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Friday, January 26, 1996

Report on computer newsgroups

A working group has released a draft report on "news management" -- how UW deals with the torrent of information arriving over computer networks on "Usenet" newsgroups. At the moment, the report says, about 1,000 megabytes a day is arriving, making up around 20 per cent of all the traffic over the wires into UW. (The rest includes electronic mail, World Wide Web material and so on.)

"Difficulties in coping with the steadily increasing flow of news onto the campus prompted the University Computing Committee to strike a small working group to propose solutions," says Richard Wells, associate dean (computing) in applied health sciences, who chaired the working group. It also included one faculty member, two students, a librarian and a senior staff member from computing services.

"Network news contains much that is extremely useful to faculty, staff, and students," the report says, citing examples that range from uw.general (with local announcements) to technical groups (comp.unix.admin) and talk newsgroups which "provide a forum for students, faculty, and staff to debate important issues of the day with people around the world".

However, the report says,

network news also contains much that is of little apparent value. Newsgroups within a hierarchy may differ radically in content; contrast, for example, "alt.comp.acad-freedom.talk" (relatively sober forum for discussion of computers and academic freedom) and "alt.devilbunnies" (apparently devoted to the discussion of satanic rabbits). The content of a newsgroup often changes over time; what appears to be of little use today may be useful tomorrow.
So what's to be done as the volume of news increases, and begins to cost serious money? (The report estimates that Usenet news currently costs UW $68,000 a year.) The working group "tentatively" recommends that UW "make newsgroup importation and expiration decisions selectively by evaluating content. . . . One could begin by identifying the top hierarchies and newsgroups in terms of volume, and then evaluate their worth to the University community and readership through a committee that would seek user comment."

Responses to the report are now welcome. Wells says the working group will hold at least one open public forum in February. "The group is especially interested in how to judge the value of a newsgroup to the University community." Wells can be reached at wells@healthy. The complete report can be found at http://www.dcs.uwaterloo.ca/directives/news96.html.

A look at Sled Zeppelin

Engineering students are ready to defend UW's title in the Great Northern Concrete Toboggan Race to be held February 8-10 in Winnipeg. Two UW teams will be competing in the international race, now in its 22nd year. "It's an opportunity for civil engineering students to showcase their design and construction skills in an international competition," says Pete Kyle, fourth-year civil engineering student and a member of the team behind one of the Waterloo entries, Sled Zeppelin. The other team is called Sharctic. The Sled Zeppelin team will be showing off its toboggan at 12:30 today in Engineering 3 room 2102.

Today is Australia Day

And here's what's happening:

Got the wrong department

Yesterday's department alleged that "Recruitment ads for faculty positions in chemical engineering . . . are already appearing in print this week." Wrong: chemical isn't one of the hardest-hit departments under the early retirement program, and I should have written "civil engineering".

That's about it. Enjoy the Super Bowl weekend.

Chris Redmond
Information and Public Affairs, University of Waterloo
(519) 888-4567 ext. 3004
credmond@watserv1.uwaterloo.ca

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