Staying On Topic in Newsgroups
Newsgroup hierarchies are a way to keep the information contained in these discussions useful. They provide a way for users to search out information they may need or to identify the right place to ask if they need information that hasn™t been posted yet.
When you™re using Usenet, you need to make sure that your posts are relevant to the subject discussed in the newsgroup you post them in. For instance, you don™t want to start asking science questions in the computer newsgroups, as there are specific newsgroups under the science hierarchy that deal with computer science.
It™s sometimes difficult to know for sure if you™re in the right newsgroup to ask your question. For instance, imagine you had a question about asteroids. You could feasibly ask it in a group under the science hierarchy that deals with astronomy or one that deals specifically with telescopes. You might even ask it in a newsgroup that deals with mass extinction if you™re asking about an asteroid that struck the earth.
There are so many different possibilities that even the very detailed hierarchies are sometimes not enough information to figure out where to ask. If you find yourself in this situation, you can always post a polite request about whether or not your question is on-topic. If it™s not, someone will tell you where it will be relevant.
Some conversations do go off on tangents but, to make sure that the hierarchy system is useful, moderators will usually stop this quickly. The reason has nothing to do with being a sticker for rules or because moderators want to quash people™s fun. Usenet has a huge amount of information stored on it between all the different servers that carry the service. If conversations start going off track, that information becomes more and more muddled and it becomes harder for users to find it. Staying on topic avoids this.
Most newsgroup users will completely understand if you™re just learning your way around the system. Repeated off-topic posts, however, may cause problems. The hierarchy has plenty of room within it for every imaginable topic and, as any Usenet user knows, just about every topic imaginable has a newsgroup for it. Most often, the most useful newsgroups will be the ones that are most active. If you can™t figure it out for yourself, ask in one of these groups where your question belongs.