Usenet lies at the centre of Internet culture, and is the beating heart that pumps the ideas, concepts and beliefs around its binary body. Composed of hundreds and hundreds of individual newsgroups on topics that range from the Rocky Horror Picture Show to the culture of Argentina, it is packed full of information, misinformation, opinions and facts.

If you're interested in joining in, then there are a number of ways to do so. If you have taken advantage of our CompuServe deal, you might well have already found Usenet buried among the many other services the company offers. If you haven't, go to "Find", type "Usenet", press return and then just follow the instructions.

Perhaps the easiest way of joining Usenet, however, is via the latest version of Netscape's World Wide Web browser. Go to the Options/Preferences menu and then to the Mail/News section. Enter the name of your news server (if you don't know it, contact your Internet Service Provider) and your e-mail address. When you return to the browser type "newsre:" and you'll be able to list all of the available newsgroups on offer, and subscribe to the ones that take your fancy.

Once you're on-line, given Usenet's social nature, it should come as no surprise that the majority of rules and regulations you have to absorb are interpersonal rather than technical. These rules form something known as Netiquette, which applies not just to Usenet, but to all parts of the Internet. Netiquette is most important on Usenet, however, because it is most susceptible to abuse, if only because a large number of the newsgroups do not have anyone in overall control who can vet each posting.

The most important of all rules on Usenet is not to post irrelevant mail. Spend a while lurking - reading, but not actually posting anything yourself. It is also worth checking whether a newsgroup contains an FAQ - a Frequently Asked Questions list - which will not only provide valuable information, but will avoid the same postings appearing over and over again.

The worst form of the irrelevant post is the "cross-post" - the same mail sent to a large number of newsgroups. And the worst form of cross- post is the advertisement. Many companies have attempted to use Usenet as an incredibly cheap form of advertising - a neat idea in theory, but one which probably only alienates potential customers.

Finally, you may find it quite tempting to put your post in drop caps in the hope of catching someone's attention. Unfortunately, using drop caps is the equivalent of shouting in Usenet, and just as in real life, no one likes being shouted at.

The remainder of Netiquette is largely common sense. If you don't cross- post, and aren't gratuitously rude you should survive. Just be cautious and take your time learning the ways of each individual newsgroup and one of the world's greatest sources of communication, entertainment and information will be yours.

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