There is a need for a policy concerning the creation of local, University-only, Usenet newsgroups. The Computing Service would like to run the news service in a way which best meets the needs of the users. At the same time, experience with the mainstream news hierarchies indicates that news is more useful when some thought is given to group creation.
In general, local newsgroups should only be created where there is a need for discussions which are relevant only within the University. Where topics are of wider interest, University members should be participating in the worldwide groups relevant to those topics.
Newsgroups tend to be viable only if they attract a sufficiently large readership for a sufficiently long time. Thus, in general, groups should only be created once it has been demonstrated that there is a need for them, and only for topics which are likely to remain areas of interest; also, in general, it is better to create groups which cover wider areas, and to split off more-specific subgroups only if usage patterns indicate that they are warranted.
At present, the news server software does not allow for the creation of restricted-access newsgroups. Thus, it needs to be understood that any group which is created may be read by, and in general posted to by, anyone in the University. However, groups should be used reasonably, for postings relevant to their purposes, and in some cases violations of this principle may result in sanctions being applied.
Owing to the wide range of platforms upon which newsreaders and servers may be implemented, there are certain restrictions placed upon newsgroup names. A newsgroup name is a group of character strings separated by '.'s. No individual component, the part of a name between two '.'s, may exceed 14 characters in length. The components should be made up only of lower-case letters, numerals, and the '-' character.
With the above as background, we have identified 3 categories of local newsgroups which are likely to be useful: course-specific newsgroups; departmental newsgroups; and 'general' local newsgroups.
Course-specific newsgroups are those which are intended for use as course aids in the teaching of a single course, or group of courses, by a department within the University. Departmental groups are those intended for discussion which is only relevant to, or likely to be of interest to, members of a specific department. General local newsgroups are those which deal with local topics which are likely to be of interest across the University.
Course-specific newsgroups will be created at the request of the person responsible for the course. These groups will have a name in the form ubris.dept.<dept>.<course>, where <dept> is a string identifying the department responsible for the course, and <course> is a string identifying the specific course within the department. For example, the newsgroup ubris.dept.law.public is used for the Law Department's Public Law course. These groups are intended as an extension of the classroom, and may not be used in any inappropriate manner; the determination of what is appropriate is left to the persons responsible for the course.
Departmental newsgroups will be created at the request of the Head of Department, or the Computing Support Officer, of the department involved. As a single exception, the departmental newsgroup ubris.dept.<dept>.misc will be created for any department for which a course-specific newsgroup is created as described above. The normal form of departmental newsgroup names will be ubris.dept.<dept>.<topic>, where <dept> is, as above, a string identifying the department involved, and <topic> is a string identifying the topic under discussion. (Note that the topic 'misc' is a Usenet convention meaning 'any topic for which there is not a more-specific group'.) These newsgroups are considered to belong to the departments involved, and the Head of Department or the Computing Support Officer (or their designated representatives) will be responsible for determining what constitutes appropriate use of such groups.
In some cases, a different form of name may be more appropriate, and the Computing Service is willing to negotiate where this is felt to be true.
It is a long-standing Usenet tradition that the process for creation of general-interest newsgroups should be driven by the users of news, rather than the administrators. However, experience has shown that some degree of organisation and control is required if news is to be truly useful. Accordingly, the Computing Service has adopted a variant of the standard 'big-7' newsgroup creation process, scaled down for the smaller local audience.
The first rule is that there must be some evidence that there is actually a user demand for a specific place to carry on local discussions of some particular topic. The key word here is 'specific'. There is already an appropriate place for any local discussions, if only in one of the local .misc groups, such as ubris.misc or ubris.comp.misc. So, the place to start is by discussions in such a group. If the volume of discussion devoted to a particular topic grows to a sufficient size, that may indicate that a more-specific group should be created.
If it is believed that a topic-specific newsgroup is warranted, then the question of whether the group should be created should be raised in both ubris.uns and in the group where the topic is presently being discussed. If there appears to be some demand for the group, someone should volunteer themselves as the proposer, and should enter an article suggesting a proposed name for the new group - which must begin with ubris. - and the proposed 'charter' - what the group is intended to discuss. It is best not to try to split topics too finely; a more-general group is more likely to be useful, while a too-specific group is likely to die out.
The proposal should be left open for discussion for about a week; the discussion may result in either or both of the name and the charter being modified. When it appears that some form of consensus has been reached, the proposer should issue a 'CFV', a call for votes on the question of whether the group should be created. The proposer should specify that votes be mailed to him or her. The voting period should last for about a week, at the end of which the proposer should tally the votes and report them to the Computing Service. If at least 10 more people voted in favour of the group than voted against it, then the group will normally be created.
There are constraints imposed upon the use of University facilities, some imposed by law and some written into the various University rules and regulations. For this reason, the Computing Service reserves the right to refuse to create any particular group, even if it has 'passed' according to the criteria outlined above. Similarly, the Computing Service reserves the right to require that a different name be chosen for a proposed group, if it is felt that the proposed name will create confusion. If the proposer feels that a refusal is unjustified, and if a compromise cannot be reached by discussion with the Computing Service or the Director of Computing, then the first line of appeal will be to the Computer Users Committee.
It is difficult to tell, other than by trying it, whether these policies will work in a sensible and useful way. Accordingly, they may be modified as more experience is gained in the best use of local newsgroups.