What's a newsgroup?
By this time you're familiar with the term “newsgroup”. But unless you've participated in one, you probably only have a vague idea of what a newsgroup really is. So what is it? A newsgroup is a virtual “room” on the Internet where groups of people can carry on asynchronous discussions. By asynchronous, I mean that the participants of the discussion are not in the “room” at the same time. The discussion occurs by people leaving messages. Each message is similar to an e-mail message: it has a date and time, a subject header, some text (the body of the message), and sometimes one or more attachments. But the recipient of the message is the newsgroup itself, rather than an individual. So the message is visible to everyone in the group.
Usually there are several discussions (we call them threads) going on in a newsgroup simultaneously. Fortunately, your newsreader software will be able to distinguish and organize the distinct threads for you, so it isn't hard to follow a particular thread. Typically, a discussion begins with a message that initiates a new thread, where somebody will pose a question (or make a controversial statement). Responses from others will soon follow, as will responses to those responses. Pretty soon the thread will look like the branches of a tree in your newsreader, all stemming from that initial message.
The dBASE newsgroups
Luckily for us, there are newsgroups specifically for dBASE programmers, and these groups are among the best in the world. The official dBASE newsgroups are hosted by dBASE Inc. The URL of their news server is news.dbase.com. There are actually several groups on their server – Programming, Reports, Wishlist, Watercooler, and so on – and you'll likely want to subscribe to several of these.
If you program with dBASE and you've never used the newsgroups, you're missing out on something great. Just reading the messages in these groups (we call this lurking) on a regular basis is a fruitful and entertaining way to expand your knowledge base about dBASE and about programming in general. And if you get stuck or confused about a program that you're working on, just start a new thread by posting a message that explains your problem. Chances are that your question will be answered — free of charge — on the same day, by some of the world's best programming gurus. Sometimes you'll get several answers in just a few minutes. The dBASE experts really seem to enjoy helping and educating others.
Who participates in the dBASE newsgroups?
Professional and amateur programmers, xbase gurus, and people who want to learn about dBASE. dBASE Inc. also monitors the groups. In fact, Alan Katz, the president of the company, is a regular participant. These groups are pretty busy, and there are lots of helpful experts who contribute on a daily basis. They will answer your questions and educate you.
How can I participate?
You need an Internet connection, and a newsreader. There are some excellent newsreaders that you can get for free. For example, Netscape Communicator 4.x comes with a module called Collabra, which is excellent. Microsoft Outlook Express is another good one. Free Agent and Gravity are also popular.
Click here for specific instructions on How to subscribe to the dBASE newsgroups
Once you're connected, there are some ground-rules to follow. You should read the Newsgroup Guidelines, which were posted by Bowen Moursund who manages the newsgroups. In short, you have to be polite and professional, and you must conserve bandwidth (in other words, don't post a lot of useless or repetitive junk).
See you in the newsgroups!