Kent  Pitman's

Personal FAQ

Usenet Cross-Posting

Why are crossposts generally antisocial?

In my personal opinion, and not because of reliance on any source of authority, crossposts are antisocial. Usenet is a free speech forum, and it is your right to disagree--no one can make you post in accordance with my beliefs. Then again, no one can make me read things that don't suit my personal tastes.

Note also that I believe it is sometimes appropriate to cross-post an advertisement to such a broad distribution--saying "come to the such-and-so discussion on some newsgroup"), but follow-up should be to just that group.

In case the reasons for my having formed this opinion are of interest to you, they are outlined here:

Physical Burden of Reading Crossposted News

I find the various newsreading tools I know to be hopelessly bad at tracking such distributed conversations in a coherent way and I thus prefer not to add to the chaos myself. I end up with multiple killfiles trying to silence a certain conversation and its offspring selectively for some newsgroups but not for all because I want to track it on one, but as it spawns children, they again recur on all lists and it gets messier and messier. In sum, I think cross-posting creates a sufficient technological burden on a sufficient number of people so as to be regarded as antisocial on its mere face.

Consumption of Community Resources

I think that in general, cross-posting leads to a resource mismatch because anything cross-posted is received by the union of people in both groups but probably of interest to only the intersection of the two groups. I think this places an undue burden on the members of both groups to tolerate out-of-band discussions that often they are simply not interested in. And as a matter of principle, I decline to participate in such a forum because of its use of resources unbefitting the probable importance of the conversation to the group.

Targeted Audience

I feel that as the audience size increases, the amount of common ground that can be presumed decreases. Within a given forum, I often know more or less what I can presume in terms of the background of readers. I am capable of talking to outsiders, but it affects the manner of presentation I'd choose. Talking to a mixed group risks boring one group while going too fast for another because often some groups have specialized language that allow them more efficient communication. Cross-posting creates the least ability to use the efficient mode of communication.

I also feel discussions don't tend to terminate when they happen across-forums because what it takes to satisfy one forum is often different than another. These are, in a way, not unlike political parties and although we like to all be friends and allow each other into our forums, I think the unspoken rule is "do not come to my forum if you are not interested in my topic". So when someone appears on the forum for the Lisp programming language (for example) and says "why do you guys always talk about lisp?", I get bent out of shape--I feel I have a right in that forum (of all forums) to just talk among people who don't make me justify my need or desire to talk about just Lisp and who are simply there to talk about how and why a particular Lisp solution is good. Ditto when I'm on a non-technical newsgroup like the discussion list for CBS soaps; there, I get the people who take CBS soap operas seriously. Were I to cross-post both, I don't get "a friendly group of people with interests similar to Kent" but instead "a bunch of people who don't agree on any common basis for discussion" or "a group of people half of whom look down on the other half (probably incorrectly) for being nerds and the other half of whom look down on the other half for watching what they (probably incorrectly) perceive low-grade TV schlock."

It gets no better if the cross-posted lists are close in nature. It has been said that the worst of enemies are often the closest of cousins, and it is there close familiarity that breeds the strongest of discontent among them.

When a conversation becomes cross-posted, one must not only justify the thread topic, but ultimately justify the slant that the community of the poster would take for granted. And often I think the answer is "agree to disagree" which is what separation of forums implement. By putting the forums together, that natural "agreement to disagree" is undone and one gets more of a "perpetuation of disagreement".

(Those in the Lisp programming language community might enjoy my article ``Lambda: The Ultimate Political Party'' which treats specifically this issue of programming language communities viewed as political parties.)

Inclusivity and Exclusivity

I (and perhaps others like me) as a matter of principle do not respond to any conversations that are cross-posted. As such, any time you post to community X and community Y thinking you'll get their combined opinion, you are really seeing only the opinion of community X plus community Y minus people who find this an antisocial practice. It isn't as inclusive as you may think.

I always get the impression that people thinking they are being "friendly and inclusive" by having a discussion across multiple forums who they are oh-so-sure are interested. But, in fact I find such discussions EXclusive because the price of participating is to feel you are rudely intruding on too many others.

Indeed, I often do not even read cross-posted messages because I find them rude.

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Copyright © 2010 by Kent M. Pitman. All Rights Reserved.