The "alt.*" hierarchy is a major class of
newsgroups in Usenet, containing all newsgroups whose name begins with "alt.", organized hierarchically. The "alt.*" hierarchy is not confined to newsgroups of any specific subject or type, although in practice more formally organised groups tend not to occur in alt. The alt.* hierarchy was created by John Gilmore.
Unlike most of the other hierarchies, there is no centralised control of the hierarchy and anyone who is technically capable of creating a newsgroup can do so. In practice, however, most newsgroups follow an informal procedure involving a public discussion in "
alt.config" before being created. This procedure is designed to help the potential creator better understand what factors contribute to a newsgroup's success.
It is up to each individual
news administratorwhether to add a new newsgroup, and some will not do so if the group has not been discussed in "alt.config". As a result groups that do not follow this procedure are usually not well-propagated. News group removal in theory occurs in much the same way as newsgroup creation, however as a matter of practice most news administrators do not remove newsgroups.
The birth of the "alt.*" hierarchy is tied to a drastic transformation of the Usenet, the
Great Renamingof 1987. The "backbone carriers", or the backbone cabalas they have been referred to by some users of the Usenet, were vital hubs in the distribution chain of most of the newsgroup postings. Their effort to change the way newsgroups are organized led to objections from some vocal Usenet users.
In particular, the creation of the "talk.*" hierarchy for discussions of controversial or sensitive issues by the renaming did not go well. The "alt.*" hierarchy was suggested as an alternative to "talk.*" by Brian Reid. [ [http://www.livinginternet.com/u/ui_alt.htm Alt Hierarchy History - Brian Reid, Usenet Newsgroups, Backbone Administrators ] ] It would be a network without the backbones, thereby free from backbones' influences on creating or not creating a new newsgroup. The first newsgroup on alt hierarchy was his "alt.gourmand".
According to the "So You Want to Create an Alt Newsgroup" FAQ, the name "alt" is an acronym for "Anarchists, Lunatics, and Terrorists", though the acronym also refers to the fact that it is a "hierarchy that is 'alternative' to the 'mainstream' (comp,misc,news, rec,soc,sci,talk) hierarchy." [cite web|url=http://www.faqs.org/faqs/alt-creation-guide/|title=So You Want to Create an Alt Newsgroup | accessdate=2007-05-27|date=
Alt has since become home for a wide variety of things that did not fit elsewhere. In particular, there are many "alt.fan" newsgroups, mostly devoted to discussions of the work and life of famous people:
writers, musicians, actors and athletes have "alt.fan" groups. This sub-hierarchy has also been used for self-promotion by otherwise unknown people. During the notorious trial of Karla Homolka, "alt.fan.karla-homolka" was created to get around the Canadiannews blackout on the case.
Two major sections of the "alt.*" hierarchy, the "alt.sex.*" and "alt.binaries.*" hierarchies, have been found to fit better in the "alt.*" hierarchy than the Big Seven. Because of the inevitably lurid and sometimes offensive subjects that it would cover, newsgroup administrators objected to the inclusion of one or more newsgroups covering
sexual topics in the Big Seven (including the existing "rec.arts.erotica"), fearing that they may prevent the major news hierarchies from being widely distributed. News administrators are free to add any or all of the "alt.sex.*" newsgroups without having to worry about conflicting with the Big Seven. Likewise, any and all of the "alt.binaries.*" newsgroups can be accepted or rejected by administrators if they choose. Binariesare often of extremely large size, which is why administrators may choose to exclude them.
Several extensions of the "alt.*" hierarchy have become quite successful on their own. A number of newsgroups have taken advantage of the freedom of the "alt.*" hierarchy to create a number of newsgroups that specialize on certain topics, as opposed to the broader "generic" discussions of the Big Seven hierarchy. For instance, the "rec.*" hierarchy may be home to the movie discussion newsgroups "rec.arts.movies.current-films", "rec.arts.movies.past-films", and "rec.arts.movies.reviews"; but the "alt.movies.*" hierarchy contains more focused discussion groups including "alt.movies.silent", "alt.movies.hitchcock", "alt.movies.kubrick", and "alt.movies.visual-effects".
languageof preference in the "original" Usenet hierarchies, including "alt.*", is English, which implies that the preferred character set encoding for these newsgroups is ASCII. Other language hierarchies have later been created in parallel to the existing English ones, for example "de.*" for German, "fr.*" for French, etc. Some access providers also created their own versions, prefixing the newsgroups names with their own name in a similar way. Messages posted in these "private" groups are generally not passed to other providers or the internet in general.
In June 2008, it was announced that
Sprintand Verizonwould be cutting off access to the alt.* hierarchy to their subscribers, citing child pornographyas the number one reason. New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo claimed his office found child porn in 88 of the 100,000 groups that exist on alt.*. [http://news.cnet.com/8301-13578_3-9964895-38.html] [ [http://uk.reuters.com/article/technologyNews/idUKN0930574820080611 Internet companies to block child porn sites | Technology | Reuters ] ] [ [http://news.cnet.com/8301-13578_3-9967119-38.html Verizon offers details of Usenet deletion: alt.* groups, others gone | The Iconoclast - politics, law, and technology - CNET News.com ] ] It should be noted that Verizon has not blocked alt.* from users, they have simply stopped maintaining the alt.* hierarchy on their own servers. Verizon subscribers can still access the alt.* hierarchy through a third party usenet service.
List of newsgroups
* [http://nylon.net/alt/index.htm How to create an ALT newsgroup]
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