This File Last Updated: 2002/04/05


Background Information About Internet Discussion Forums and especially, the Usenet Newsgroup, soc.culture.belarus (moderated) and the Belarus discussion (e-mail) list

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What are soc.culture.belarus and the Belarus discussion (e-mail) list?

The usenet newsgroup, soc.culture.belarus, and the Belarus discussion (e-mail) list are public discussion forums available on the Internet.

Although both forums are for discussing virtually any topic related to Belarus with people all over the world in several languages, each forum has advantages and disadvantages. Please remember that both types of forums are wonderful opportunities to interact with others from all over the world. The following text emphasizes aspects of each type of forum for the purpose of comparing them. The issues outlined below are not normally the focus of the forums.

Also remember that there are at least tens of thousands of each type of Internet forum, so you should not have any difficulty participating in a forum that precisely meets your needs and interests. (For example, as of December, 1999, there were over 40,000 usenet newsgroups, plus additional regional, university, and corporate groups.)

I hope the following information, together with the charter for soc.culture.belarus, and the welcome file/charter for the Belarus discussion (e-mail) list adequately describe to you what these forums are all about. If you have further questions, please contact me. I'll try to answer your specific concerns.


Very Important Note: Whether you post a message to a discussion list or whether you post it to a usenet newsgroup, YOU, the author, are legally responsible for what you say. (By all means, consult legal counsel. We are not legal counsel and we do not offer legal advice.)


How are usenet newsgroups different from e-mail discussion groups?

A Discussion (E-Mail) List, such as the Belarus discussion list, has the advantages of being easy to create (no voting needed), and the potential for control. Whether a subscriber posts messages or only reads them, her or his e-mail address (and possibly name) is known to the list administrator. Some list administrators allow all discussion list members to retrieve this list membership information as well. For many lists, only subscribers may post messages to, and receive messages from, the discussion list.

Since e-mail is the most widespread of all of the Internet services, virtually all people on the Internet have access to e-mail and e-mail discussion lists, while they may not have access to such things as usenet newsgroups and the web. Another advantage of discussion (e-mail) lists is that you are more likely to see all of the messages posted to it than to a usenet newsgroup (see below). Unless there is some problem with Internet e-mail software or connections, all of the messages will come to your mailbox. Messages in usenet newsgroups can expire after a few days, thus they are no longer available--if you didn't check the newsgroup in that time interval. Newsgroup archives, of course, are set up to solve this problem, but not all newsgroups have such archives.

A discussion list's disadvantage is in the amount of disk space taken up on your (the subscriber's) computer. ALL of the messages posted to the list go to your computer, whether you are interested in them or not. Since some people pay for e-mail, especially in the former Soviet Union, there may also be more costs incurred for a discussion list than for a newsgroup. Also, the number of participants in discussion lists are usually much smaller than newsgroups, since in addition to being more expensive for some people, it is harder to learn about such discussion lists.

A Newsgroup is something like a bulletin board (BBS). It is very public; anyone can read messages without having to subscribe. You can choose both the newsgroups and the messages you are interested in and ignore the others. Only the ones you choose will be put on your own computer. If you do not post messages to the list, no one knows you are "participating." Newsgroups that are part of the Big Eight have very wide distribution, thus increasing the likelihood of participation of many people all over the world.

A disadvantage of usenet newsgroups is that not everyone has access to them, although this is becoming less common. Many people have e-mail but do not have access to either usenet newsgroups or the web. For those who do have usenet newsgroup and web access, there are often additional costs incurred as well.

Another disadvantage of usenet newsgroups is that the messages appear for only a fixed period of time, often a few days. There are somewhere around 17,000 usenet newsgroups (even more if you include local, university-only, or company-only groups), so it is not surprising that Internet providers remove older messages very often. If you do not check the newsgroup every few days, you will probably miss some messages. Newsgroup archives, of course, are set up to solve this problem, but not all newsgroups have such archives.


What is Usenet?

Quoting from a usenet document: "Usenet is a loosely knit anarchy - there is no controlling body." But although it is not an official authority, it is generally recognized as the authority for newsgroups by almost all site administrators. And site administrators decide which newsgroups they will make available to the customers at their sites.

Usenet newsgroups have the largest world-wide distribution of any newsgroups, thus making them very important to discuss topics such as Belarus.

