Getting Help On Usenet - And Believing What You're Told

Usenet, and other online forums, will always be the best place on the Internet for free help. The true geeks hang out in the forums there, because Usenet (or its predecessors, the dialup bulletin boards) has been around before the Web, when a forum was a computer with one or more modems, and posting to a forum meant dialing up to that computer. If you have a Usenet Reader, don't just use web based forums, and you've been around for a while, you may know what I mean.

The best - and the worst - thing about Usenet is the anonymity. You can be who ever you wish to be, and nobody can tell the difference. Anonymity on Usenet is a blessing, and a curse. If you need advice, how do you know who to trust?

Common sense is a good way to start.

  • Look for a forum where the posts contain serious, well stated questions, and serious, well stated answers.
  • Look for a forum where people seem to use first and last names, or first names anyway, and where people seem to recognise and respect each other.
  • Avoid forums where people post in "leet speak", or use mysterious names.
  • Avoid forums where half the posts consist of arguments, or flame wars.

Here, Google is your friend. Google has all Usenet forums, archived for some time previous. When you find a forum where you feel comfortable, and find persons who seem to be useful, spend some time reading older posts.

Peer review is a benefit of Usenet. The helpers in a forum where serious help is provided will not tolerate bad technical advice. Anybody speaking from lack of knowledge will be quickly corrected. Look for helpers who provide careful, well stated advice, and who don't get corrected a lot. Or look for helpers who make mistakes, accept and acknowlege their mistakes, and fix their mistakes. Remember that many helpers are learning too.

Remember, anybody can post on Usenet, and can use any name that they like. Be careful when you accept advice - if you find what looks like good advice, spend some time reading previous posts by that advisor, and make sure the content and style of all articles is consistent. Make sure that the advice you're accepting is from someone who has been providing advice for a while, and not by an imposter or imitator - in serious help forums, anybody giving bogus or misleading advice won't be tolerated for long.

In short, don't be mislead by trolls.

And, when you ask for help, try and fit in. If you respect and trust the helpers, it's likely that they will respect and help you.

Help Us To Help You.

  • Trust us.
  • Provide relevant background information about your problem.
  • Don't edit or munge the diagnostic data requested. Since you don't know what the problem is (if you do, why are you looking for help?), you don't know what detail might be relevant to its diagnosis.