net.gods.  The old-timers; the true titans of the Net and the
keepers of its collective history. They were around when the Net
consisted of a couple of computers tied together with baling wire.
     Lurkers.  Actually, you can't tell these people are there, but
they are.  They're the folks who read a newsgroup but never post or
respond.
     Wizards.  People who know a particular Net-related topic inside
and out.  Unix wizards can perform amazing tricks with that operating
system, for example.
     Net.saints.  Always willing to help a newcomer, eager to share
their knowledge with those not born with an innate ability to navigate
the Net, they are not as rare as you might think.  Post a question
about something and you'll often be surprised how many responses you
get.
     The last group brings us back to the Net's oral tradition.  With
few written guides, people have traditionally learned their way around
the Net by asking somebody, whether at the terminal next to them or on
the Net itself.  That tradition continues: if you have a question, ask.
     Today, one of the places you can look for help is in the
news.newusers.questions newsgroup, which, as its name suggests, is a
place to learn more about Usenet.  But be careful what you post.  Some
of the Usenet wizards there get cranky sometimes when they have to
answer the same question over and over again. Oh, they'll eventually
answer your question, but not before they tell you should have
asked your host system administrator first or looked at the postings in
news.announce.newusers.