An Alternative to "Trolls" in WebTV® Newsgroups

By Bill Johnson aka Le Fantome
(January 2, 2000)

Recently, a close friend e-mailed this writer that she was retiring from lists and the alt.discuss group she was very instrumental in. An article recently in Net4TV Voice was done on BabyDoll. She was a hard worker and helper for WebTV users on the net. But she was "burned out".... having had enough of the trolls (posting rude or insulting comments ad naseum in alt.discuss.html and others) and questions and forwards leaving her no time for family or friends. "Trolls" invaded her personal life and her fun on the net.

BabyDoll retired with honors. Many others have quit posting... gone to computers or left the web altogether. What has happened in ad.html, ad.homepage and other groups is that a small group of persons have taken the newsgroup(s) over for their own amusement. WebTV allows this to happen as multiple posts and TTT (to the top) posts push the good posters to the rear of the posts for the group. It's WebTV network's responsibility to enforce the TOS (terms of service) by turning troll's WebTV units into expensive doorstops, but how do we solve it? An alternative to the "trolls" found in alt.discuss groups are "restricted" e-mail lists found on the net at servers such as OneList, E-groups, Esosoft, and others. In these groups the moderators control the content and the posting by members in the group. I have two e-mail lists on the net: WTVPals and FantomeHelp which are found at Onelist.

I first began reading e-mails lists with the original one "" which was started by a computer operator in Houston, Texas. He did not screen his posters, just allowed his server to be used for this "new" force on the Internet, WebTV. But soon the list, although very informative, became rather "trollish" with rude posts and SPAM. Out of this was born WebTV Friends, a group led by Subana who started her own list of "invited persons" from Cuckoo. The list was a paid list costing her $5 a month. It now resides at Onelist. Subana set "RULES" for her list like no "flames", no rams in email posts, no bombs, and respect for each other. Out of her list grew other groups on Esosoft and others like Onelist and e-groups. CyberNutz, WTVPals, and later, WTVOKList, Bee-Bee's Useful links, a new list just formed. These are just a few I recommend. A complete listing of WebTV groups on e-mail is listed here.

Look for restricted groups! Groups where the moderator has control. Moderation can be of a variety of types. First, the moderator can control the membership by reading his group and if a member gets out of hand simply delete him/her from membership. This is how it is in my groups. Flames to the moderators or membership on or OFF the list are reasons for removal. Second, are the moderated lists. When all else fails all posts can go through the moderator before posting. This is available as option on some lists. Third, are the type of lists where members do not reply at all. Bee-Bee's list is an example of such, where she posts only links.

The email list can take many forms: WebTV info and chatter and friendship or just info and help lists, or simply joke lists, link lists, sports lists, or any of a hundred topics. The point is that the moderator controls the list.... and it's not a democracy if you are a troll! You can subscribe either in a digest form that gives you digests of the posts (usually 25 at a time) or you can read your email on digests on the net and get no mail directly from the list. On my list, which generates from 50-300 messages a day, many members go on and off digest at will by logging into the server and setting how they wish to receive the list. A homepage that is not available to non-members, might list birthdays, bios of members, helpful page links, maybe even a special awards page for a nice touch. But if you want to start one make sure you have the time to read it too! Know what is going on in your list. Make a set of rules, about age, flames, racial slurs, rams, advertising SPAM and stick to it! Tailor it to your individual group. Your members benefit and so do you.

So, maybe you have decided to form your own group! What do you have to do? First, decide whether you want your group to be on a free or reduced price server. For as little as $5 a month, groups like EsoSoft or will host an email group for you. You will have to decide how you want the group to be run, decide on moderation - if any (only you post, or the whole group posts unmoderated, or you moderate the posts). The paid servers offer a few benefits the free ones don't, like statistics, searchable archives and easy subscribing by email. However, the configuration files may appear to be in a foreign language but the customer service folks are usually helpful in assisting you.

OneList does not have statistics but does offer a number of neat things like online surveys, automatic emails to non-subscribers, files sent to the list on regular intervals, archives by date, message boards, and easy ways to configure your files, such as welcome letters; they do it all for you while you fill in the blanks. OneList is also soon to merge with the e-groups list too. So how do you sign up? Simply go to the servers and fill out a short questionnaire about your proposed group, pick a name and outline the topics your group will be about. Select moderators (if you wish), have an email address and a URL of a webpage with further instructions like rules and guidelines. On my list I also require a short application to be filled out so that I can check email addresses for posts to Deja news to see that the applicant is not a flamer. Then get your friends together and sign up. You can even sign them all up at once and if they accept the group begins. Don't be discouraged if you don't get a lot of posts at first or even in a month. Advertise and always require they read the rules! Then there is NO EXCUSE for breaking the rules.

Join the moderators group on whatever server you use. They will provide you with useful tips to moderate a group. Do NOT just sit back and not read what goes on in your group. Be a part of it. It's hard work sometimes but to have a successful group you have to be there and available. Otherwise it will die. I have learned more about HTML, JavaScript, cgi and websites from e-mail groups than I ever could with a newsgroup. I have had online romances flourish within a group like Lisle and Brenda, and many very warm friendships have developed. Ages range from 13-90. If you build a better group, the community will come.

E-mails lists like newsgroups are a community, where everyone knows your name to quote an old TV show. If you prepare to make an e-mail list on the net, expect to work hard and play hard. Join a good list before you try to make a new list. Study the dynamics. For example, when a new list begins, everybody is excited and posts a lot; then it settles down to just a few posters for a time. That is when the moderator or owner steps in and posts a lot for fear the list is dying. E-mail lists have stages. Learn what they are by examining successful groups. Fix the guidelines and don't stray from them. I will happily try to help anyone trying to set up a group. E-mail me at LeFantome and I will offer any assistance I can. As far as the groups on the net, ignore the "trolls" and don't post to them. Send their letters to

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