How to Start an Alt Discussion Group for Your Online Business

By Greg Holden

Usenet is a system of communication that enables individual computer users to participate in group discussions about topics of mutual interest, like your online business. Internet newsgroups have what’s referred to as a hierarchical structure. Most groups belong to one of seven main categories: comp, misc, news, rec, sci, soc, or talk. The category name appears at the beginning of the group’s name, such as rec.food.drink.coffee.

The biz discussion groups don’t seem to be taken seriously because they’re widely populated by unscrupulous people promoting get-rich-quick schemes and egomaniacs who love the sound of their own voices. The alt groups, although they can address some crazy topics, often address serious topics and are at least as well known as the seven main categories mentioned above. Plus the process of setting up an alt group is well documented.

The prefix alt didn’t originally stand for alternative, although it has come to mean that. The term was an abbreviation for Anarchists, Lunatics, and Terrorists, which wasn’t so politically incorrect back when newsgroups were young. Now alt is a catch-all category in which anyone can start a group, if others show interest in the creator’s proposal.

The first step to creating your own alt discussion group is to point your web browser to Google Groups and access the alt.config.newgroups group. This area contains general instructions on starting your own Usenet newsgroup. Also look in news.answers for the How to Start a New Usenet Newsgroup message.

To find out how to start a group in the alt category, go to Google click Groups, and search for the How to Start an Alt Newsgroup message. Follow the instructions to set up your own discussion group. Basically, the process involves the following steps:

  1. Write a brief proposal describing the purpose of the group you want to create and include an e-mail address where people can respond with comments.

    The proposal also contains the name of your group in the correct form (alt.groupname.moreinfo.moreinfo). Try to keep the group name short and professional if it’s for business purposes.

  2. Submit the proposal to the newsgroup alt.config.

  3. Gather feedback to your proposal through e-mail.

  4. Send a special message, or a control message, to the news server that gives you access to Usenet.

    The exact form of the message varies from server to server, so consult with your ISP on how to compose the message correctly.

  5. Wait a while (a few days or weeks) as news administrators (the people who operate news servers at ISPs around the world) decide whether to adopt your request and add your group to their list of newsgroups.

Before you try to start your own group, look through the seven categories (comp, misc, news, rec, sci, soc, and talk) to make sure someone else isn’t already covering your topic.