This FAQ is Copyright 1995 by David Barr and The Pennsylvania State
University. This document may be reproduced, so long as it is kept
in its entirety and in its original format.
There are no Guidelines or Rules for creating alt groups.
There is no one "in charge" of the alt hierarchy. The key to creating a
successful alt newsgroup depends only on convincing the thousands of
news administrators across the globe to carry your newsgroup. Here are
some tips that will help you achieve this.
This article is based on common-sense and real-life
experience. This is not an attempt to codify rules or guidelines for
alt, but merely a guide to help people get the most out of
alt, as well as a reflection of some established
This guide is split onto three parts. The first part covers
some technical background as to why alt is the way it is, and
how it fits into the larger Usenet.
The second section lists many common reasons proposed alt
groups are rejected. Some are technical, and some are philosophical.
The third section includes some miscellaneous suggestions
on making your alt group achieve the widest audience possible.
This guide is also available on the World Wide Web at:
http://www.cis.ohio-state.edu/~barr/alt-creation-guide.html. Note new
You can use use the e-mail server at rftm.mit.edu to request the
FAQ if you do not have access to the web. Send an email message to
email@example.com, with the following text in the body of the message:
1. Technical background
2. Common Reasons Proposed Groups are Rejected
- "Harmful" newsgroup names:
Newsgroup names which have components that are composed of the
characters other than the letters 'a' through 'z', plus the
characters '-' and '+' are considered non-standard and not
encouraged. Numbers may be used as long as there are no all-numeric
components. (e.g. alt.2600 is not valid) Some odd characters can
tickle bugs in some software, or
require news admins to make special modifications in order to carry
the group. Newsgroup components must be non-empty. (like
"alt..foo") One joke group, ".cabal", was created and lots of
software mysteriously stopped working in bizarre fashion.
- Component Too Long:
Some systems cannot handle a newsgroup name component that is longer
than 14 characters. Thus alt.fan.bgcrisis (length of "bgcrisis" = 8)
instead of alt.fan.bubblegum-crisis (length of "bubblegum-crisis" =
16). This restriction may be becoming less and less critical, as software
like INN handles this better. C news unfortunately enforces this
limit, and makes it hard to accommodate exceptions. The author has
no immediate plans to change this limitation. One proposed revision
of RFC 1036 proposed to formalize the 14 character limit, and some have
started removing or not accepting newsgroups which exceed this limit.
- Useless Components:
If you take away components at the end of the name, you should not be
left with a directory name that is unlikely to have any other
newsgroups in it. Thus alt.fan.bg-crisis instead of
alt.fan.bubble.gum.crisis (other "alt.fan.bubble" newsgroups?). In
other words, don't use a dot as a word separator, use a dash.
- Joke/Revenge/Shock Group:
Because of newsgroup longevity (see below), newsgroups which
are started just to get people to laugh at the name, and/or to
get revenge on some specific person, and/or to shock people,
are discouraged. They tend to generate a flurry of articles
(sometimes) for a maybe even a month or two, but quickly die.
- ".word.word.word" Ending:
The first group was "alt.swedish.chef.bork.bork.bork". Since then,
dozens of lookalike groups have been created. This was kind of funny
at first (5 years ago) but the joke is old.
- "All-numeric part of newsgroup name:"
There is a technical reason why this is a bad idea. Most newsgroup
articles are stored as numbered files in a directory - for example,
article 119 of group "alt.indianapolis.500" would be stored on most
Unix systems as "/usr/spool/news/alt/indianapolis/500/119". Other
systems store articles in a similar manner. This creates a problem
for some systems where "alt.indianapolis" might be a valid newsgroup,
since "alt/indianapolis/500" would supposedly mean the 500th article
in alt.indianapolis. While this isn't expressly against the rules of
newsgroup naming today, there is a proposal in the works that intends
to make significant changes and more strict specification of news, and
this restriction is in place in the new proposal. If you want your
group to survive, you may wish to plan for the future. See "Further
Reading" at the end of this FAQ for more information.
- Top-Level Mess:
There are dozens of newsgroups named alt.something, where
a very specialized subject. Wouldn't it be nice if there were
some classification scheme for them? Well, there is; you can
name your group alt.food.something, or
alt.sport.something, or whatever.
- alt.acronym groups:
Related to "Top-Level Mess" is the attempt to name the newsgroup
based on some acronym. (alt.acm,
alt.aclu) This is extremely unwise. First off, an
acronym is not a good identifier of what a newsgroup is about.
Groups like these tend to have a significant amount of traffic devoted
to answering "hey, I just found this group alt.abd,
what's this group about?" Weekly FAQ postings don't help. Remember
alt is a worldwide hierarchy. Just because an acronym
is popular in the US, doesn't make it recognizable to most people in
the rest of the world. Second, acronyms are not unique. You'd be
surprised how many trade acronyms there are, especially in the
chemical and medical professions. One person's organization is
another person's chemical or disease. Third,
alt.acronym groups are hard to find when you're just
browsing around. If they're interested in chemistry, people will
search for 'chem' in the newsgroup name, not 'acs'. (American
Chemical Society) See below for suggestions.
