! I have found 4 general types of messaging systems/networks which are available to many

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! I have found 4 general types of messaging systems/networks which are available to many computer users: 1. Commercial networks 2. Academic networks 3. Public BBS networks 4. Individual BBS systems Each of these types of systems has different advantages, limitations, and audiences. 1. Commercial networks. This includes services such as Compuserve, Prodigy, Delphi, and other services which charge for time or resources on their own proprietary network. Generally, the e-mail is very secure, and many message bases exist for discussion on a wide number of topics. Bases for public discussions may, however, be limited or removed at the whim of the network company, as the Prodigy service has recently done. Although long-established networks such as Compuserve may have a large number of users, it has been my experience that there is a large turnover in the number of hobbyist users due to the relatively high cost; only people who have some business or consultant interest tend to keep these accounts and use them on a consistent basis. These networks are well-maintained, and locally available from most areas. 2. Academic networks. Most universities and many industries and government agencies are connected and cross-connected through a number of networks. These include BITNET (academic), USENET (UNIX, mixed), ARPAnet (military), and others. Access and use of these networks is free, and generally an incidence of classwork-assigned accounts or employment in a participating company. As such, the free access is somewhat volatile, as people graduate or move on to other jobs. There are, however, a number of public-access UNIX systems which may be used for a nominal fee. Any account on any of these networks can send e-mail to other accounts on any connected network, which is world-wide. There are also a large number of message conferences, which are available to the majority of users in these networks. The majority of sites receive all of the conferences, however some industrial sites limit them to technical groups only. These groups are read by an estimated 325,000+ people around the world, with the vast bulk of this audience in the technical and academic fields. This network is fairly fast and stable, despite the somewhat unstable network topography. E-mail is reliable, however security is dependant upon the sites involved in the transfer. It is rumored that the NSA scans outgoing mail from the US, and that the FBI regularly receives a copy of all of the messages groups. Currently, the primary group for public discussion of religious ideas is a newsgroup called talk.religion.misc. Atheists are well represented in this group, as well as other groups with religious tie-ins, such as talk.origins (primarily evolution vs. creationism) and sci.skeptic. The religious apologists have a very rough time in the public forum, as their diatribes are rebuffed by many Atheists, agnostics, and even other stripes of theists. So far, I have only been able to find one other member of American Atheists, Doug Linder, who participates in these newsgroups. I have found a great deal of animosity toward Madalyn O'Hair even from other people who profess atheistic views, some even calling her the "Jerry Falwell" of Atheism. I can only assume that this opinion is a consequence of the smear campaigns conducted by both religious institutions and other atheist groups like FFRF who want their share of the limelight. Doug and I have been posting a number of ideas and facts about American Atheists, such as the "What is an Atheist?" passage from the Murray vs. Curlett lawsuit, as well as the numbers to Dial-An-Atheist phone messages. We hope that by exposing people to the real sources and materials instead of the distorted opinions still prevalent in this society, we can change many of the negative opinions. Starting next year, we will also try again to start a new newsgroup devoted exclusively to Atheism. We are also considering starting an e-mail mailing list for Atheist topics, as well as an electronic magazine/newsletter. The academic networks are for non-commercial use only, supposedly for "official business", but they have generally turned into a free-for-all. Cause organizations also use this network for their communications. I have talked to the network administrator for Amnesty International about procedures for access to the net, but he wasn't very helpful. The only official way to get access is to ask a local university if they would donate an account; barring that, a public-access UNIX could be used. 3. Public BBS networks. The only significant difference between BBS networks and the first two network types is the machines that are used. Whereas the first two generally use large to medium-sized mainframes owned by government institutions or private industry, these networks are run solely on privately owned microcomputers using privately owned phone lines. As such, the reliability and security of these systems are dependent on the competence and discretion of the individuals running them. Despite this, these systems seem to be at least, if not more, reliable and secure as the expensive commercial networks. The primary BBS network is FidoNet, which is gatewayed to other smaller networks such as AlterNet and GoodEggNet. There is a wide diversity in the types and functions of BBS systems available for microcomputers; not all of them support networking functions and not all networks are compatible. The FidoNet standard is compatible with many types of BBS systems; most other networks are only compatible with a single type of BBS software, such