Communities Resolving Our Problems: the basic idea
[SUP: Sharing Problems] [THINK: Guidance] [LEAP: Solving Problems]

Conferencing via Email Forums

A group of people trading email on a specific topic or theme area creates an email conference. Across computer networking systems there are millions of electronic email conferencing systems, systems which store and share email on specific topics. But there are two major designs for computer conferencing commonly found on the Internet: forums and email lists. An Internet forum requires readers to visit the web site to check for new posts. This contrasts with mailing lists which send any mail sent to the list to the email account of everyone on the list.

The first major development in forums was Usenet newsgroups, a collection of postings that became DejaNews, and then was bought by Google. These tens of thousands of email forum conferences on a very large range of subjects are archived back to 1981. This page provides rationale and access via different routes to newsgroup conferences. It should be noted that the distinctions between mailing lists and forums are made more confusing in that many mailing list conferences also automatically enter their email into forums. These groups are found under the newsgroup hierarchy of INFO. Further, many forums have the option of sending email notifications to subscribers.


Rationale: Why email conferences

What is a forum email conference?

A forum is a collection of email around a certain topic kept on a server, a collection of email that can be widely duplicated on similar servers around the world. Forums were originally called newsgroups within the UseNet system. The forum concept is a common but not singular way to manage the sharing and storage of email messages for a group of people interested in a certain topic. The forum or newsgroup system stores email at a newsgroup site or computer space on the Internet. That is, just like with web pages, you must enter an address for the server and go there to read what is stored in the newsgroup. The email will not be sent to your email account, which is opposite of the mailing list or listserv concept. At best, one can put a shortcut on your computer to reach your newsgroup email quickly.

Different software applications can be used to read the email in the newsgroup. There are stand alone newsgroup reader programs or the reader programs are embedded in web browsers such as Internet Explorer or Firefox, or the newsgroups can be managed through standard web page systems (an approach taken with Google.com's Groups option, for example).

Just as the school librarian has control of the magazine racks and which magazines appear in them, so does a computer administrator have control over which newsgroups will be selected, stored and managed on the newsgroup server at a computer administrator's institution. There are local newsgroups set up and run on only one server by the administrator of a local newsgroup server, which anyone could do and global newsgroups. Local newsgroup server administrators  may limit traffic to just people in a particular institution or group or allow anyone on the Internet in to participate. If you decide to manage one, that decision is yours to make.

The message sets of  particular newsgroups may be widely duplicated on tens of thousands of newsgroup servers around the world. These are part of the global UseNet newsgroup system. Some newsgroups in the UseNet newsgroup system are not popular or are considered offensive to some, and may therefore not be stored in a particular newsgroup server in the global network.

If there is no newsgroup that appears to be interested in your topic, it is possible to propose a new one for local institutional use or to propose a new one for the global usenet community and conduct a vote of am oversight board about forming one. Though this is possible, it is more akin to voting on a new state in the United States of America, not something you can do at your own personal whim. Once a topic becomes an official newsgroup, it is on a list of newsgroups from which a computer administrator may select. The total UseNet newsgroup set represents billions of email messages in a single day and server space always has some kind of limit.

To create a public or private forum within the institution or organization of which you are a part, contact your computer network administrator and ask what steps you must take in order to have the administrator set it up for you. To set up such lists independently, use


Searching existing newsgroups

Example Newsgroups

One clear sign of a newsgroup is that its name contains periods instead of the @ symbol.

Newsgroup Topic Newsgroup Name
Mathematics education in grades K-12. k12.ed.math 
Science curriculum and education in grades K-12. k12.ed.science 
Amateur scientists of astronomy sci.astro.amateur
Primary Elementary School http://teachers.net/mentors/primary_elementary/

Other Newsgroups (local on one server but open to general Internet participation)

Anyone can find and run newsgroup software on a computer that they are willing to leave connected to the Internet 24 hours a day. These sites come and go more frequently depending on the support of local organizations. These are also called: forums; message boards; bulletin boards and discussion boards. This set is educator focused.

Newsgroup Tutorials

[Updated September 16, 2007  |  Page author Houghton ]