From: Fernanda Viegas
Newsgroup analysis

Groups analyzed:

I had never been part of any newsgroup before this assignment. Therefore I decided to enter several different groups to get a feel for the dynamics in each one of them. Even though they all make use of the same interface and pre-resolved format, it was not too difficult for me to get a sense of the qualities inherent to each group. By reading only a few of the postings I was able to start picturing what kinds of communities those where. I found this differentiation aspect a quite interesting phenomenon since the only thing I had to rely on was mostly the content of the postings I was reading.

It is clear that different newsgroups follow different interaction "rules". In most technical groups I entered the postings were mainly informational and, for the most part, were kept short. Those were the kinds of messages where a user would post a specific question on a subject and someone in the group would write back answering or giving suggestions as to what to try next. In non-technical groups, messages tended to be a little longer. It was also very clear which groups were comprised partly of people who either knew each other in real life or had been exchanging postings for a while. This aspect lead to a two-folded event: interaction would either be more friendly than that between people who don’t know each other, or messages would take a much harsher tone quite often leading to flaming and hate mail. In either way, messages tented to be at a much more personal level.

Flaming is one of the most common phenomena in newsgroup postings. No matter what kind of newsgroup I was in, sooner or later I would come across some kind of flame message. For quite different reasons people will get either upset or offended at each other and send out "attack" postings. The peculiar thing is that most times, it only takes one flame message to send several subscribers into a flaming rage. The tone of postings decays very rapidly and attacks become more personal and harsh. The flame threads in several newsgroups read more like purging sections than actual debates about the subject at hand.

These are sections of sequential postings on on Friday, February 20 1998:

Subject: Re: Critique my site
Date: Fri, 20 Feb 1998 15:35:30 -0500
From: (Molly B. Denum)

And for God's sake, how many morons have to be told the difference between YOUR and YOU'RE ?
If YOU'RE going to call people lame, at least be able to spell YOUR words correctly.
And the word THAT'S is a contraction also, the words THAT and IS are joined and the APOSTROPHE (') is necessary to indicate the omitted letterI. It is not optional, pinhead!
Quit making all Americans look like retards who don't know the difference between LOSE and LOOSE and other, oft-repeated mistakes in simple words in our own language


Subject: Re: Critique my site
Date: Fri, 20 Feb 1998 16:22:44 -0500
From: "Coral Sea ." <coral_sea@mindpring.<add com>>

Naturally yer' postin' is doin' a hole lot of help, Bitch'
YOUR posting is considered bad form.....It is not good netiquete to correct spelling and grammarical errors.
Since my company donated a cosiderable amount of funds to the Children's Medical Center, at the Medical College of Georgia, I have take great exception to the term "retard".
Finally, I'm Irish, I was born in Southern Hibernia. I didn't speak english until I was 14. I spoke Gaelic. I immigrated to the US in 1962 and became a citizen in 1969 and Join the US Navy in 1972. I retired in 1992 and Created this company. I still have a trace accent.
So Go Fuck yourself.
-H King, EWC, USN (ret.)

This particular exchange resulted in fifteen more postings divided in three sub threads. Subjects ranged from misspellings to Irish heritage, to the American educational system and society. One of the subscribers even cynically hinted at the possibility of someone writing a let’s-get-along message:

Subject: Re: Critique my site
Date: Fri, 20 Feb 1998 17:25:20 -0500
From: Bob Trieger <>

This is classic. All we need now is some liberal to say, "can't we all just get along?"
The original site sucks, it's rude and has broken javascript. The mick was right in his 
critique, but he owes Molly an apology for misreading and replying so rudely to her post.

Bob Trieger
"supeona Lewinsky's tonsils!"


In a certain way, even though he made fun of it, this user was trying to set things straight between the parts involved in the argument.

One of the most interesting things for me in reading newsgroups postings were the existent threads. The reason for my interest in the "threaded" postings might be explained by the interaction involved. Single postings "sounded" to me like words in the wind; as far as I could tell nobody had read them nor bothered to respond/comment. Threads, on the other hand, entail a more conversational mode where two or more individuals engage in exchanging messages about a particular subject.