: views from the Hill

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Not the spirit. Not the letter either.

There's all sorts of turmoil in alt.fiction.original and alt.writing. The turmoil is spilling over into misc.writing. The controversy swirls around Dr Zen, as is often the case. The controversy is over Zen's critiques of work posted for critique in AFO.

"But they're posted for critique!" you say. "How could it be controversial to critique them?"

Well, Zen crossposts his critiques to alt.writing, which is where he stashes interesting threads he finds elsewhere. Crossposting is a bit of the controversy, it seems. ("I only intended AFO to see this piece, not the world!")

The big flap, however, is over Zen posting without using the x-no-archive=yes flag which tells Googja not to archive his post when the original poster used the x-no-archive flag originally, intending to keep the work out of the Googja glob of posts.

"What does it matter?" you say.

Well, first off, if you use the x-no-archive=yes flag, not only won't Googja store your post, but no one using Google to read Usenet posts will even see your post. If a work for critique and all critique thereof is shielded behind the x-no-archive flag, folks using Google are missing out.

"So, what?"

The Zens of the world are providing their critique advice not only to the individual with the request but also to lurkers and readers above and beyond the person whose work they're critiquing. If Zen wanted to provide one-on-one critiquing, he could do so with e-mail. As it is, if someone uses Google to read Usenet, Zen's work is unavailable, if he shields it -- as some are requesting -- with the x-no-archive flag.

But he isn't, and there's the rub.

One of the AFO posters commented, "But the no archive thing. Jee-sus. How self-obsessed can you be? People use this group for stories they may try to publish. Publishers search Google sometimes. I was barred from a competition I'd won exactly because of that."

So cheat, this fella says. Post to Usenet for help and critique and feedback, but use the x-no-archive flag so publishers and competition judges won't be able to track you down.


These spotlessly honest folks complaining about Zen and x-no-archive want critiquers of their x-no-archive'd work to x-no-archive as well, so that even a hint of their work won't show up in the Googja archives. Please critique, but don't archive your critique because your critique will reference my work as well and I told the publisher it had never been published.

Some publishers don't consider a Usenet post publication. Others do.

The guidelines at OnSpec specify, "We do not read E-mailed or faxed submissions, and we do not buy work that has appeared in print or on the Internet." There are no fuzzy waffling words defining a different "is it published?" status for publishing on a web site, webzine or Usenet newsgroup.

For this publisher, publishing "on the Internet" means "published" and they won't buy it.

My take is, if you want to workshop your work before submitting it for publication and you deal with publishers who consider any appearance on the Internet as publication, don't post the work to a Usenet newsgroup. Find some other venue: a private mailing list, e-mail.

Is it legit to post your work on a Usenet newsgroup for critique, using the x-no-archive flag to tell Googja not to archive it so you can later fib about whether it was ever on Usenet? Is it legit to skate around an editor's requirements by using x-no-archive so you can lie about the status of your work, so that an editor, searching for your story on the Web won't see that you've already shared it with the untold millions of lurkers?

Another AFO poster claimed he was using x-no-archive not because he was trying to scam publishers but because he didn't want his family reading something he'd written. My advice there? Don't publish anything to Usenet you wouldn't want your mom or Aunt Emma to read. Just don't. If you plan to do so and plan to use the x-no-archive so Mom and Aunt Emma can't find your post in Googja, you must realize you have no guarantee that someone won't follow up on your post and leave off the x-no-archive flag.

You also have no right to tell someone else that they must not archive their own posts because they reference one of yours.

When Steve Madere and his wacky crazy crew began archiving Usenet in 1995, they started from scratch and they started small. At the beginning, they didn't archive alt, talk or soc. They started from Day One. Only later, after the Deja archive was well underway, did they begin archiving alt, talk and soc and also begin reaching back, creating an archive of older posts from backup tapes held by institutions, companies and individuals.

When Google bought Deja, they found even older resources and pushed the archives even further back.

No one in 1985 dreamt that in 2004, someone could retrieve comments they made in Usenet in 1985, but as Madere said way back in 1995, "When you post to Usenet, it automatically gets propagated to tens of thousands of computers. So anybody who posted something to Usenet and then later on has any kind of privacy concerns about it must have seriously misunderstood what they were doing."

Instead of using x-no-archive=yes and yammering on (and on and on) that anyone referencing your post should do the same, Just. Don't. Post. To. Usenet.

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