as the WWIVnet which only runs on WWIV boards. FidoNet systems reach a very large and diversified audience, however it is possible for any group to set up its own private network using the same store-and-forward mailer software. The communications functions available are nearly identical to the other networks; a large number of topic-segregated message bases called echo conferences are available for free use, and e-mail between users on different systems is supported, though this latter function generally requires a nominal fee to help pay for the long-distance calls. Any message entered into an echo conference on any system in the network will be forwarded, or "echoed" to the corresponding echo conference on every other board in the network during the National Mail Hour each day at 4am. There are large number of echo conferences on various subjects, but not all boards carry even most of them; each board must subscribe to the particular conferences it wishes to receive. Many boards specialize on particular topics or themes, and many religious groups have taken the opportunity to coordinate their efforts as well as proselytize using a combination of echo conferences in the FidoNet and their own private networks. A quick scan through two of the most comprehensive (although pitifully incomplete) national BBS listings showed at least 12 religion-based BBS's. There is also a public FidoNet standard, though separate, network called Computers for Christ is used primarily for their own discussion and evangelism. 4. Individual BBS Systems. These are by far the most common types of microcomputer BBS systems. They offer the same services- e-mail, message bases for discussion, games, file downloads- as other BBS systems, but they lack the ability to automatically forward messages to other systems. They share the same limitations that networked BBS's have compared to the private and commercial networks; generally, only one user at a time can access a BBS, and mail forwarding, when available, is performed only once per day at a specific time, as opposed to the instantaneous transfer on mainframe networks. Despite this, isolated BBS systems are still a very effective method of transferring information, as long as the bulk of the information is kept on a single system which a number of users share. In this arrangement, it is not necessary that each "node" of the network must maintain a functional BBS and network; all of the work is done at the central BBS and a communications program or terminal/printer is all that each user needs. It may take much longer for a user to read and respond to mail manually than it takes for a networked system to transfer incoming and outgoing mail, but the reduced phone rates for non-business hours make the difference negligible. Network services such as PC-Pursuit by Telenet can provide low-cost access to BBS's in many major U.S. metropolitan areas. It is difficult to estimate the size of the rapidly expanding audience for BBS's. During the 3 years that I have operated my BBS, I have received over 41,000 calls from at least 8000 different people. This is a single-line non-networked BBS. I would estimate that over 1/2 million people have at least seen, or tried a public BBS once. Anyone with a computer and a modem can, and often does, set up a BBS. Although relatively few of them are exclusively or overtly religious, there is widespread discussion in the message bases on these boards. On BBS's where the sysop doesn't censor the messages, the theists usually fare little better than the more sophisticated and educated apologists on the academic networks. While some are overtly religiously oriented, such as this one: (title screen) On line KJV BIBLE with * * * || * * * word search program!!! * * * || * * * * * * || * * * |||||||||||||||||| ======== ########## * * * || * * * = = # # * * * || * * * = = # # * * * || * * * TM ======== # ######## || = ====== ==== # ## ###### ###### || # # ###### #### = = = = # ## # # # # || # # # # # = = ==== # ## ###### ###### || # # # #### = = = # ## # # # || # # # # = = ==== # ## # # # || ###### # #### PreRapture(tm) Productions BBS 8,N,1 3/12/2400 Durham NC 24hr PCP-NCRTP Sysop: Steve Winter WWIV-BBS (919) 286-3962 Great shareware!..Bible Quiz(on line)..False Doctrine expose'... and more.... ...I haven't yet seen any BBS which is overtly Atheist oriented, or which offers specific message bases dealing with Atheism, other than part of a general religious message base. Some, like the BBS above, are for apologists only- anyone who criticizes or questions his religion are kicked off the system. Overview: The primary advantages of commercial and academic networks are that they generally have a larger and more educated audience, they are faster, and the cost of using them is minimal or free in most cases. Microcomputer BBS networks have the advantage that, depending on the system administrator, they can be more secure, plus the administrator has direct control over the format and direction of the system. Although message bases on the mainframe networks are read by more people, BBS networks are more easily accessible by a larger number of people; access to the mainframe networks is much more involved than dialing a local BBS. For inter-organizational work, I would recommend the use of a private microcomputer-based system. Many large companies have their own internal messaging networks, and the primary advantage of this is security. For "getting the word out", the best way is to use one of the existing networks. Doug and I have been doing this on the academic network, although direct advertisements are generally frowned upon by network policies.

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