Naming newsgroups

From Usenet Big-8 Management Board

Spelling and Punctuation

  • The name of a newsgroup is its "mailing address."
  • The rules for naming newsgroups at this level are therefore set by outside agencies who oversee the standards for the Network News Transfer Protocol (NNTP). See the article on Usenet for more information about what NNTP is.
  • Read checkgroups, a list of all Big-8 newsgroups to see what patterns are actually used.
  • For a discussion of the rules themselves, see "The Proper Formation of Big-8 Newsgroup Names."

Syntax, Semantics, and Taxonomy

  • These are higher-level problems not solved by reference to the spelling/punctuation rules imposed by Usenet protocols. Syntax provides guidelines for the formation of patterns. Semantics deals with the meaning of words and the relationships between meanings. Taxonomy groups like with like. Deciding such questions inevitably involves personal taste about the kinds of patterns that may be generated by giving a newsgroup one name rather than another. There are no formal rules for settling disputes about these matters.
  • The way a group is named places it in relationship to other newsgroups in Checkgroups. This can lead to very passionate arguments about the most logical way to group common topics. Dissatisfaction with the way groups had been named and organized led to The Great Renaming. That, in turn, laid the foundation for the set of newsgroups now known as the Big-8.

Examples of how group names create groups of newsgroups

  • Example #1: There seem to be at least three valid places to discuss the problems people have with impaired vision:
  • The proponent also polled about whether the name should be "" or ""
  • Example #2: A proposal to discuss fishing tournaments has rung these changes:
  • Example #3:
     >>> If someone wants a group to discuss German food, should it be 
     >>> or

     >> LOL.  That involves politics more than naming.

     So it does, now that I think of it.....
  • Example #4: Both of these groups exist in the current Checkgroups. They seem to be twins.	Setup and Configuration of Windows 95.	Setup, hardware, and driver issues in Win95.
  • Example #5: In 1995, the creation of humanities.misc--a single newsgroup--also created a new hierarchy (humanities.*//) and changed the Big-7 into the Big-8.
	humanities.answers	Repository for periodic USENET articles. (Moderated)
	humanities.classics	Discussion of ancient Greece and Rome.	Theory, practice, history & aesthetic issues in design.
	humanities.language.sanskrit	The Sanskrit language and related topics.
	humanities.lit.authors.shakespeare	Poetry, plays, history of Shakespeare.
	humanities.misc	General topics in the arts & humanities.	The life and works of Richard Wagner.
	humanities.philosophy.objectivism	The ideas of Ayn Rand. (Moderated)

The .moderated suffix

Many newsgroups that are moderated have .moderated in the name, e.g. comp.lang.c++.moderated. Many of them don't, e.g. Of the 332 moderated groups in the current big-8 list, only 42 of them have .moderated in their name. In 38 cases, the group has an unmoderated counter-part or counter-parts that cover roughly the same topic space. In these cases, the fact that the group is moderated is its distinguishing feature, and is something not readily available from the status. That is, not only is this group moderated, it implies that there is also an unmoderated equivalent.[1]

There is not a requirement that moderated newsgroups end with .moderated. The requirement is that, for moderated groups, the newsgroup description line must end with (Moderated).

The .moderated suffix should be used when it adds clarity, generally when the group is an alternative or companion group in a hierarchy. For example, comp.lang.c++.moderated exists alongside comp.lang.c++.

You might wonder how participants know that a group is moderated if .moderated is not a part of the group name. Many news readers indicate in the title block for the group whether it is moderated by including (moderated) if appropriate. This information is supplied to the news reader when it obtains information about the group from the server. If your news server does not provide this visual cue,

  • Look for an Approved: header in articles in the group. All articles in moderated groups must have this header.
  • Check for (Moderated) at the end of the one-line newsgroup description. If your news reader doesn't provide the description, check the list of big-8 groups.

General Guidelines

  • We recommend contacting the Group Mentors for questions about the Big-8 namespace.
  • The Big-8 Management Board has not created any new guidelines for resolving disputes about where a proposed topic should fit into the existing newsgroup hiearchies. Each proposal needs to be examined and decided on a case-by-case basis.
  • The following is a very slightly edited version of a classic (1999) article by David W. Wright, "Guidelines on Usenet Newsgroup Names". Amendments to the original document come from changes in the grammar of NNTP and are indicated in [brackets].

