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Tracking newsgroup threads

THIS WEEK NetSpeak explains the details of tools that enable us to keep up with the newsgroup discussions with ease.

A Newsgroup is an on-line discussion forum for a specific subject, where anyone can read/post messages. In fact, during the Net's initial stages, pre-web days, Usenet (http://en. wikipedia.org/wiki/Usenet) newsgroups used to be a major communication vehicle.

At present, tens of hundreds of newsgroups are there for a wide range of subjects. The good old Usenet alone contains thousands of newsgroups that deal with topics related to subjects such as business, computer, science and politics. For example, the newsgroup, `comp.infosystems.search', which has been created for discussing various aspects of search technology, should certainly be of use to search enthusiasts.

The discussion forum, `alt.internet.search-engines', is another one created for search engine discussions. Check out the `Comp FAQ' () page, which lists out links to FAQ pages for newsgroups that fall under the computing hierarchy.

Apart from the Usenet newsgroups, several organisations created many special discussion forums. For example, Microsoft () has floated hundreds of newsgroups for discussing its various products.

As mentioned in an earlier column, one can read newsgroup threads with a newsgroup reader like Forte Agent (http://www.forteinc.com/main/homepage.php). One can also read them through the `Google Groups' () web interface. However, if one is an intensive newsgroup user, who reads several newsgroups daily, he/she may find it difficult to visit each of the groups separately to view the latest postings.

Also, one may not be interested in all the new discussion threads being posted on one's favourite newsgroups. To prevent newsgroup users from going through this laborious access process, `Google Groups' now provides news feeds for each of the newsgroups.

To get the feed for a specific newsgroup, access the `Google Groups' site and type in the name of the newsgroup whose feed is to be found. The service will display all the threads available for this newsgroup. Now, click on the `About this group' option, where one will find the feed links. At this point, copy the relevant feed link and subscribe to the feed using the newsreader. Once successfully subscribed to a newsgroup feed, the user can monitor its latest content through your newsreader.

It may also be noted that the user can obtain the feed for a newsgroup by directly accessing the group's page at `Google Groups' using the link: /feeds/. For instance, to access the page for the newsgroup `comp.virus' that discusses about computer viruses, type the URL as: http://groups-beta.google.com/ group/ comp.virus/feeds.

Newsgroup analysis tool

It is obvious that the newsgroups segment of Net, though lost some its past glory, is still agog with action. Apart from reading the threads being posted on one's favourite newsgroups, a netizen would like to get valuable information on the kind of discussions being taken place on various groups. Some kind of analysis of the group postings based on parameters such as number of active participants, number of posts/replies and so on, which helps in tracking the potential/richness of a newsgroup. The on-line service, Netscan, is created with this objective. As per its site, Netscan tool lets users "get reports about any newsgroup for any day, week, month, quarter, or year, since September 1999" ().

For a large majority of netizens, Google seems to be the only search tool. In fact, one of the services featured in this column quite frequently is also Google. This does not mean that other search services are keeping quiet and are willing to give Google a free ride. Its immediate competitors such as Yahoo, and MSN are also strongly in the fray, giving Google a good run for its money. As part of its attempts to regain the lost supremacy in the search services market, Yahoo has unveiled a new search technology, called Yahoo's contextual search.

While reading a web page, one may come across some interesting stuff that needs further investigation. One solution is to frame an appropriate keyword from the context and invoke another search with one's favourite search service. Obviously, this is a time consuming process and one may not always have the patience to do it.

Rather than the user select a term manually, if the search engine can automatically figure out the search terms from the text and automatically dish out relevant search output based on these keywords, the search process will become quite efficient. Yahoo's context search tool, Y!Q, is designed with this need in mind.

If one wants to use the service directly from a web page, he/she can just select the text and invoke the Yahoo's context search service. Yahoo, with its contextual technology, reads the content of the text input, generates keywords from the supplied text, invokes a search using the new keywords on the fly and displays the search output. For IE users, the service provides a search bar and if one is a Firefox user, he/she can add the Yahoo's context feature on to it using the extension available at: To use the service directly from its interface, access it at: and type in or paste the text on to its input box.

Another notable move from Yahoo! is the release of the browser toolbar for the popular browser Firefox (that lets a user access its services directly from the browser.

G-mail invites

Looking for a Gmail invite? Check out the `gmail invite spooler', `isnoop.net' (http://isnoop.net/gmail/), which offers gmail invites. When this author checked the site recently, it had more than 235,615 invites to share.

Startup Control Panel

The program `msconfig', which comes along with Windows 9x OS, lets a user control the programs that start during her machine's booting stage. Startup Control Panel () is another start-up control software that works in almost all versions of Windows.

J. Murali

Email the author at: jmurali@gmail.com

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