Communication using the Internet has become very popular as it provides an extremely fast connection and the ability to reach thousands of people within minutes. The number of new sites and users has exploded, particularly in the last year. Universities and industry alike are connecting to the Internet as well as private persons, using service providers like Compuserve. It is already a great drawback to have no access to a network like Internet or the older Bitnet, though many people are still unaware of this fact.
The following sections will summarize the information available over the Internet for statistics and related fields to give an overview for people already connected and to motivate interested people to take the step now and connect.
Discussion lists and newsgroups are intended to serve as a forum for information exchange. The primary idea is that a virtual address serves as an interface. Every active participant sends messages to this address, the messages are then stored and forwarded to all recipients.
A discussion list maintains a list of subscribers and every incoming Email is forwarded to all of them. This is more or less a distribution service. Often all the Emails are also stored in a public archive.
At this point, one can read the messages and, optionally, answer them, either directly to the user or to the list again. As most of the lists are maintained automatically, it is easy to subscribe for several days and see if the incoming Emails are of any interest, and what the traffic volume is. If one is no longer interested, signing off is easily done.
EMAILS are, in principle, messages stored in files and sent to other sites (computers). In the following, the terms Email and message are used interchangeably.
Usenet newsgroups are electronic bulletin boards. In particular, there are a few that are quite pertinent to the statistician. Sci.Stat.* represents a hierarchy of boards (* is a wild-card, and can be replaced with consult, math, and edu). In addition, one can find a few newsgroups which focus on software like SAS and SPSS and many many more related fields like economics, mathematics, non-linear sciences, numerical analysis, etc. Most of them are cross--linked from and to mailing lists, and you can find a very detailed list of references to Usenet forums on the Web pages listed in section 4.3.
Every machine on the Internet has the capability to exchange (download and upload) files with other machines anywhere in the world. Some sites have the sole purpose of serving users by making available large archives of programs, documents, help texts or functions. These are usually called ftp servers due to the transfer protocol they use (ftp: file transfer protocol).
Usage is quite easy, given that one has access to ftp, the only thing to do is to start up ftp, connect to the ftp server and download the desired program. Some of these servers are listed in section 4, they are all accessed in a similar way. Note that graphical user interfaces for FTPing are available for many hardware platforms.
There are only a few things one has to know to participate in discussion lists. One has to know how to
There might be additional options, if the list is maintained automatically. In the next section, we present some lists and discussion groups currently known to us in the field of statistics.
If you are not familiar with a particular list, you may want to subscribe and read some submissions first before actually participating. Before you participate, please read section 3, which describes how to sign on to participate on a list, and section 5, where we give important hints about how to avoid the most common errors.