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|Crazy Aunt in the Internet Attic
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by Joe Harkins - July 26, 2000
NewsGroups are the "crazy aunt in the attic" of the Internet. Most surfers don't know they exist or, at best, don't realize how many there are because their Internet Service provider doesn't make all of them available. Like that embarrassing relative, NGs are at times noisy, uncontrolled, foul-mouthed, truth-telling, delusional, hilarious and upsetting to be around.
But many people believe that NewsGroups, also known as Usenet Groups or Message Boards, are a better tool for planning travel than web sites.
There are, in the wild, about 80 or 90 thousand Internet addresses where the content is not a web page, but a constantly evolving bulletin board of messages posted by people who have a question about, or a passion for, the subject of that group. Topics can be as wholesome as recipes for Mom's Apple Pie or an anarchist's stew of off-beat, salacious, provocative, politically incorrect or even illegal and indigestible stuff. Of course, this menu also includes occasional slabs of spam.
Postings to the groups are easily made anonymously which means messages can be impossible to trace back to the source. As a result, many are not your Grandfather's email. They are a mess of raw information, some of it incorrect, some of it self-serving or malicious but much of it is candid, informed and valuable. "Lurking", the practice of monitoring the messages in a group for a while, without making yourself known, is a way to identify credible members.
If you want a personal opinion of the island resort where you are planning to honeymoon, post the question in "rec.travel.caribbean" and you'll probably get a response from someone who was there last week. Did a taxi driver rip you off for a ride from Newark Airport to Manhattan? Tell the story in "nyc.transit" and someone may give you the phone number and email address where you can file a complaint. Is that "name your own price" web site a good deal? Ask that of the folks at "rec.travel.air" who have used it.
The software for reading NewGroups is called, of course, a News Reader. There's one built into your Internet browser. If you use Microsoft Internet Explorer, go to the menu at the top of the screen, click on "Tools", then click "Read News." For Netscape, go to the top menu, click on "Communicator," then "NewsGroups." If your reader is not already configured to find the groups, see BOL for illustrated, step-by-step instructions. Just substitute your own service and connection details for that shown in the examples.
Forte Free Agent is widely considered to be the best News Reader around and the free version offered on their web site is my personal favorite. Their own instructions for installing and using their product are not as clear as they could be however other web sites fill that gap. For example, go to Skynet and substitute the details from your own Internet connection for those in the illustrations.
The number of NewGroups that most service providers allow you to see is usually around 20 thousand but some allow up to 30 thousand. If you want access to the remaining 60 to 70 thousand, you'll need to subscribe to a private News Server such as Newsfeeds or Uncensored News. Another advantage of those private servers is they allow you to mask your address so that your posted messages use a confidential email identity.
To save you time, here's a selection of directories with links to hundreds of travel-related NewsGroups all over the world. There is some duplication of listings yet none of these lists is comprehensive. However, between them they cover most of the possibilities.
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