5. How not to advertise on Usenet

Unfortunately, there are just about as many inappropriate ways to advertise on Usenet as there are appropriate ways.

  1. Posting off-topic messages in unrelated newsgroups

    Each message you post to Usenet, regardless of its content, should only be posted to related newsgroups.

    For example, you run a rug company. You want to sell lots of rugs. So, you post an advertisement about your rugs in sci.physics. Not surprisingly, a lot of people send you email telling you what a jerk you are.

    Why'd they do this, you ask? It's simple: sci.physics has nothing to do with selling rugs. Your ad was as off-topic as if someone had tried to get a discussion going there about the upcoming football season or started posting a lot of messages about their recent vacation.

    Try to look at it from the other person's point of view. If you'd resent someone posting an ad for their product to your favourite newsgroup, why would you post an ad for your product to thousands of other people's favorite newsgroups?

  2. Spamming

    Spamming is defined as posting identical or nearly-identical messages (not just ads, although ads are usually what spammers post) to a lot of newsgroups, one right after the other. Since it's really not that difficult to write a program that will post the same advertisement to dozens, if not hundreds or thousands of newsgroups, a lot of people have taken to doing this.

    What's happened to people who've spammed?

    They've lost their accounts, been mail-bombed (had thousands of pieces of junk email sent to them), had people call up and yell at them in the middle of the night, had people forward their mail (by this I mean paper mail, not email) to someplace strange, had people sign them up for thousands of unwanted magazine subscriptions, had people send them thousands of pages of condemnatory faxes, and so forth.

    Nothing is as hated on Usenet as spamming. It's extremely, unbelievably rude and if you do it, you will come to regret it. (This is not a threat - it's an observation. Any benefits spamming might have brought you will be more than counteracted by the intense public outcry against you in every newsgroup you posted your ad to).

    Some members of the media have gotten the mistaken impression that spamming is hated because it's advertising. While it's true that Usenet users don't have much fondness for advertising, the real reason spamming is hated so much is because it's unbelievably rude.

    If you don't regularly read a newsgroup, why would you post an ad to it? In so doing, you're basically saying that you don't care what the people in that newsgroup think or whether your ad might inconvenience them; you're out to benefit yourself. When you spam by posting the same advertisement to hundreds or thousands of newsgroups, you're saying that your personal profit is more important than the discussions of millions of people.

    Would you like it if someone came by your house day after day and shoveled several thousand copies of an advertising circular through your windows?

    So please, don't do it. It's just not worth the grief you'll get.

    Another consideration against spamming is that Usenet readers developed defenses against it, so it's not very effective. There are quite a few spam detectors running on Usenet, and if one of them detects that the same message has been posted repeatedly to multiple newsgroups, the humans who run those spam detectors will step in and actually erase the spamming messages with 'cancel' messages which are honored at most sites around the world.

  3. Unsolicited junk email

    Another often-practiced and often-punished scheme is to send email to thousands of strangers whose addresses you found in various Usenet newsgroups. Many people have lost their Internet access after sending thousands of strangers ads for timeshare condos in Cancun or dubious credit schemes, and yet, the junk email continues to flood in.

    Suffice it to say that junk email, using Usenet posters' addresses, is a really bad idea. Most sites will yank your account if you do that kind of thing.

  4. 'Mail-Merged' ads

    Some advertisers noticed that it was only identical postings that were getting cancelled by the spam cancellers, and cleverly came up with a way to post their ad to dozens of newsgroups while varying a line or two to make it look sufficiently different to avoid being cancelled.

    For example, one book editor posted ads to dozens of newsgroups about his book, essentially giving a sales pitch for said book, while adding a paragraph to each article that purported to contain the text that had been printed about each newsgroup in said book.

    It was rather obvious that the editor wasn't interested in getting feedback on the text since the book had already been published; eventually an employee at the company admitted that the technique had been used to try to avoid triggering the spam cancellers -- and that the point had indeed been to broadcast the ad widely without getting cancelled.

    Don't do postings that say things like "Congratulations, REC.FOOD.DRINK.BEER reader, you are among the lucky few to be included in this amazing offer." Spam that makes a token effort to relate to each newsgroup it's posted to is still spam, and will still be erased on sight.

Up: Contents Previous: 4. How to advertise on Usenet Next: 6. Conclusion