Re: FAQs/REFs/COMs, Legitimacy (was Re: Style/History of FAQs


Joe Bernstein (
Tue, 6 May 1997 06:50:15 -0600

Jeff Knapp wrote:

>On 5 May 97 at 11:15, nagasiva wrote:
>> Joe Bernstein <>:

>> over the years, a certain amount of (I'd say often unwarranted)
>> prestige and authority attached to FAQ-writing, and peer-pressure
>> does tend to keep competing FAQs from developing.

Yeah... Ironically enough, on news.groups we're doing a reorg right
now in which I'm among those defending the creation of a group devoted
largely *to* the development of competing FAQs, dissension about FAQs,
etc. My earlier point was not that someone could *stop* me from
writing an FAQ for news.groups (in fact I had already posted a couple
of narrower-topic ones at the time I'm referring to) but that it was
quite an ego boost to see the respected posters saying they wanted me
to, or agreeing to help, or saying nice things about the first posted

>> this is what I was warning about as regards previous Writer-motivations
>> and the problems of Corporate Sponsorship, yes. I cannot know of your
>> particular case, but writing a FAQ to sell a book sounds like it may
>> have the potential to be poor service to the newsgroup and to other
>> posters in the field. it might not turn out that way, but there is
>> certainly greater danger therein.
>I think what was being said is I write a FAQ, it is big and useful,
>maybe somewhere down the line it might make it as a book, because it
>is soooo big and useful.

Um, sorta. If it matters, what was being said precisely was that I set
out to write an FAQ (and questions like "Does anyone know of a good
book on southern France in prehistory?" are staples on sci.archaeology,
so it made sense to anticipate equivalent ones in soc.history.ancient).
Because the questions inherently vary unpredictably by region, I set
out to make it pretty comprehensive. Then some serious library time
made it clear that doing it 100% Right the way I'd ideally want it done
would cost, well, mega-serious library time. So I cut it back to a
more manageable scope, with a mental note that if it proved wildly
popular that way, I might have a case for telling a publisher "See, you
could sell this book, you should pay me to spend mega-serious library
time". It's still going to take several hundred hours' work, by the

(A good case can be made that my 100% Right version would be way too
long. Additional note.)

This I guess raises a related question: what does it mean when people
who see writing as something to get paid for do FAQs? In my personal
case it means that there is *some*, admittedly rather stratospheric,
limit beyond which my writing is *not* information that wants to be
free on Usenet, and that proto-FAQ (or REF, whatever) crossed that
limit. I suspect this conflicts to some extent with the basic ethoses
of Usenet, and in ways that ought to be familiar - after all, it's
quite analogous to the freeware/payware distinction, isn't it? and I'm
accustomed to freeware mail and news readers, which are pretty
stratospheric pieces of writing themselves.

>But, to agree on the converse, if someone was to write a FAQ with
>the sole purpose of turning it into a book, then I'd look askance at

I guess I'm serious in asking this time, although my last post was
mainly a kvetch. I hadn't noticed before that the situation I'm
describing had any real conflict with Usenet norms, so maybe there are
other ethical issues I hadn't noticed.

Joe Bernstein