Apologies for Cross-Posting

A pretty interesting conversation happened recently on the SOCNET list about the practice of cross-posting on multiple mailing lists, including a look at its origins and why it may no longer be quite so necessary (names and quotes used with permission):

Barry Wellman:

“apologies for cross-posting” is one of the most frequent messages I see online when someone posts a notice of a conference or a book.

I hope that we social networkers never ever say that — as long as we are posting to several lists germanely.

The apology basically implies that people live their lives encapsulated in one group. But we networkers, of all people, should know that people have multiple connections to multiple networks. So to reach them, you gotta cross-post!


Yes, I have always thought that is the stupidest remark… probably left over from the verrrry early days of the net when you could only
transmit so many bits in a day…

Alex Kuskis:

Maybe. But stupid or not, I prefer to focus on the intent of the poster, which is well-intentioned. When in doubt, a little bit of netiquette is not a bad thing.

On the other hand, I agree with Barry’s defence of posting information about academically-related products such as books or software. One person’s spam is another person’s valued information. Just because you have to pay for something doesn’t make the information crass commercialism.

Carter Butts:

Actually, the taboo against cross-posting dates from the halcyon days of Usenet; it is intended to prevent accidental misallocation of messages and/or other confusion caused by posters sending replies to other groups without realizing it. Some posters would then reply only locally, creating even more confusion in other groups (who would sometimes see replies to the replies, but miss the original response). Cross-posting was also used by early trolls to start flamewars, by sending deliberately incendiary material to ideologically opposed groups. Incautious users’ replies were automagically sent to the opposing group, generating a wave of threads which could last for months.

Thus, the taboo, and hence the apologies you cite.

See also the Jargon File:

“cross-post: vi.

[Usenet; very common] To post a single article simultaneously to several newsgroups. Distinguished from posting the article repeatedly, once to each newsgroup, which causes people to see it multiple times (which is very bad form). Gratuitous cross-posting without a Followup-To line directing responses to a single followup group is frowned upon, as it tends to cause followup articles to go to inappropriate newsgroups when people respond to various parts of the original posting.”

And purely for humor’s sake from Christophe Prieur:

> One person’s spam is another person’s
> valued information.

Yes, i totally agree.
By the way, my dear friend, i have a confidential business suggestion for you. I am the son of late Ahmidu Kuruma, head of the General Bank of Abidjan…

Many networking sites have explicit policies against cross-posting. Some, like Ryze, even have automated tools for detecting cross-posting of identical messages. I understand why this is needed. Spammers or otherwise ill-informed self-promoters can certainly abuse this capability.

But for the rest of us, when we have a legitimate reason to cross-post, i.e., when the information is relevant to every group, do we still need to apologize for it? I suppose, as Alex said, “When in doubt, a little bit of netiquette is not a bad thing.” But don’t overdo it — overly apologizing makes it look like you’re “guilty” of something, and in the case of cross-posting, you may not be.