Untapped GovNews groups spring eternal with federal material

If there's a shining star in Internet UseNet News, it has to be the GovNews group.
Organized last year with help from FinanceNet, a cooperative association affiliated with
Vice President Gore's National Partnership for Reinventing Government, GovNews has become
a large and active resource for information sharing by government users.


Users who have visited other UseNet groups know how overloaded they are by spam
advertisements and repetitive messages. Too much noise discourages participation. But the
GovNews groups are an exception. Most are moderated, and those that aren't don't seem to
suffer from heavy spam.


On the UseNet hierarchy, the top level is known as .gov. Branches have names
such as gov.topic.info or gov.us.fed. Look deep enough and you'll find
ongoing discussions of year 2000 tools, good sources for computer equipment and places to
get legal assistance on complex federal requirements.


Many government employees still don't access UseNet because they don't know how, and
even network administrators don't participate in the UseNet news feed. If you can't read
the news on your local server, here are some ways to get access quickly.


The best starting point is DejaNews, a free Web newsreader at http://www.Dejanews.com. When you reach the top level
of DejaNews, you won't see the .gov groups listed. Look for the "Browse
groups" pointer.


Once you're in the browse area, you still won't see .gov. But you can enter it
in the space after "Group." Hit the browse button and you'll jump to the top of
the .gov message tree.


DejaNews lets you search by keyword across multiple message areas, so you can find year
2000 messages in .gov and other areas.


One disadvantage is that you can't use server-side filtering methods.


If you'd rather subscribe to news groups and read them locally, look for a public news
server. Visit http://www.yahoo.com/News_and_Media/Usenet/Public_Access_Usenet_Sites/to
see a list of sites that let visitors read and post news.


Most are special-interest sites that filter out all but a couple hundred of the more
than 20,000 newsgroups available on UseNet. Some filter addresses used by known spammers.


Select a server from the list and tell your news browser to look to that site as your
Network News Transfer Protocol (NNTP) server. If you have Netscape Communicator, just
click on a server and it will load in your Collabora discussion area.


For other browsers, you must set network preferences yourself.


Choose "View all groups" the first time you visit, then subscribe to the
specific groups you want to monitor.


The Usenet2 consortium, a group of network administrators, is working to establish a
parallel UseNet system they can regulate, thereby controlling spam messages. Details
appear at usenet2.vrx.net. Visit http://www.usenet2.org/.


If speed and control are important to you, install an NNTP server on your network and
configure it to offer just a handful of newsgroups, such as the .gov group. You can
then add other newsgroups as you learn which ones are worthwhile.


Details on how to tap into the UseNet stream, plus answers to frequently asked UseNet
questions, appear at http://sunsite.unc.edu/usenet-i/.


To set up your own government-related news group, visit http://www.govnews.org/govnews/site-setup/faq/index.html for the requirements.


If you want to get fancier, Netscape Communications Corp.'s Collabra Server offers
proprietary extensions that let users establish their own workgroup discussion areas
viewable in a newsreader.


Shawn P. McCarthy is a computer journ-alist, webmaster and Internet programmerfor
Cahners Publishing Co. E-mail him at smccarthy@cahners.com.


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