Bostwick, David E.; Shealy, Sarah J.; Busch, Kenneth L.
School of Chemistry and Biochemistry
Georgia Institute of Technology
Atlanta, GA 30332-0400
A Usenet newsgroup is an area on the Internet reserved for discussion of a specific topic. Several thousand groups exist, with topics ranging from Egyptian archaeology to what is the best way to get rid of Barney the dinosaur. Over time, the procedure for newsgroup creation has become formalized for the "Big 8" groups, which cover science, society, humanities, recreation, computers, Internet news, topical discussions, and miscellaneous groups. Groups under these hierarchies require a vote to show sufficient interest to justify creation and propagation by the administrator of each Usenet site. Newsgroups that pass such a vote are carried at almost all sites. Another hierarchy exists under the alt.* grouping, and groups can be created there without a vote. Many sites do not carry alt.* groups, for reasons of both content and disk space requirements. Additionally, there are local interest groups, organized by institution, city, state, or other characteristic.
The creation of a newsgroup for mass spectrometry has been discussed by ASMS members for several years. Other newsgroups exist for such techniques as NMR and X-ray crystallography, as well as for various branches of chemistry, physics, and other sciences. These newsgroups permit a more rapid exchange of information than journals, although perhaps in less detail. They also allow quick distribution of time-sensitive information such as announcements of conferences and local meetings. One of the greatest benefits is the ability to ask a question and receive an answer in a short time, often within a few hours.
In March 1995, the process to create a mass spectrometry newsgroup was begun. Since the proposed group was to be in the science hierarchy, a formal vote was required. This involved choosing a name for the group, writing a rationale for its creation, and drafting a charter to describe how the newsgroup would be administered. It was also decided to propose that the newsgroup be moderated. Moderation requires the approval of a posting before it appears in the newsgroup, while posting to an unmoderated group is automatic. After examining both types of groups, moderation appeared to be the better choice, to keep junk mail, "spam," and other off-topic articles out of the group. The vote for sci.techniques.mass-spec was taken in May. It passed easily, and the group began operation in June.
In the eleven months since the newsgroup was created, approximately 750 postings have been received. Figure 1 shows the geographic distribution of the origin of the postings. In the United States, approximately 50% of the postings were from academic sites, 40% were from companies, and 10% were from government laboratories.
Figure 2 illustrates the topics discussed in the newsgroup. The majority of topics were requests for information such as instrument comparisons, interpretation of spectra, advice on instrument or software problems, and suggestions of procedures to accomplish a task.
One of the goals of the newsgroup was to provide a place for users to ask questions and receive prompt replies. The achievement of this goal is shown in Figure 3. Of those who asked a question, 62% received at least one response in the newsgroup, and many received several. Users have also received private responses via electronic mail, which increases the total number of responses. Responses are usually received within a day or two, showing that the newsgroup is a timely source of information.
Responses are also independent of time zones. A user may ask a question at the end of the day, and return the next morning to see an answer from someone halfway around the world. In addition, a user does not need to be able to read Usenet newsgroups directly to take part in discussions. Anyone with an electronic mail address can submit articles for posting, and can receive a summary of postings on a regular basis. This gives the newsgroup world-wide coverage, with a wider impact than journals or conferences.
News reader programs exist for nearly every computer and operating system, and most sites provide access to several. A news reader program keeps a list of the newsgroups carried at its site, and records which groups each user is subscribed to. New postings in these groups will be offered to the user each time the program is started. When new groups are created, the program will ask the user if he or she wishes to subscribe to them, and will update the list accordingly. To subscribe to sci.techniques.mass-spec, use the "go" or "search" commands of the news reader to locate the newsgroup, and subscribe to it when it is found.
A World Wide Web browser can also be used to read newsgroups. To access the mass spectrometry newsgroup, tell the browser to go to news:sci.techniques.mass-spec. Most browsers will also keep a list of subscribed newsgroups, although the search for new groups is not usually automatic. A separate news reader program is required for most browsers.
As noted above, if the user does not have access to Usenet newsgroups, articles may be submitted by electronic mail. The address for article submission is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Postings can also be obtained by electronic mail. John Bartmess of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville administers a listserver, and mails summaries to subscribers regularly. To subscribe to the mailing list, send a message to email@example.com, with no subject, and "subscribe stmslist" as the body. To unsubscribe, send the message "unsubscribe stmslist."
