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Internet interaction

Forums are the Internet at its liveliest, where people meet, millions of them, every day and all the time. Forums are fun, they're useful, and there are lots of them, hundreds of thousands in fact, and more each day.

Forums are special-interest group discussions. They're self-help communities and clubhouses, and the natives are usually friendly. Use forums to find like-minded friends, swap ideas and share resources. For information, you can ask someone or you can search -- the discussions accumulate into databases that are a mine of useful information.

Many forums also have "FAQs", lists of Frequently Asked Questions on their subject-area with answers compiled by forum members -- another goldmine. Some people say the FAQs are the most useful source of information on the Internet.

There are four main kinds of forums: email mailing lists, Usenet newsgroups, World Wide Web forums, and real-time Chat channels. The Liszt list of lists lists 80,000 current mailing lists, 30,000 Usenet newsgroups and 25,000 IRC chat channels, and there are hundreds of thousands of Web forums.

Until recently you needed a separate newsreader program for the newsgroup forums, like you need a separate program for email, and the same applied to Chat, but these days you can cruise the big wide wonderful interactive world of the Internet that lies beyond the World Wide Web from within the comfort and safety of your own Web browser.

All forums are subject-specific, you write messages, you get replies, everyone else can see your messages, you can see their's, and it's all free.

Mailing lists

Once you subscribe to an email mailing list, all messages arrive automatically in your emailbox. (Set your emailer to filter each list's incomings to a separate mailbox. If your emailer can't do that, get one that can, like Eudora.) Most lists have an optional "digest" format so you get only one combined message a day instead of dozens (or hundreds) of individual ones, but you tend to follow the discussions less closely with digests.

Mailing lists are lively communities, friendly and helpful to newcomers. To join in, just reply to a message or "post" a new one: your message goes to the list's host computer (server) and then to all the other list members. Or you can "lurk", nobody will know you're there unless you say so.

Many lists are linked to a WWW home page with other resources, and many of these have searchable archives and FAQs. The thousands of mailing lists hosted by Yahoo! Groups, Topica and others also have a Web interface where you can read and post messages direct from your browser.

Yahoo! Groups


Archives for the large collection of Listserv mailing lists can be searched by email, though many have web-based archives too. Search for Listserv lists at CataList Catalog of over 30,000 online discussion lists.

CataList Catalog of Listserv lists

Directory of Publicly Accessible Mailing Lists (PAML) -- "the Internet's premier Mailing List Directory! We're better because we actively keep our mailing list entries up to date."
FAQ on mailing lists and on PALM:
Search Form


The newsgroups are all to be found in one place, the Usenet, a global bulletin board with 30,000-odd sections. Usenet is a separate network within the Internet, but Web-based search engines provide smooth access to the newsgroups via the Web.

Use keywords to find the newsgroup you want or to search the text of all newsgroup messages: you get a list of "hit" messages, you can reply to them, see the other messages in that "thread" of discussion, see all the threads, and join in, without leaving your browser.

Google Groups: Search, view results, see full threads, respond, post new messages, browse complete list of Usenet groups -- full Usenet interface from your Web browser. 20-year Usenet Archive -- Building on the Usenet data previously acquired from, Google has constructed what is believed to be the only complete 20-year archive of online discussion groups, extending more than 10 years prior to the birth of the web. The Google Groups archive contains more than 700 million postings in 35,000 topical categories.

NewsOne.Net offers free Usenet News access -- a threaded, Web-based newsreader showing ONLY actual Usenet newsgroups. Find and browse newsgroups, read postings, reply or post new messages. provides web based access to over 30,000 newsgroups, including binaries. Requires a free subscription.

Newsranger offers web-based Usenet discussion group access and posting. Users can set preferences, including newsgroups subscriptions, preferred reply address, signature file, and opening quote line. Also provides news client access, anonymous access, etc. Previously free, now fee-based.

Internet FAQ Consortium -- Usenet Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) postings in Hypertext format: Full Text Search, By Newsgroups, By Category, By Author, By Archive-name, MultiPage Digested FAQs. Also For Your Information resources (FYIs), Requests for Comments (RFCs) and more.