- Big 8 Move Threat:
Because of newsgroup longevity, many newsadmins will actually
oppose creation of a group if you suggest you may want to
move it to the "big-8" hierarchy (rec,
soc, talk etc.) sometime in the future.
Try to create it there first. On the other hand, some newsadmins
will then suggest you try out an alt group before trying
to create a "big-8" group.
- Extremely Limited Interest:
Yes, alt groups can be created for subjects that the "big-8"
hierarchy wouldn't touch, but if the discussion you propose is
extremely faddish, or silly, or of extremely limited or regional
interest, some newsadmins may oppose it.
More on "local" or "regional" groups in alt. Usually
they are a bad idea. Remember that your articles will be traveling
across the globe, on the disks of hundreds of thousands of
machines. People in Saudi Arabia generally don't care much about
great places to eat in Houston, Texas, USA.
- Not Proposed in alt.config:
Some newsadmins will not create any groups that haven't been
discussed in alt.config (and after waiting several days for the
responses). Posting your idea for a new group to
alt.config is a very good idea anyway. Someone may have already
created the group you proposed, or something similar. They may also
point you to a mailing list that you might not have known about.
They also will probably tell you if your group is poorly named.
Eric Ziegast has this to say about alt.config:
"You don't have to take their advice, but then again, who wants to
start a fight? At least when people discuss a group first in
alt.config, news admins throughout the world can decide whether or
not to accept/feed your group if/when it's created. If people like
your group suggestion, you will be considered a net.hero, and your
group will likely exist until the end of time (which is currently
January 2038 for Unix)."
- "If Other Silly Newsgroup Deserves To Exist, Then So Does Mine"
Since anyone can create a newsgroup in alt without fanfare,
frequently anyone does. It's not a question of whether either
newsgroup "deserves" existence. Think carefully about this
point: you're willfully likening your proposal to all the silly
and ridiculous newsgroups that already exist in the alt hierarchy.
If you really want people to take you seriously, don't you think you
can find a better argument?
- "But No One's Forced To Accept It" Considered Irrelevant:
Sure, no newsadmin has to accept your group if they don't want to;
but the newsadmins are going to curse you for the hassle of having to
decide on it -- when it gets created and every time it gets
re-created. Also consider the consequence on the readers of the
newsgroup. If their articles are only getting to a small minority of
sites, is it even worth it?
- "But All These People Agree" Considered Irrelevant:
You might get 20 people who haven't read this FAQ to agree that your
newsgroup is a good idea. This isn't likely to convince anyone
either, if any of the reasons above apply.
3. Some Positive Suggestions
- Propose your group in alt.config. Be sure to include
the proposed newsgroup name or topic for the group in the
Subject line. Listen to constructive criticisms.
Wait at week or so before acting on it. News propagation is
not instantaneous, it sometimes takes as long as a week just for an
article to be sent out and a followup to be sent back.
Beware, the "discussions" in alt.config can seem
very petty, vindictive, and altogether unpleasant at times.
Alt.config is frequented by news admins, news.wannabes, net.gods,
and net.idiots. Sometimes it's a wonder that anything useful
comes out of it, but the alternative is total anarchy and mob
ethics. Look past the ad hominem attacks, the finger pointing,
the name calling, and political posturing. There are actually a
few people in alt.config with good ideas on creating groups.
- Look for an appropriate place in existing alt hierarchies.
alt.binaries, .books, .comp,
.culture, .fan, .games,
.music, .politics, .religion,
.sex, .society, and .tv are all fairly
well accepted. Keep top-level hierarchies as broad as possible.
- If the group your proposing is specific to the United States,
then consider using the growing us.* hierarchy.
Post your idea to us.config.
- Put groups about sports under alt.sport. Put groups
about individual sports teams under alt.sports (plural).
- Spell the newsgroup name correctly. (or at least choose the most
popular spelling :-) )
- And please, try using existing Big 8 newsgroups, existing alt
newsgroups, or mailing lists before insisting on creating another
For example, don't create alt.drink.recipes when there's
a perfectly good group already, rec.food.drink, with wider
(and probably more well-informed) readership.
- If you are trying to create a sub-topic of a high-traffic Big 8
group, try to attempt to get the Big 8 group split first before
attempting an alt group. For example, if you're
tired of wading through rec.sport.golf for college golfing,
don't try to create alt.sport.golf.college, try to
create rec.sport.golf.college first. If the group is
high-traffic, most likely readers will welcome a legitimate split.
- If you want to create a group about something that
has an acronym, try one of the following instead: don't use the
acronym, but rather a generalized name of what the acronym is about
(alt.society.civil-liberty instead of
alt.aclu; spell out the acronym ; or put the acronym
inside of a sub-hierarchy that clearly identifies what the group is
about. (alt.autos.bmw instead of alt.bmw)
- If your group is related to current events, then create the
group under alt.current-events.*. Note that
alt.current-events.* is for short-lived current events,
not extended discussions about some ongoing topic that just happens
to be in the news today. Remember that there's already an existing
group for current events: misc.headlines.
