Stuart Campbell's alt.digitiser article

Stuart Campbell has an article printed in the May 1998 edition of .Net magazine describing the travails and frustrations involved in the setting up of the alt.digitiser newsgroup. The full piece can be read here:



Early in February of this year, an RFD was posted to at the behest of myself and some colleagues on Digitiser, Channel 4 Teletext’s daily videogames magazine, for a new newsgroup whose purpose was to discuss general aspects of videogames raised by Digitiser, and aspects of Digitiser itself. The discussion progressed normally and sedately, but soon became unhelpfully fragmented (with the 130 posts covering six different threads) and rather bogged down in some pointless and irrelevant hairsplitting. One of the things that had become clear by then was that the preferred name for the group was, to fit the taxonomy of the only existing similar group,

On the 15th of Feb, I posted a message expressing very mild exasperation (the rudest phrase of which was "pain in the bum") at the said fragmentation, and asking a few relevant questions.

Simon Gray, a member of the UK Usenet committee, posted a response to this whose entire text was, "Read the faq’s, fuckwit" [sic]. (Neglecting to specify to which FAQs he referred, where they might be found, or which part of them was being apparently contravened.)

The debate resultingly turned rather ugly in tone and escalated dramatically. Over 1,000 further posts were made in around 10 days (including about 30 specifically-phrased ones posted by Digi viewers in response to my on-screen request for support), in which various other members of the committee joined in and offered personal abuse in the same terms, including over 25 further instances of "fuckwit" from committee members alone. (I was similarly abusive on four occasions, in the course of over 100 posts, three times in direct response to Simon Gray’s attacks and one ironic one). The opponents of our group tried to force the use of an alternative name,

In an attempt to restore calm and sensible debate, the Digitiser faction then posted a second RFD taking account of some of the points raised in the debate, but retaining the name

The Committee, however, refused to allow any further discussion or a vote on the RFD, and the matter effectively ended.


Nothing I could say in this small space would provide evidence nearly as splendid or entertaining as reading the debate itself (in which we were told that the entire population of the European Union was eligible to vote in British elections, that if you didn’t know how to do something you shouldn’t ask, and that Hitler wasn’t a dictator, amongst many, many other choice gems). To anyone who’s interested, I strongly recommend a Dejanews search for the words "digitiser" and "config". But otherwise:

To name a group solely concerned with the discussion of videogames and Digitiser,, seems to us to be an eminently sensible plan.

The lifeblood of any newsgroup is passing traffic. A group about videogames which didn’t include the words "video" or "games" anywhere in its name would, inevitably, fail to attract a great deal of casual passing interest from people interested in such things.

UK Usenet’s own official naming guidelines FAQ (written, ironically, by Simon Gray) says on the subject: ""It must be remembered that there is often no single 'correct' taxonomy for a new newsgroup... it is often better to put a new group with others in an approximately right 'place' than to insist on getting the name precise at the expense of putting the group in a different area that many potential users will not look at."


The Committee’s primary stated objection to our proposed name is that the word "digitiser" will, irrespective of prefix, cause confusion by attracting inappropriate posts from owners of digitising hardware to the group. This will apparently, in some way, precipitate the collapse of the whole of Usenet and, for all I know, Western civilisation. (That this argument also applies to their proposed alternative seemingly escapes their notice).

The other main stated objection is that the name "doesn’t follow correct* convention", as Digitiser isn’t a specific videogame. However, the only other discussion group currently existing under* is, and since the PlayStation isn’t a specific videogame either, the evidence supporting that objection seems inconclusive at best.

(Incidentally, Simon Gray’s related contention (26th Feb) that the entire readership of the uk.* hierarchy is "stupid" is a little disturbing coming from someone elected to represent those very people.)

Regardless of the rights and wrongs of the argument, it seems to me very wrong that a reasonably sensible debate should be plunged into horrific acrimony by a pointlessly nasty, abusive and unhelpful post from a member of the committee which is specifically charged with helping people to set up new newsgroups. (Incidentally, I subsequently discovered a post from Simon Gray on Feb 14 mentioning to someone else that he was being unreasonably rude to people at the time due to problems in his private life.)

If the Committee really believes that our proposal is against the interests of Usenet in general, then the matter should be left to Usenet in general to decide, by means of a free vote. (Although a number of committee members have stated that they’d vote against even a "properly" named Digitiser group, purely because they didn’t like the proponents.)

The two longest threads on in recent history (totalling over 1,600 posts) were both directly concerned with the obnoxious, obstructive attitude and behaviour of the UK Usenet Committee. The subject has been raised recently by several unconnected, extremely disparate groups of people. It’s not just us.


The result of all this, in general terms, is that once again a huge audience of potential newcomers (in our particular case, 1.5 million Digitiser readers) goes away with the impression that Usenet, and by implication the entire Net, is run and populated by a bunch of aggressively unfriendly, anally-retentive geeks determined at all costs to keep the whole thing a private little club for themselves and their geek friends. Anyone who doesn’t agree with that impression, and would like to see the Net community continue to grow, should be worried."

Do you know of any important moments from the annals of Digi history that have been omitted? If so, then mail me ( right now, man. Credit will be duly given for anything that gets put up.

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