Further Adventures of the Usenet Newsgroup sci.techniques.mass-spec

David E. Bostwick1, Sarah J. Shealy1, John E. Bartmess2

1Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA
2University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN


The creation of the Internet has provided the ability to share information on a worldwide basis. Beginning with transmissions of simple text, the Internet has become a conduit for sending almost any sort of data anywhere within reach of a telephone line or communications satellite.

One of the earliest methods of sharing information was the use of newsgroups, which are discussions about a particular subject consisting of messages written to a central Internet site and redistributed via the Internet. This collection of newsgroups is called Usenet, and groups exist for virtually any topic. It is not possible to obtain an accurate count of newsgroups, but estimates are that between 80,000 and 100,000 newsgroups currently exist, and more are created each day.

A newsgroup is a public bulletin board. Messages are posted to the group and responses to the original article are added to that discussion thread. Time and distance are not barriers to the discussion, since articles may be read at the user's convenience, and responses may come from anywhere in the world.

History of sci.techniques.mass-spec

The newsgroup sci.techniques.mass-spec was created in 1995 as an additional resource for those interested in mass spectrometry. Among the goals were permitting users to ask questions and receive replies quickly, allowing faster distribution of information about mass spectrometry, encouraging discussion about mass spectrometry among scientists in other fields, and providing references to other mass spectrometry-related sites on the Internet.

Sci.techniques.mass-spec was created as a moderated group, which means that articles must be approved before they are posted. Moderation helps prevent abuse of the newsgroup, such as articles about get-rich-quick schemes, advertisements that have no relationship to mass spectrometry, or other posts that hinder discussion. As the Internet has grown, these types of articles have become more common.

Some newsgroups have strict moderation policies, and articles that do not meet those policies are rejected. Moderation of sci.techniques.mass-spec, however, has been light, and only articles that are obviously off-topic are rejected.

Growth of the newsgroup

Since the newsgroup's creation, the number of articles posted has increased each year, as shown in Figure 1. More articles were posted from January-April of 1999 than were posted from June-December of 1995. This is in contrast to the activity in similar newsgroups, in which the number of articles has declined in recent years. This decline may be due to the increase in new Internet forums, especially Web-based resources. Usage of sci.techniques.mass-spec, however, has increased in parallel with the expansion of Web resources in mass spectrometry.

Figure 2 shows the cyclical activity common to most newsgroups, with fewer articles posted during the traditional summer and winter vacation times.

Some companies deny or restrict access to the Internet, so a remailer was set up to allow people at those sites to contribute to the newsgroup. Subscribers receive a collection of articles several times each week, which allows them to participate in the discussions. Articles for submission are mailed directly to the newsgroup. The remailer has also grown steadily, as shown in Figure 3, and there are now more than 500 subscribers.

Trends in Sources of Postings

Since the newsgroup's creation, several trends have developed.

Help Me!

One of the goals for the newsgroup was to provide a resource for users to find answers to questions about techniques, instruments, or problems. In the first year of operation, about 62% of questions received a response. That value has increased to approximately 70% in 1999. Newsgroup articles have also reflected the increased usage of mass spectrometry in biochemistry.

Readership Survey

To judge the usefulness of the newsgroup, readers were asked if they read the newsgroup directly or by subscribing to the remailer, and if they were members of ASMS or another national mass spectrometry society. There were 173 responses, with the following results.

The results indicate that the newsgroup reaches a larger audience than just ASMS members, and that scientists in other fields are participating in the discussions. The value of the remailer for those whose Internet access is restricted is also apparent.

Participating in sci.techniques.mass-spec

Newsgroups can be accessed with either a standalone news reader or a Web browser. Both programs must be told the identity of the local news server, and that information is available from those who administer the computers.

A news reader maintains a list of newsgroups carried at its site and notes which newsgroups each user is subscribed to. New articles in those groups will be offered to the user each time the program starts. When new groups are created, the user will be given the option of subscribing to those groups. To participate in sci.techniques.mass-spec, use the search function of the news reader to locate the newsgroup, and subscribe to it when it is found.

Most current Web browsers include a news reader. To read the newsgroup with a Web browser, tell the browser to go to <news:sci.techniques.mass-spec>. Web browsers also keep a list of subscribed newsgroups, but the search for new groups is not usually automatic.

Several Web sites archive articles and allow newsgroup posting. Probably the largest is at <http://www.deja.com>.

Users at sites that limit or block Internet access can still read articles by subscribing to the remailer. To subscribe, send a message to <maiser@novell.chem.utk.edu>. Leave the subject blank, and include "subscribe stmslist" as the body. You should receive a confirmation message, and then begin receiving groups of articles every few days. Articles may be submitted directly to the newsgroup by sending them to <mass.spec@gatech.edu>.

Monthly archives of all articles are accessible from the Web page at <http://web.chemistry.gatech.edu/~bostwick/stms/>. Many topics have generated enough interest to justify collecting their articles into separate files, and those files can be reached from the Web page. The Web page also has links to other mass spectrometry resources on the Internet.

For more detailed information about subscribing to the newsgroup or to the remailer, go to <http://web.chemistry.gatech.edu/~bostwick/stms/poster96.html> or see reference [1].

Newsgroup Addresses

Article Submission           <mass.spec@gatech.edu>
    Articles posted from a news reader or Web browser will be sent here

Contact address              <mass.spec-request@chemistry.gatech.edu>
    Not for articles, but to report problems or to ask questions.

    David Bostwick           <david.bostwick@chemistry.gatech.edu>
    Sarah Shealy               <sarah.shealy@chemistry.gatech.edu>

Remailer                          <maiser@novell.chem.utk.edu>
    Send a message with no subject, and "subscribe stmslist" as the body.

Remailer owner
    John Bartmess            <jbartmess@utk.edu>

World Wide Web page    <http://web.chemistry.gatech.edu/~bostwick/stms/>
    Links to the FTP site and to other mass spectrometry resources

FTP site                           <ftp://ftp.gatech.edu/pub/mass-spec/>
    Archive of all articles posted to the newsgroup, as well as files containing
    all of the discussion on various topics

Other Internet Resources

The presence of mass spectrometry on the Internet has increased greatly in just a few years. Any list of Web pages, listservers, or other resources will exclude many fine ones. Fortunately, most will link to others, and a few starting points are listed here.

    Edited by Kermit Murray - an excellent place to start

    Links for chemists at the University of Liverpool

    Links and a listserver for ICP-MS

    An on-line discussion group and a listserver for SIMS

    An on-line discussion group for chromatography from LC•GC magazine

    A listserver run by the Association of Biomolecular Resource Facilities


[1] Bostwick, David E.; Shealy, Sarah J.; Busch, Kenneth L. 44th ASMS Conference on Mass Spectrometry and Allied Topics; Portland, OR, 1996; p 1174.

The poster referenced above is available at <http://web.chemistry.gatech.edu/~bostwick/stms/poster96.html>.

The current poster is available at <http://web.chemistry.gatech.edu/~bostwick/stms/poster99.pdf> and <http://web.chemistry.gatech.edu/~bostwick/stms/poster99.html>.