From: Kimiko Ryokai
Newsgroup Analysis

I have looked at several different newsgroups. Some were newsgroups functioning mainly as a public bulletin board, where people post different things for sale (e.g. rec.antiques). Some were more discussion oriented groups (e.g. alt.activism). In both types of newsgroups, I did not encounter any obvious anonymous authors as described in Donath (in press). All the messages I read seemed to have either full name (whether real or not) or an abstract login name (e.g. "eggplant") of the author. I found myself thinking abstract login names are more dubious than full names. But it's just a fact of human nature to trust a person/persona with a full name because that's what we are used to and doubt a person with something different than a full name.

What should we take seriously is a good question to ask when we look at a person's login name or the address in on-line communication. It is easy for a person to obtain different e-mail addresses today. Many on-line companies(?) are giving out free e-mail accounts to people, and we could be affiliated with a number of institutions and companies. I myself have five different e-mail addresses. Some have my first name as a login name and others have a combination of my first initial and last name, "kryokai," making my name somewhat less obvious. In any case, it is an interesting issue to think about the power we have in the choosing of what we want our login name or e-mail address to be, how it is to represent us, and also the way we discriminate messages that we read according to the authors' login name or e-mail address.

As described in the AOL user example in Donath, we care a lot about the simple one line of login name and e-mail address. I am very conscious about my e-mail addresses. One of mine,, tells a lot about me. A person who sees it may be able to guess that I'm a student at MIT and do a lot of stuff with computers. Another person may be able to do a search on 'kimiko' to get my telephone number or address by going to a MIT website. If I were participating in the newsgroup: alt.activism and posting a message about "Clinton: prosecuting perjury in civil cases" I probably do not want to use my address. Rather, I'll use more general sounding address from my list of addresses, such as, Just so that I feel more secure that some angry person will not come knocking on my door. On the other hand, if I were using in sending a message to Media Lab message group (though it's not a newsgroup), I will probably not get any reply.

Though a line of e-mail address can tell a lot about the author, it also can tell so little about the author. One minute I could be representing MIT Media Lab but the next minute, I could be kryokai from NorthForkNet. The line of address gives us an illusion of a person being a representative of that particular group, whether it's the Media Lab or the AOL. Yet by having different addresses with different login names, we can still cover ourselves to certain extent. It is a paradox in which we may or may not have an answer.

One thing I found useful in looking at newsgroup messages was to learn more about the author's activities. With Infoseek (, for example, we can search different newsgroups. What is nice about Infoseek is that it gives us information about the author's activities as to how many messages s/he has written to the different newsgroups in the past. The following is an example of a person, "llizard," whose activities has been reported by the Infoseek engine:

	Author Profile

	Author: llizard <> 

	818 unique articles posted. 
	Number of articles posted to individual newsgroups (slightly 
	skewed by cross-postings):

	651 alt.ascii-art 
	68 alt.ascii-art.animation 
	27 rec.gardens 
	23 tor.eats 
	13 alt.alt.test 
	6 rec.gardens.edible 
	2 alt.adoption 
	2 rec.arts.movies.current-films 
	2 rec.bicycles.rides 
	2 tor.general 
	1 ab.politics 
	1 alt.test 
	1 comp.infosystems.www.authoring.html

Looking at this list of articles posted by llizard is far more informative than just looking at his address: From the list, we can see that llizard is a quite ascii-art enthusiast and also interested in gardening. The list provides us with a sense of what the author is interested and concerned with. I believe it is a great way to find out who the author is as opposed to just passively listening to what the author says who s/he is.

Social Structure of the Group:

One of the newsgroups I looked at was an ascii-art group, (alt.ascii-art). In this group, I repeatedly saw the same names and people using rich signature files that include their web address. Authors in alt.ascii-art have many art clips to share with others and they ask people to include their credit if their art works were to be used elsewhere. In a way, in this group, alt.ascii-art, people are trying to let other people know about their name. Trolling may be rare in a group like this.

It was also interesting to see how a particular group tries to maintain their discussion only in their specific area of interest. In alt.ascii-art, I saw a message asking a person to take his discussion to somewhere else (he even gave him a specific newsgroup) and warning him that his topic was way off for alt.ascii-art. This warning message was from a frequent writer in the group whether the addressee knew it or not, that somehow made that message more authoritative.

There was a message also in alt.ascii-art basically complaining about the quality of their discussion:

	>When I first saw this group, I was impressed at how helpful and
	>receptive you were, but after seeing this, well, I'm not so sure.

The reply to this message was quick and came from a frequent writer in the group:

	Oh come on now...what do you reckon it is going to be like in 
	this newsgroup when people DO make what they think are Ascii Art 
	pictures and DO post stuff like the example below provided by the 
	program's author ?  
	We get enough garbage as it is without shareware programs to make
	more garbage.

How she uses "we" is interesting. She probably means "we" as those including her who can talk about things alt.ascii-art should be talking about, and the guy who doubts the quality of their discussion is an outsider. Perhaps, people like this guy who criticize the overall quality of a group or the guy who creates off-topic discussions become problematic participants of a group. However, the kind of group management by frequent writers as I saw in alt.ascii-art maintain the characteristic of a particular group.


A lot of replies in a newsgroup start with "Yes," "I agree," "No," "That's not true," and other phrases that assume readers know to which message it is replying to. Unlike everyday aural conversation, the responses in newsgroup are sent sometime after the original message, minutes, hours, or days later. Most of the replies include the original message it's replying to or referencing to ensure that "Yes" in one's reply means "Yes" in reply to a particular message.

The following is an example of a message in reply to a message that was also a reply to a message:

	In article <>,
	Kevin A. Roll <> wrote:
	>David Makin wrote:
	>> I asked Micheal to determine if Kallstrom did *not* have the 
	>> *authority* to give the flag away.
	>> If he *had* the correct *authority*, then Michael owes 
	>> Kallstrom a public apology (re: Micheals accusations) and the 
	>> removal of such accusations from
	>> Micheals web page.
	>How can one be given "authority" to violate federal law???
	Depends on the law, doesn't it?
	If, like the one regarding aircraft wreckage, the law explicitly permits
	people with proper authority to dispose of the wreckage as they see
	fit, it's easy.  All you need is to be one of the people in charge
	of the investigation.

Including an original message works well since readers do not have to jump around different places to see which message is replied to which message.

Sometime, a message may contain more than one questions. In order to over come the time between messages, we include the original message and insert our replies to where we think they should go:

	> After all, this is  An example code is ASCII 
	> code 1 ( ) or
	> ASCII code 2 ( ).
	I know from experience that in DOS this is a smile face and an 
	inversc smile face but in my news reader it just looks like a little 
	box.The little box denotes that it is a control code or an extended 
	ascii that this font doesn't support a symbol for.
	> One way to do it in many text editors is to hit ALT-code
	> (entered from the number pad).  Unfortunately, many people do 
	> not have access to a list of ASCII codes (there are, after all, 
	> 256).  
	You don't need to remember any codes.The only ones that are "cool" 
	here are the 	ones that you can see on your keyboard.

I perceive this as a pseudo conversation. A person who is replying imagines the situation of having conversation with the person who wrote the original message. There is a turn taking behavior in a very artificial way. Yet, sometimes, I am so used to this pseudo conversation style in e-mail communication with people, when I'm writing a long message, I feel like I am writing a message expecting the addressee to fill in a blank I imagine in my message.