Beginner's Kit/Etiquette Guide

This file is mainly intended for newcomers to the newsgroup/mailing list. The under-signed wrote it, will try to post it regularly, and is of course open to suggestions and corrections.

If you are reading the newsgroups, go to news.announce.newusers first, and read the general material there (especially Emily Postnews' guide to Netiquette). Some of the advice will duplicated here for extra-emphasis, but it is the best general introduction to newsgroups.

where am I?

Depending on your personal situation, either reading the Early Music mailing list (if messages come to you by e-mail) or the newsgroup (if you are using news software). If you are in the latter case, always keep in mind that there are folks who do not enjoy the benefits of news software, and are reading your posts in a different format. Also remember that some folks pay for their access to the wonders of the net.

If you have a choice of method, it is probably better for you to read the newsgroup than receive the mailing list, which is an imperfect substitute. Aside from keeping the general news traffic distinct from your private e-mail, a news software typically provides many bells and whistles that make reading and responding so much easier. If you pay for your connection but have a newsreader that downloads to disk, there is no disadvantage in cost. If you pay but can only read news on-line, you may want to consider the list instead.

For a long time, the list and the newsgroup were equivalent: an automatic gateway in Vienna posted all list messages and sent all posts to the list. With the appearance of "spam" (cf. infra), some list subscribers complained, and one idiot even threatened to sue Gerhard Gonther, who maintained the gateway. As a result, since September 1996, Gerhard manually sorts the traffic between the two, mainly to eliminate spam.

If you get EARLYM-L by e-mail, you probably received an automatic mailing from the system administrator (the LISTSERV) with some beginning "lessons" on LISTSERV commands. Other commands allow you to customize the way you receive messages. For example, you can adjust the amount of information that comes in headers so that you know from whose posting you read and whence it came. Another option is to receive an entire day's postings as a single digest file instead of as they are posted, a useful option while on vacation. There are many more options. To get more information on LISTSERV commands, just send the command

"info refcard"

who else is here?

A very diverse bunch of people, academics, professional musicians, amateur performers, or just music-lovers, on several continents. Regular and occasional contributors number in the few hundreds, the readership probably in the thousands, and growing.

(It has been suggested that we have a "bio file" to which people can contribute a paragraph about themselves, and which would be available for perusal. This doesn't currently exist, but it may soon).

Is there a FAQ?

Yes. However, it is still under construction.

what can I do?

Basically four things: The general purpose of the newsgroup is to discuss matters related to Early Music. This can be understood in two ways: Classical Western music up to a certain date (say, 1750 or 1800), which covers Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque mainly. The other way is music performed with an emphasis on authentic instruments, with appropriate techniques. One generic term is HIP (historically informed performance). There are H.I. performances of post-1750 works (even Brahms or Mahler can be HIPed), which is one reason why the boundary between Early Music and other Classical music is fuzzy. In fact, where this boundary lies is itself a hot topic of discussion.

A FAQ is currently being written, and it will address those issues in greater detail than needed here.

Announcements of concerts, new recordings, new publications, and other "commercial" posts are welcome, as long as they are clearly related to early music, light on hype, heavy on info, and posted once. Concert announcements are encouraged, since many are curious to know what is going on even in places far away from them; however, it would be useful to include an indication of geographical location (country or state) in the subject line.

how should I do it?

What you do via e-mail is your concern. When you post, on the other hand, this concerns every reader. This newsgroup is not moderated, so anyone can post anything they want. With a growing readership, the volume on this group is increasing, and some basic rules might help to keep it to a manageable level. Here are a few notions of "netiquette", intended as guidelines to smooth the process, not as a rigidly enforced code.

to post or not to post

new thread

if you are starting a new thread, or asking for information, remember to pause and consider whether this is the appropriate forum. Not that you'll be savaged for being in the wrong place, but you may get back less than expected. Also, if you are asking for info which is not of general interest, add the phrase "Please reply by e-mail." As an incentive, you might promise to post a summary.

You should want to check the newsgroup's archive (cf. infra) or DejaNews to check whether the information you are seeking hasn't already been aired. Check the FAQ as well.


subject line

the message itself


Anything pertaining to Early Music is fair game for a new topic. What Early Music is, even within the context of this group, is still under debate. Keep in mind that some topics are liable to start "flame-wars" (nasty episodes where people become angry and hurl e-insults at each other), so broach them with great care. One of them is vibrato (is it good, bad, authentic, etc). Another is editing unpleasant texts by performers (should performers remove offensive material). Yet another is <label>-specific performing groups, where <label> is in {ethnic, gender, sexual orientation, ...}. A lot of this may seem baffling to non-US readers uncertain about the current state of American culture, and they may need to ask a local familiar with the territory.


When people communicate via screenfuls of text, tempers can flare quickly. Each individual has his or her style, but a bit of restraint can go a long way. Re-read your post if you have the time. Humor is never in excess supply: a well-placed smiley can turn a comment from ambiguous to innocuous. Don't be afraid to post opinions, but be prepared to see them contradicted. Do assert facts, but be gracious when found in error. Try to make clear whether you are offering fact or opinion (this may avoid a flame-war). Be gentle to newcomers, once you are an old hand (remember, we all began somewhere).

whither my posts?

To an archive, actually, maintained at the Economics University, Vienna, Austria. Everything ever posted to this group is there, and there are tools to search the archives for the occurrence of any string, or download messages by time period. You can access it with Gopher , or with FTP .

The Vienna archive technically only contains messages to the EM list. The newsgroup itself is archived (like many others) automatically at DejaNews. The DejaNews database only goes back to March 1995.



Spamming is posting the same message to many unrelated newsgroups. The message is usually irrelevant to the newsgroups where it appears. This happens, either because some firm thinks it's found a free form of advertising, or because some nut thinks they've found a free soapbox. As the net grows, and more people come on-line, this sort of thing is bound to happen.

The archetypal event was a posting offering legal services by two shysters called Cantor and Siegel, whose names live down in infamy. Thousands of irate readers replied to them, stuffing their mailbox with purposefully huge e-mails until the system which housed their account crashed. This is called mail-bombing, which is considered impolite. The Cantor-Siegel incident was much publicized.

Commercial providers of Internet access now have a very good reason to lay down extremely strict rules about spamming, since spamming by one of their clients can bring down their system and seriously inconvenience all their clients (that's why mail-bombing is both impolite and effective). If spamming will bring about cancellation of the account, no commercial firm has much interest in engaging in such, and commercial spamming will remain a rarity. Kook spamming cannot be prevented the same way, it can only be repressed, and so it must be endured as a consequence of the openness of the Net.

If r.m.e. is spammed, there is no need to follow-up with a post of your own telling the world how bad spamming is, or how irrelevant that posting is. We all know that. If you have specific and useful information ("Here's a phone number to call to contact the sys-admin", "Don't bother, the offender's account has already been shut down"), please post it. If you want to express your outrage to the poster, reply to him or her; or send mail to the sys-admin@ or postmaster@ the originating site. You may, however, rest assured that many thousands of other users will have already sent e-mail.

François Velde
Johns Hopkins University

Last modified: December 31, 1996