The Regulation of The Simpsons Usenet Group
For this assignment, I chose to focus on the Usenet newsgroup titled “alt.tv.simpsons.” This newsgroup was a subset within “alt.tv,” which encompassed a ton of different newsgroups, all related to television and television shows. “Alt.tv.simpsons” exclusively focused on discussions concerning the iconic television show “The Simpsons,” one of the most popular shows of all time. This community was one of the most active groups on Usenet, as it included over 130,000 posts, which was by far the most I saw during my research on the different Usenet newsgroups. To maintain the group’s focus, it was self-regulated under its subject name. Participants understood that discussions were to revolve exclusively around “The Simpsons.” This was a challenging task given the group’s large and diverse user base, making it an attractive target for spam accounts and advertisers. However, the community took its moderation seriously and enforced strict rules to ensure on-topic discussions and combat spam. As with other Usenet groups, the “alt.tv.simpsons” community periodically posted a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document. The FAQs were not only a reference point for both new and existing members, but also set rules/regulations for the community. For this specific Usenet group, a user by the name of Andrew Gill was the “holder” of the FAQ. Gill posted the FAQ very frequently, as he posted it at least 1-3 times every month from 2001-2006. Gill would post the “CBG-FAQ”, which he explained was just a shorter version of the “LISA-FAQ”. Unfortunately the URL he provided for the LISA-FAQ was no longer available and I could not access it. However, the CBG-FAQ Gill provides is still extremely detailed and I explained each section below:
The intro section explains what the FAQ is and what readers of the FAQ should expect while reading the post.
This section teaches readers some of the different acronyms that the community uses to describe various aspects of The Simpsons. Gill includes around 20 different Simpsons-related acronyms and explains what each one means. He then goes onto explain some of the internet slang that new users may not be familiar with, such as getting “flamed”, what a “troll” is, and also what a “thread” of messages is.
3. “Those awful questions”
In this section, Gill lists out 15 different questions that are specific to characters/events within The Simpsons. He characterizes these questions as “awful” because they have been asked so often and are extremely important to the show. If a new user were to ask one of these questions, they may be at risk of getting ridiculed by new users for 1) not knowing the answer and 2) showing they haven’t read Gill’s FAQ.
4. “Production info”
This fourth section is only concerned with the production side of The Simpsons. It discusses FAQs about episode times, episode titles, how many seasons there are, and other technical aspects.
5. “The “Topics that tend to go nowhere””
In this section, Gill provides users with a list of topics that are frequently repeated on the forum, such as favorite quotes, favorite episodes, favorite characters, and others. Gill discourages the users from making posts on these topics, as he says that “they go nowhere”. He emphasizes how posting on these sorts of topics will cause disputes between users and trigger “flame wars”. He wants to avoid these types of discussions because they “clog up” Usenet and are not beneficial to the forum. Instead, he tells new users to focus on issues such as character development that will incite in-depth discussions about the show. He also asks users to refrain from complaining about new episodes or seasons, explaining that one day they won’t be there anymore. Gill then goes on to tell users not to respond to any spam post or anything off topic. He wants users to report and ban those who make these kinds of posts, as opposed to encouraging them by responding.
Here, Gill just lists several links to other forums related to The Simpsons that users can browse.
7. “Where is?”
The 7th section provides new users with a bunch of different links to information about The Simpsons. This includes the history of the show, the cast list, the directors/writers list, upcoming episodes, and more.
In the last section of the FAQ, Gill describes the concept of “netiquette”, which all users on the forum must adhere to. He defines netiquette as a series of “friendly” guidelines to promote politeness on the thread. Gill then lists, A-K, the different foundations of Netiquette and what not to do on the forum. This includes not being a “jerk”, not typing in all caps, not posting too frequently, not asking questions listed on the FAQ, not responding to trolls, and so on. Gill then provides new users with links to further information about netiquette.
Andrew Gill’s “CBG-FAQ” table of contents for the “alt.tv.simpsons” Usenet group shows the multi-layered goals of the group’s regulations. These rules were crafted very meticulously to maintain a focused and high-quality platform that best caters to Simpsons enthusiasts. The FAQ, featuring sections like “Those awful questions” and “The ‘Topics that tend to go nowhere,'” aimed to create discussions that were both informative and engaging, elevating the overall discourse. “Netiquette” was particularly interesting to me, as I have never heard that term before and also believed some of the restrictions were excessive. The “Netiquette” section definitely had the potential to benefit the Simpsons community by promoting respectful and productive discourse while also trying to eliminate any conflicts. However, there is a major risk that overly strict guidelines may deter newcomers by not allowing for creativity in discussions. New users on the forum may be anxious to create posts in fear of the backlash they could receive. Despite the flaws with Netiquette, I do believe that Andrew Gill’s FAQ for the Simpsons forum did provide the community with structure and legitimacy. After Gill stopped posting the FAQs in 2006, the community became a mess. There were spam posts everywhere and many users began to go off topic in their discussions. While users may have had more freedom in what they could post, they were simultaneously contributing to the demise of the forum. I believe that Gill’s regulations were aimed to create a sustainable, high-quality community of Simpsons enthusiasts, but unfortunately they required extremely nuanced management to ensure their benefit, and this did not last.
Image Source – Bloom, Mike. “‘The Simpsons’: 31 Times the Fox Comedy Successfully Predicted the Future.” The Hollywood Reporter, The Hollywood Reporter, 27 June 2023, http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/tv/tv-news/simpsons-future-predictions-accurate-1140775/.