"To-day we have naming of parts."

This document is intended to be a primer for use by those involved in creating new Usenet news groups, namely in the "comp", "humanities", "misc", "news", "rec", "sci", "soc" and "talk" hierarchies. The same principles may be used with other hierarchies, but those are beyond the scope of this document.

Usenet news group names are structured, hierarchic, taxonomic but not definitive. They are intended to help users find what they want and news administrators manage their systems, to the benefit of their users. By understanding each of these concepts, you can understand how to select suitable names for new news groups.


News group names are structured into parts separated by dots, for example "rec.pets.dogs". Each part may be up to [14, 20, or 30] characters long, and should consist only of letters, digits, "+" and "-", with at least one letter.


Names fall into clear hierarchies - for example all computer-related groups are in comp. Each may be sub-divided into second, third, and lower level hierarchies, such as sci.physics and comp.sys.sun, by adding more parts to the basic name. The first part is the most general (sci or comp), the second more specific, and so on. The last part completes the actual group name. As each part implies a further level, words at the same level are included into one part using a hyphen - e.g. misc.invest.real-estate rather than, which would imply that a real was a type of estate!


Taxonomy is the science of the classifying things - for example species in biology, or books in a library. Group names classify subjects into areas and hierarchies. Getting these right is not easy, for you have to fit in with those already there, and also allow for likely future growth.

Not definitive

News group names are inclusive rather than definitive. That is to say, a group name defines an area in which a message may be posted if there is no other group with a better name fit. The name does not define exact limits to the group, eliminating subjects that do not exactly match the definition.

Helping users

The group name is often the only clue the user has about the group without reading a selection of articles from the group. There are currently over 1300 Usenet news groups, and well over 10,000 groups including all the other news hierarchies from alt to zer. It is not possible for users to read every group to find out which are of interest to them. Similarly, even a very popular group will only be read by 1% of all Usenet users. So the name has to make sense to the 99% who are not reading the group. It should be clear enough to avoid users posting "what is this?" articles, and to ensure that those who *would* like to know more about the subject do recognise the group's purpose and start to read it and join in. Also, bear in mind that Usenet is global, that users come from many different cultures, and that for many, English is not their first language.

This leads to some strong guidelines about choosing names:

  • Group similar subjects together, in the same hierarchy if possible, so that people looking for a related subject will have a good idea where to find it. It is often better to put a new group with others in an approximately right "place" than to insist on getting the name precise at the expense of putting the group in some obscure area that many potential users will not look at.
  • Create general groups before creating very specific ones.
  • Dnt Abrv8. Do not abbreviate or use obscure names. Your abbreviation may well be recognised by someone else as meaning something entirely different, especially if English is a second language to them. At the moment, Usenet transport limitations restrict the length of any component to [14, 20, or 30] characters. This may sometimes force abbreviation, in this case, create as meaningful an abbreviation as possible within [14, 20, or 30] characters.
  • Use English words in group names. The articles in a group should use whatever language is appropriate for that group, but group names should use English as that is the one language that can be understood by almost all Usenet users.

Helping news administrators

No site now has the disk space to carry 10,000 news groups and keep all their articles for weeks. So news administrators have to be selective in which groups they carry and how long they keep the articles of each group (expiry times). Yet with so many groups, they cannot manage each one separately. So they make use of the hierarchic property, and control news in hierarchies. For example, one may keep comp articles longer than rec, another may decide not to take any* groups as none of their users reads them. This is the other reason hierarchies are so important, and why a new group should always be fitted into an existing hierarchy if at all possible. Some new group proposers think it does not matter if their group does not fit in to this scheme, assuming that news administrators who don't want it can select it out individually: this is a mistaken view. Every group that a site gets that its users do not read, makes less disk space and so shorter expiry times for the groups they *do* want.

What's next?

Think about these guidelines before naming your new news group.

Remember that name mistakes made in the past when Usenet was much smaller, or now in uncontrolled parts of the net like alt, are no reason to make more mistakes now. On the contrary, now is the time to correct some of those past mistakes.

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