Complete FAQ list (hyperlinked) -- Usenet FAQs By Archive-name: eg, What is a dodo? The dodo FAQ is called "birds-faq/extinct/dodo - Dodo Frequently Asked Questions". (Big file -- 450kb.)

Best place to browse Usenet newsgroups (Newsgroup Info Center):

Usenet Help at the Newsgroup Info Center (NIC) -- everything about Usenet and newsgroups here, very useful.

Web forums

Web forums ("boards") are similar to newsgroups but the Web interface is slicker than Usenet's text-only format, and Web forums are easily linked to other Web resources. Less strict controls on advertising ("spam") than Usenet and the mailing lists. Some forums you must subscribe to, strangers are welcome at others. They're scattered all over the World Wide Web and proliferating fast -- there are hundreds of thousands of them.

BoardReader -- Connecting Message Board Communities: Searches the Web's forums and message boards, searches multiple message boards simultaneously.


Chat happens in real-time, like a telephone conference -- the people you're chatting with are actually there in front of their screens. It's snappy and immediate, lots of people love it.

Until quite recently, chatting meant using IRC (Internet Relay Chat) client software and locating an IRC channel. IRC chat is still the most popular, but Web-based chat is growing fast.

IRC Help -- all about IRC: FAQs, primers, guides, downloadable clients & scripts, server lists, site search.

Yahoo -- good list of Web-based Chat links.

ICQ (I Seek You) is revolutionizing chat forums -- ICQ claims millions of downloads per week. People put their ICQ # on their business cards. The program runs quietly in the background while you work on other applications, and alerts you when your chat contacts log on (it also alerts them when you log on). You can connect with a click on the floating ICQ button. It also has a pager, conferencing, email, and URL and file transfer.

Virtual reality forums

For real virtual interaction, visit the real-time interactive virtual reality cyberscape of LambdaMOO (MOO -- Multi-user Object-Oriented dimension), where you can be whatever you like, and so can everyone else.

There's a warning on the gate: "LambdaMOO is a new kind of society, where thousands of people voluntarily come together from all over the world. What these people say or do may not always be to your liking; as when visiting any international city, it is wise to be careful who you associate with and what you say. The operators of LambdaMOO have provided the materials for the buildings of this community, but are not responsible for what is said or done in them."

Some MOO users have fallen in love and got married. Others lose their jobs and girlfriends because they spend 20 hours a day glued to the screen. But some of them re-emerge with confident new social skills they never had before and build life anew.

MOOs are also called MUVEs (Multi-User Virtual Environment) or MUDs (Multi-User Dungeons -- from "Dungeons and Dragons" games). They all stem from an ancient computer game -- the original computer game! -- called "Adventure".

Mostly still text-based and command driven via telnet (help available -- you have to learn how to use it), MOOs are moving towards a full multi-media interface. Eventually you'll be able to be a real-time 3D animation of whatever you like. This is where true cyberspace begins.


LambdaMOO Beginners Quick Reference

MOOs hit the Web

The Diversity University Moo allows the addition of graphics, sound, movies, and textual objects. It's a real-time virtual-reality campus, with dedicated buildings for most major academic subjects and educational projects created by the DU community for individuals or whole classes. Uses the traditional telnet for text-only access or a multimedia connection via a clever integrated web and telnet interface (Cup-O MUD) using your web browser (needs Java and frames), placing an interactive MOO window in the bottom frame of your browser window. This is a real advance on telnet.

schMOOze University uses the same slick (Cup-O MUD) integrated interface as the Diversity University. It's a small, friendly college known for its hospitality and the diversity of the student population. Created for people studying English as a second language to practise and share ideas and experiences. Anyone interested in cross-cultural communication is welcome. More than 500,0005 visitors so far.

Free Classes in MOOing at the Diversity University:

MOO Commands and Information -- basic MOO information, commands, and editors used at Diversity University, links to information about connections, telnet clients and other "net" resources.

Coming soon to a MOO near you: intelligent robots you can summon to your assistance -- now being developed.

Have a chat with a robot who thinks he's John Lennon:

Chat with Alice the "chatterbot":

The Internet

Why it really matters
Internet interaction
Finding your way in that Big Library in the Sky

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