How to Write a Good Newsgroup Proposal

The most important part of creating a new newsgroup is writing a concise, persuasive Request for Discussion (RFD), one that entices the reader to consider joining the proposed group, without pushing anyone's "bozo button". Toward that goal, we offer the following generally sound advice, based on decades of combined experience with the Usenet newsgroup creation process and dozens of our own (usually) successful RFDs.

Many early attempts at an RFD contain items that do not belong in an RFD. A good RFD should contain only a charter for the group; the rationale for creating it; a statement of moderation policy, if the group is to be moderated; and a statement of any plans to gate the group to a mailing list. The history of the topic that the group will address does not belong in the RFD; you can give an outline in a separate article (one that would not appear in news.announce.newgroups.)

The Rationale

The rationale is a brief, pursuasive explanation of why the group should be created. Statements about the worthiness of the topic itself, relative to the topic of other Usenet groups or anything outside of Usenet, should be avoided. Concentrate on noting the relationship of the proposed group to other existing groups. If the proposed group would conflict or overlap with another group, justify why the new group is necessary or desirable, and explain why the other group(s) do(es) not serve the purpose. Be as tactful as you know how; if you offend or antagonize the readers of those other groups, they may do their best to prevent your group, by voting NO themselves and by turning other voters against you. There is a good chance they could win, if they really wanted to. Weak rationales that are sure to push the "bozo button" include:

Your motives may fall into one or more of the above ignoble categories. Or your motives may be pure and noble. Alas, admissions of bad motives will count against you, while statements of good motives will be met with sympathy but not much else.

We won't care what your motives are, and neither will the readers of your RFD, *if* you set them aside and instead persuade your readers of any strong, good reasons to create the group you propose. Good reasons include evidence of a large readership in Usenet or on one or more mailing lists, or an inference from other trends:

If possible, point to a mailing list which directly deals with the topic, and describe the number of subscribers to the list and the approximate number of messages that appear daily on the list. This data is often available automatically from the mailing list server, or the list owner may be willing to provide it. If there exists a mailing list on more or less the same topic as your proposal, it is important to include this objective information. Also, be careful not to antagonize the owner or subscribers of the mailing list; they may have their own plans for the mailing list, and see your RFD as interfering in some way. It is good manners to obtain the permission of a mailing list's owner before initiating an RFD that would directly affect the mailing list.

As a rule of thumb, a newsgroup that is "too busy" has 200+ articles per day, and a mailing list that is ripe for expansion as a Usenet newsgroup has 50+ articles per day or 1000+ subscribers. It will help your proposal a great deal to provide fair, accurate data about usage of any relevant newsgroups and/or mailing lists. Don't guess, and be honest. If you can't justify your proposal on these grounds, explain why your proposal has merit despite neither high readership or high volume on a related mailing list. For instance, you might be able to argue convincingly that creation of a newsgroup on the topic you propose will draw in a readership that does not now exist elsewhere in Usenet, by inference from other trends in Usenet and in the larger world. Be creative and very honest, and look at other proposals for good ideas.

The Charter

In addition to a brief sketch of the general topic of the group, the charter should mention the types of articles that would be welcome in the group, and perhaps a mention of types that might seem welcome, but would be inappropriate.

For example, people setting up a new group to discuss the design and construction of custom software drivers might not welcome random requests from computer owners in search of particular drivers specific to the NoName clone they bought at a yard sale. The charter for this group might specify "no requests for drivers".

The charter should not include value statements about how worthy the topic is or why creation of the group would further a social or political goal in the "real world", outside of Usenet. Because the charter is a formal description of the anticipated context and scope of the proposed group, an informal "contract" between the proponent (you) and the future readers of the group, and a primary reference source about the group (even more important than a group FAQ), the charter should be written in a simple, self-contained manner that will still convey the same meaning a decade from now.

A common problem seen with the charter is that newsgroups should be on topics of generally *global* interest. Thus proposals for groups tied to specific national sports teams, for example, don't belong in the Usenet "big 8". Not even a strong rationale (see below) can rescue this type of proposal. There are two excellent solutions, though: modify the charter to encompass the topic at a level of abstraction that applies to all parts of the world (as in the sport in general) or investigate how to create a newsgroup within your own national or regional hiearchy (e.g., us.* for the United States, can.* for Canada, or de.* for all German-speaking nations).

The Moderator

If the group is to be moderated, you should briefly explain why. Also, give the name and e-mail address, and briefly list the qualifications of the proposed moderator, and outline the duties involved. Usually, the moderator's duty is to uphold the charter of the group by rejecting articles that do not conform to it.

Final Words of Advice

Remember, your goal is to (1) propose the best possible newsgroup, and (2) convince others to support your proposal. Thus, writing the RFD could take you many hours or days of careful thought and research. Even so, you may find that other people have different ideas about how to achieve your desired goal, or think they have a better goal in mind. The critics are often right, so take the time to think carefully about the comments you receive and why they were given, and (above all) be patient and stay calm.

The comments you may get from members of group-mentors (and from group-advice) are not meant to block your proposal, but to ensure that your proposal is as polished and strong as possible *before* it faces close public inspection in news.groups. Try not to react defensively to the feedback you get from us: it is intended to be helpful. If you don't get the point or it seems that the only possible meaning of our comments is a flat rejection of your whole proposal, ask for clarification. Though we may reject specific arguments in your RFD as factually untrue, logically flawed, or otherwise *not* sound arguments in favor of your proposal (yes, this does happen), we will never reject your proposal per se.

Lastly, carefully edit your RFD for content, structure, clarity, grammar, and spelling.

Good luck!

 
First Draft: newgroups-request@uunet.uu.net (David Lawrence)
Current Author: una.smith@yale.edu (Una Smith)
Last change: 12 Nov 1995 by una.smith@yale.edu (Una Smith)


Assistance from volunteer "group mentors" is available by contacting group-mentors@acpub.duke.edu.

Last modified May 30, 1996