5.2 Bitnet
Big Dummy's Guide to the Internet

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     As if Usenet and mailing lists were not enough, there are Bitnet
"discussion groups" or "lists." 
     Bitnet is an international network linking colleges and
universities, but it uses a different set of technical protocols for
distributing information from the Internet or Usenet. It offers hundreds
of discussion groups, comparable in scope to Usenet newsgroups.        
     One of the major differences is the way messages are
distributed.  Bitnet messages are sent to your mailbox, just as with a
mailing list. However, where mailing lists are often maintained by a
person, all Bitnet discussion groups are automated -- you subscribe to
them through messages to a "listserver" computer.  This is a kind of
robot moderator that controls distribution of messages on the list.  In
many cases, it also maintains indexes and archives of past postings in a
given discussion group, which can be handy if you want to get up to
speed with a discussion or just search for some information related to
it.
     Many Bitnet discussion groups are now "translated" into Usenet
form and carried through Usenet in the bit.listserv hierarchy.  In
general, it's probably better to read messages through Usenet if you
can.  It saves some storage space on your host system's hard drives. 
     If 50 people subscribe to the same Bitnet list, that means 50
copies of each message get stored on the system; whereas if 50 people
read a Usenet message, that's still only one message that needs storage
on the system.  It can also save your sanity if the discussion group
generates large numbers of messages.  Think of opening your e-mailbox
one day to find 200 messages in it -- 199 of them from a discussion
group and one of them a "real" e-mail message that's important to you.
     Subscribing and canceling subscriptions is done through an e-
mail message to the listserver computer.  For addressing, all
listservers are known as "listserv" (yep) at some Bitnet address. 
This means you will have to add ".bitnet" to the end of the
address, if it's in a form like this: listserv@miamiu. For example, if
you have an interest in environmental issues, you might want to
subscribe to the Econet discussion group.  To subscribe, send an e-mail
message to
 
                listserv@miamiu.bitnet
 
Some Bitnet listservers are also connected to the Internet, so if you
see a listserver address ending in ".edu", you can e-mail the
listserver without adding ".bitnet" to the end.
     Always leave the "subject:" line blank in a message to a
listserver.  Inside the message, you tell the listserver what you
want, with a series of simple commands:
 
subscribe group Your Name    To subscribe to a list, where "group"
                             is the list name and "Your Name" is
                             your full name, for example:
                             subscribe econet Henry Fielding
 
unsubscribe group Your Name  To discontinue a group, for example:
                             unsubscribe econet Henry Fielding
 
list global                  This sends you a list of all available
                             Bitnet discussion groups.  But be careful
                             -- the list is VERY long!
 
get refcard                  Sends you a list of other commands you
                             can use with a listserver, such as
                             commands for retrieving past postings
                             from a discussion group.
 
     Each of these commands goes on a separate line in your message
(and you can use one or all of them).  If you want to get a list of
all Bitnet discussion groups, send e-mail to
 
                listserv@bitnic.educom.edu
 
Leave the "subject:" line blank and use the list global command.
     When you subscribe to a Bitnet group, there are two important
differences from Usenet.
     First, when you want to post a message for others to read in the
discussion group, you send a message to the group name at its Bitnet
address.  Using Econet as an example, you would mail the message to:
 
                econet@miamiu.bitnet
 
     Note that this is different from the listserv address you used to
subscribe to the group to begin with.  Use the listserv address ONLY
to subscribe to or unsubscribe from a discussion group.  If you use the
discussion-group address to try to subscribe or unsubscribe, your message
will go out to every other subscriber, many of whom will think unkind
thoughts, which they may share with you in an e-mail message).
      The second difference relates to sending an e-mail message to the
author of a particular posting.  Usenet newsreaders such as rn and nn
let you do this with one key.  But if you hit your R key to respond to
a discussion-group message, your message will go to the listserver,
and from there to everybody else on the list!  This can prove
embarrassing to you and annoying to others. To make sure your
message goes just to the person who wrote the posting, take down his
e-mail address from the posting and then compose a brand-new message.
Remember, also, that if you see an e-mail address like IZZY@INDYVMS, it's
a Bitnet address.
        Two Bitnet lists will prove helpful for delving further into the
network.  NEW-LIST tells you the names of new discussion groups. To
subscribe, send a message to listserv@ndsuvm1.bitnet:
 
                sub NEW-LIST Your Name
 
     INFONETS is the place to go when you have questions about Bitnet. 
It is also  first rate for help on questions about all major computer
networks and how to reach them.  To subscribe, send e-mail to info-nets-
request@think.com:
 
                sub INFONETS Your Name
 
     Both of these lists are also available on Usenet, the former as
bit.listserv.new-list; the latter as bit.listserv.infonets (sometimes
bit.listserv.info-nets).