Tales of Frustration

Written sometime in May of 1995.

An explanation for the different psoriasis newsgroup names is in order.

Since getting a connection to the internet a few years ago I was amazed that there was not a newsgroup for the discussion of psoriasis. I thought about starting one but the task seemed very difficult as I couldn't even figure out how to effectively use the UNIX newsreaders that were available to me. I could browse around a bit with rn, nn, and tin but I often felt inept. Last year I got a PPP connection that allowed me to start using Windows and Mac newsreaders and everything got a lot easier.

A couple months ago I started investigating what it takes to start a newsgroup. From reading web pages, postings to newsgroups, and books, I got the basic ideas of how to start a newsgroup. I learned that starting a group in the Big Seven (now the Big Eight) is a very formal procedure that is considered a lot of work. I also learned that starting a group in the alt category was considered much easier. So I decided to start an alt newsgroup for psoriasis. Browsing the list of alt groups I came upon a category that I thought was perfect for the group, alt.support. Under the alt.support category there appear about sixty groups ranging from alt.support.arthritis to alt.support.tourette.

Loosely following the guidelines (understand that there are not formal rules for the alt group category) I posted a message to alt.config saying that I was thinking about a group called alt.support.psoriasis. I asked if anybody had ideas about this. I got about four responses. A few people said Great! I have psoriasis. We need a group. A few others said Why not call it alt.support.skin-diseases?

Having psoriasis and knowing the wide amount of discussion that a group could cover within this category, I decided that the name alt.support.skin-disease was too general. After a few days I sent out a newgroup control message to start the group alt.support.psoriasis. Immediately I saw it available at my PPP site on quake.net. I also quickly saw it at the other UNIX site that I use on The Well.

At this point I should explain the little that I know about control messages.

Control messages are special messages that have extra lines in the header of the message. They are processed differently than regular postings to newsgroups. Control messages can be used to start a new group (newgroup) or to remove (rmgroup) an existing group. They are not complex in syntax; they are quite simple. The hardest thing about creating them is finding a news reader program that allows free editing of the header section of a message.

The interesting thing about control messages are that different sites have different policies about how they deal with control messages. Some sites accept and automatically process all control messages, including newgroup and rmgroup messages. That means that at those sites a message posted by anyone can cancel a group. Other sites have a news administrator, an actual human being, making the decision which groups to newgroup and which groups to rmgroup by reviewing the incoming control messages. That person may also use input that he or she receives by following the alt.config newsgroup. If a group is not well received in alt.config the news administrator may not want to carry the group. Or the news administrator may thinkHey, it seems legitimate to me; I'll carry it even though there is not consensus in alt.config and even if a few people are sending rmgroup messages to try to kill the group.Large sites tend to manage their newsgroup lists that way.

Then I posted a message from quake.net and another message from The Well to observe whether the messages would propagate. I saw after a few days that the message posted from the Well had gone out in to the world, but had not made it to my site on quake.net. My news reader was showing no new messages. But I was getting messages of thanks from people from Europe, the east coast and some closer sites nearby. I had friends check on AOL and Compuserve to find out if the group was being carried there. It was there and it had become very active.

I had much frustration with my PPP provider, quake.net, until I got them to tell me the cause of my problems. They found by reading the control messages that somebody was rmgrouping the group alt.support.psoriasis. They forwarded his email address to me and I contacted him. The person who was removing my group told me that he was doing this because he felt that I had not gone through enough consensus building to start a group. He also objected to the name that I had chosen for the group. I explained my rationale for the name but he was convinced that the name, alt.support.skin-diseases.psoriasis, would be better. Even though I did not appreciate his rigidness, he appeared sincere and I decided to trust his judgment about this. I agreed that the name he suggested was a better name. He said it was not too late to change the name. He recommended I send out another control message to news administrators with an explanation in the body of the message to tell them why I was doing this again. So I did that.

Rather quickly I got email from a person saying that I had not reached consensus in alt.config and that he intended to kill the group.

Remember the goal here is to get the group on as many sites as possible. If you have been seeing either of the groups alt.support.psoriaisis or alt.support.skin-diseases.psoriasis on your site you are fortunate. Some sites have not carried either of the groups based on the rmgroup messages that a few people were sending out.

All this effort is my attempt to make an unknown and very small group of people happy following some vague guidelines (not firm rules). I have made some mistakes of judgment and apologize for the inconvenience that any of you may experience while this group is in flux.

I hope it works.

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