The most important newsgroups on usenet are the Big Eight: they have names that begin with comp, humanities, misc, news, rec, sci, soc, and talk. Periods and the words following them indicate subtopics of a specific topic (e.g., soc.culture.belarus = society -> culture -> belarus). Proposed new groups for the Big Eight must go through a defined creation process, the RFD and CFV being the most conspicuous parts of the process. Voting by the usenet community (that is, you and me and a lot of other people) ensures support for any such proposed new newsgroups.


What does "moderation" mean?

Moderation indicates that there is a step in between someone submitting a message to be posted and the message's actually appearing there. Both newsgroups and discussion (e-mail) lists can be moderated. The usenet newsgroup soc.culture.belarus is moderated; the Belarus discussion (e-mail) list is not moderated. (In this way, two forums exist about Belarus that give interested people a choice as which type of forum they prefer.)

Whether a newsgroup or discussion list is moderated or not, there is usually a charter and "netiquette" that should be followed. For a moderated group or list, the moderator's job is to ensure that the charter and netiquette are followed, and he or she has the authority to do so. For un-moderated newsgroups, no one has such authority.

Censorship -- Or Not

Note: Please be assured, "moderation" does not mean censorship. Moderation is only intended to keep the messages "on topic" and polite, as defined in the soc.culture.belarus charter. Please contact the s.c.b. co-moderators if you feel censorship has taken place.

A charge of censorship is a very serious accusation. (All politely expressed points of view about Belarus are welcome on s.c.b. "netiquette" is required. Whether the co-moderator agrees with or disagrees with the point of view of the author of a submission has nothing whatsoever to do with whether a submission is approved--or not approved.)

Until recently, "off-topic" messages, and profane, insulting, long-winded harrangues having nothing to do with the particular usenet forum were the biggest reason for having moderators. Today, "spam" (usually commercial advertising, often of an explicitly sexual nature) is the main reason for having moderators. We often receive complaints from parents about explicit language. These parents would like their children to have the opportunity to learn more about the world, including about Belarus, and they feel they have a right to do so without being assaulted with profanity, rudeness, etc. (Moderators would rather be doing anything else but being moderators. It is an unpaid, tedious, time-consuming task, that is often criticized, sometimes rudely. These criticisms take up a lot of time to reply to as well.)


What is "Netiquette"?

"Netiquette" refers to etiquette on the Internet ('Net + etiquette). As with any social interaction, there are guidelines that help demonstrate respect and courtesy for one another, and help to ensure that the opportunity for communication to take place.

A good starting point for learning about usenet (and mailing list) netiquette is the file, "Rules for Posting to Usenet." It is posted regularly to the newsgroups "news.misc" and "news.answers."

These files can also be found on the Web at http://www.cs.ruu.nl/wais/html/na-dir/usenet/posting-rules/part1.html and there is a humorous & satiric version, "Dear Emily Postnews," at http://www.cs.ruu.nl/wais/html/na-dir/usenet/emily-postnews/part1.html


Why do we need both soc.culture.belarus and the Belarus Discussion (E-Mail) List?

Belarus is an independent country with a rich culture, its own language, and many wonderful traditions. Historically, Belarus has often been dominated by its neighbor countries, often brutally subjugated by them as well. Of course, this is the past. Today, Belarus and all of Europe are learning the importance of cooperation, especially in the area of trade.

However, the current political and economic turmoil in Belarus, including political repression, human rights violations, limitations on the media and free speech, etc., reinforce the need for the "bright light" of public forums, including those on the Internet, to shine on those who would destroy the country and its people (either intentionally or through arrogance and ignorance).

Consistent with her independence, Belarus needs her own forums on the Internet. Belarus for too long has been part of something else, and this has included discussions on the Internet. A casual look at other newsgroup postings with "Belarus" in the subject line will show that the overwhelming majority of follow-up postings have nothing whatsoever to do with Belarus.

The usenet newsgroups that belong to the "Big 8" have the widest, world-wide distribution of any newsgroups on the Internet. Those of us who worked to create soc.culture.belarus feel strongly that Belarus belongs there. The Belarus discussion (e-mail) list creates a similar, though slightly different, discussion forum. Both are important to increasing the possibilities and visibility for Belarus.

Please read the charter of soc.culture.belarus and the welcome file/charter for the Belarus discussion (e-mail) list. If you have any questions about either of them, please contact me or the other co-moderators and co-listowners (their e-mail addresses are in the CFV/charter and welcome file/charter).

Note that these documents can be revised, as needed, and the process to do so is described in the them. Both forums are intended to be positive, supportive forums for all who are interested in Belarus. They will succeed and develop only if people want them to and also participate -- and not simply "lurk". We welcome your participation!




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