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Newsgroups, Blogs, and Magazines

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

According to Google groups, I started posting to USENET in 1995. It seems like a long time, but a colleague of mine (we’ve worked together at not one, but two startups) has an archived post that precedes mine by almost 10 years. I’ve always liked newsgroups. I still browse and post, and if Google groups (I still type in www.deja.com) had a nickel for every newsgroup search I’ve done, I’d have to sell a kidney to buy food.

Reading through a .NET newsgroup today puts you right in the development trenches. Here you will find people trying to figure out how to call a stored proc from ADO.NET, how to work with connection pooling, and how to send email from an ASP.NET page. Unfortunately, I think 85% of the questions in newsgroups can be answered with 180 seconds of RTFM or Google time.

All of the noise in newsgroups makes the experience somewhat like listening to AM radio in a train tunnel. There is a lot of static and it’s too easy to miss any golden nuggets of information. I think this has driven a lot of quality people out of newsgroups for good. Also, newsgroups are not the place to look for what’s coming down the road. It’s interesting to note the Aero development newsgroup has received fewer posts since the beginning of the year than the reporting services group typically gets in a single day.

Blogs gives people a place to “push” ideas, in contrast to newsgroups and mailing lists, where it seems more acceptable to “pull” ideas by asking questions. Pull would work so much better if people didn’t ask the same questions over and over again each day. What’s sad is, readers looking for someone else to do the RTFM for them are boiling over into blogs.

In the newsgroup world, people post FAQs and documents like Eric Raymond’s “How To Ask Questions The Smart Way” to cut down on the noise. The problem is, the people who don’t RTFM also don’t read FAQs and documents. Fortunately, I don’t think the noise that fills up newsgroups will bog the blog space down, because unlike newsgroups, which are a free for all, bloggers have more control over content and want to keep their blogs interesting. I’m not talking about censoring posts, I’m talking about the blogger always having the headline post, and therefore chooses the direction and theme for the blog content.

Reading the right blogs gives you a better balance of what’s happening today, and what’s going to happen 2 years from now. Magazines, on the other hand, seem to slant heavy to the far future. I’ve seen a few blogs and a few letters to the editor complaining about such and such a magazine becoming less relevant when they don’t cover the current tool set with practical articles. Scoble says covering the new stuff sells more issues, but I wonder if this will continue to hold true as people get the breaking news from blogs, and the magazine cover about the “three pillars of Longhorn architecture” will be looking like three month old news. That would certainly force some more in-depth practical articles instead of the fluffy Gartner Group type executive summaries.

I still read newsgroups, and magazines, and continue to add to the blogroll. If I had to give up one of the three right now, I think newsgroups would have to go. That sounds like an interesting conclusion to end with.