- If you intend people to post binaries, pictures, or other large
files to your group, create or use an existing group under
alt.binaries.*. You can create a group for discussion
of a topic, just use another group under alt.binaries.*
for posting of large files. (Example: You'd discuss a comic strip
under alt.comics.*, but post pictures of comics under
alt.binaries.pictures.comics.*. Newsadmins will thank
you for this, as they
typically expire these groups more quickly to compensate for their
large size. It also allows small sites to participate in discussions
about a topic, yet not get deluged with large files. It is generally
considered rude to post large files to a discussion group.
- Once you decide that it's time to create your newsgroup, contact your
local news administrator, not me. If you are a news administrator, the
consult your news software documentation on how to issue a "newgroup"
control message. The format of Usenet messages is defined in
which you may want to refer to. Alternatively you can modify someone
else's control message if you forget all the syntax. Just look in the
"control" newsgroup. It would be too hard to give a
cookbook recipie for sending out a newgroup message, given the dozens
of operating systems and news software programs out there. Contact
a knowledgeable person at your own site - not me. If you don't
know how to reach any knowledgeable people at your site, (or you
are the knowledgeable person at your site) I feel sorry for you.
Try sending mail to "usenet" or "news". Failing that, try
"postmaster" or "root".
One thing that is nice is to include a "For your newsgroups file:"
line in the body of the message, to automatically have news software
enter a description for the newsgroup. Many newsreaders use this
description. The format is:
For your newsgroups file:
alt.group.name.here A one-line description
Make sure that those two lines above are each on the beginning of a line,
and that the first line appears exactly as you see here. Do
not include any spaces between the lines, and do not try to make a
description which spans a line.
- Also, many sites do NOT automatically honor "newgroup" messages; the
news software at these sites will send mail to the news
administrator, who will who will evaluate your request and decide
whether or not to create the group. It is an extremely good idea
to include a paragraph or two in the body of your control message
explaining the purpose of the group, and if you have followed these
guidelines. Remember that above all, for good or bad, you have to
convince news admins to carry your group. Spending a little bit
of extra effort will pay off. Also, it may take a couple of days for
the control message to propagate and be acted upon, so don't expect
instant availability of the new group, particularly if you post the
control message on a Friday night.
Epilogue by Mark Weber:
Here ends the lesson.
This may sound like a lot of rigamarole, and it is. The purpose
is to discourage creation of alt groups that might be better off
as mainstream groups, or that might be better off left uncreated.
Don't take this all too seriously, though. The "alt" net is the
last remaining refuge away from the control freaks, namespace
purists and net.cops (like myself) that maintain and enforce the
mainstream newsgroup guidelines.
There is still some room for spontaneity out here on the "alt"
frontier. Successful groups have been created without following
these suggestions. Almost any non-forged, serious newgroup
message will at least be considered by most news admins. Some
groups have been created just on a whim. The concept behind the
group better be good (or a least entertaining), though!
For Further Reading:
Not directly related but also helpful:
- There's a compilation of additional information and advice
for creating newsgroups by Andrew S. Damick at
- There's a good guide of how to decide on a good name
for your newsgroup, from David.W.Wright@bnr.co.uk. See
"Guidelines on Usenet Newsgroup Names", crossposted to many
newsgroups including alt.config, news.groups, and news.answers.
- There exist several RFC (Request for Comments) documents that pertain
to Usenet news. The draft proposal for the restructuring of Usenet news
articles is also publicly available. These documents are not for the
faint of heart, however, and are quite technical in nature, but if you
are truly interested in how Usenet works then they should be a
fasinating read. For more information on these subjects, look for the
following documents. RFC documents are available on a number of sites,
most notably rs.internic.net:/rfc and nic.ddn.mil:/rfc.
- There's also "How to Write a Good Newsgroup Proposal" by
firstname.lastname@example.org (David C Lawrence). It is posted
regularly to news.announce.newgroups. While it is
written to address formal RFD submissions for the so-called "Big 8"
newsgroups, most all of the arguments contained therein apply equally
well to alt. It's worth reading.
- To generate a newgroup, check out "How to Write a Good Newgroup Message"
by Brian Edmonds.
- RFC-1036 (Standard for Interchange of Usenet Messages)
Based on previous work by:
With submissions from:
- email@example.com (Jamie Andrews)
"Common Reasons Why People Oppose Proposed Alt Newsgroups"
- firstname.lastname@example.org (Christopher Samuel)
"Creating a new "alt" group -- guidelines"
originally by email@example.com (Mark H. Weber)
- firstname.lastname@example.org (Eric Ziegast)
"Welcome to ALT"
- email@example.com (Tim Pierce)
- firstname.lastname@example.org (Joe George)