Archives of postings are kept at several places. The main archive is at Georgia Tech, and can be reached by either FTP or the Web. Postings are indexed by year and month. The group's charter is also here, as are instructions for using John Bartmess' listserver.
To access the archives via FTP, connect to ftp.gatech.edu. Use the login name "anonymous," and enter your e-mail address as the password. When the login is complete, change to the sci.techniques.mass-spec directory, which is /pub/mass-spec. The files will then be listed, and may be viewed or downloaded using the FTP program's commands.
To use a Web browser, point it to ftp://ftp.gatech.edu/pub/mass-spec. The file list will appear, and files may be downloaded using the browser's commands.
Kermit Murray has one of the largest pages, with links to many more.
Mass Spectrometry Societies
American Society for Mass Spectrometry
Australia and New Zealand Society for Mass Spectrometry
Italian Home Page on Mass Spectrometry
The Internet has made it possible for people to gain a wider audience for many of the same money-making schemes that have been around for years, as well as to create new ones. Probably the most common advertisement is for telephone numbers with a 900 area code, or the equivalent outside the United States. Below are some examples of what moderation filters out.
Subject: This is a test This is a test This is a test This is a test This is a test
TEST TEST TEST TEST TEST TEST TEST TEST TEST TEST TEST (2 pages of this)
And, a few minutes later...
Subject: This is a test This is a test This is a test This is a test This is a test
This is a test This is a test This is a test This is a test This is a test (2 more pages)
Subject: CHECK THIS OUT!!!! EASIEST MONEY EVER!!!!
Hello! I've got some awesome news that I think you need to take two minutes to read if you have ever thought "How could I make some serious cash in a hurry???" , or been in serious debt, ready to do almost anything to get the money needed to pay off those bill collectors. So grab a snack, a warm cup of coffee, or a glass of your favorite beverage, get comfortable and listen to this interesting, exciting find!
Subject: Renters .... Buy a Home with No $$ Down
WOULD YOU CONVERT YOUR CURRENT RENTAL PAYMENTS INTO MORTGAGE PAYMENTS ON A NEW HOME IF THE DOWN PAYMENT AND CLOSING COSTS WERE TAKEN CARE OF FOR YOU?.................................................
IF YOUR EMPLOYER GAVE YOU AN INCREASE IN YOUR TAKE HOME PAY TO COVER THE LEASE PAYMENTS ON A NEW CAR WOULD YOU TRADE YOUR OLD CAR AND LEASE A NEW ONE?............................................
If you answered YES to both questions I have a program which can make this a reality for you...................NOW................
Articles posted from a newsreader will be sent here automatically.
Not for articles, but to report problems or to ask questions.
Send a message with no subject, and "subscribe stmslist" as the body.
World Wide Web Page
Links to FTP site and to other mass spectrometry resources
As with any organization, the Internet has a language of its own. Below are a few examples of Internet terms. There are several Web pages that contain Internet dictionaries; some of these definitions were taken from http://www.msg.net/kadow/answers/.
Frequently Asked Questions, or the document containing the answers.
A caustic response to a post, usually including personal attacks on the poster's character and intelligence. A single flame often escalates into a flame war.
An acronym for File Transfer Protocol, a method of retrieving files to your computer. There are thousands of FTP sites on the Internet, offering files and programs of all kinds.
To read a newsgroup without posting any messages. This is usually a good idea for newbies, to prevent their being flamed.
A newcomer to the Internet.
Spam (or Spamming)
Sending unwanted messages to a public forum, especially sending the message to many inappropriate newsgroups. The term probably comes from a famous Monty Python skit which featured the word "spam" repeated over and over. (Spam is a registered trademark of Hormel Corporation for its processed meat product.)
A message posted for the sole purpose of provoking a flame war. Also, the person sending the post.
The Web page currently contains only basic information about the newsgroup, with links to e-mail addresses and to the FTP site. This page will be updated regularly with links to other mass spectrometric resources. To submit a link, send mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. The documents specific to sci.techniques.mass-spec will be available on the Web page as well as at the FTP site.
As more postings are received, some questions will occur often enough to justify their inclusion in the FAQ list. This list will be available on the Web page and at the FTP site.