Monday, December 19, 2016


"That was so 20 days ago," I told a friend last week when he phoned to tell me that he just learned of the dates of a convention being held in July.

"Where did you hear about those dates?" he asked. "I just found out about them yesterday."

I told him of a newsgroup that I subscribe to. Someone posted the dates of the convention to the newsgroup just 20 days prior. My friend does not subscribe to any newsgroups so with every phone call I find myself filling him in on the latest news of the hobby: who died, what new discoveries were made, critical complaints about the latest movies, a film or two coming up on TCM that he might want to catch, and so on. 

So what is a "newsgroup"? It is a free service for subscribers who share a common interest. Submissions come from the subscribers and everyone can comment. (Most newsgroups require subscription else a free-for-all open to the public would be an open invitation to spam.) It's kind of like a daily e-mail consisting of submissions from the subscribers with news, tips, trivia, etc. Imagine 2,000 subscribers who like Perry Mason all contributing trivia they observed while watching episodes on MeTV, or providing release dates for the DVD sets, or observations in the book reprints, and so on. There are tons of newsgroups on the Internet. (For clarity, a "message board" is kind of the same thing except that the board is public for anyone to read and only requires subscribing if you want to submit or comment to a specific thread.) 

Newsgroups have been around for more than two decades and thanks to these groups I was able to stay informed of eBay auctions, DVD release dates, alerts of special screenings on Turner Classic Movies, reviews of conventions I was unable to attend, the dates of up-coming conventions, the contents of the latest issue of my favorite magazines, historical and archeological discoveries of old movies and radio programs, and so on. But the era of e-mail newsgroups is coming to an end and the primary cause is Facebook. 

Facebook came along at the right time and if it was not Facebook, something else would have taken its place. (MySpace almost succeeded.) Today, news travels faster on Facebook than the major networks can provide daily. The evening news on television decides what to report based on what is trending on social media. Morning and afternoon talk shows now feature celebrities sipping cups of coffee and discussing the events of the day rather than reporting it. Mark Zuckerberg insists his ultimate goal is to put a computer into everyone's lap and have everyone in the world using Facebook. He may just accomplish that.

Example of the news reported hourly on Facebook.

For those who are not signed up for Facebook yet, you may want to consider doing so. Regardless of the general consensus from non-Facebook users, Facebook is not just a platform for people to share funny cat videos and exchange political views. Right now you can video-stream seminars from conventions to the masses... for free. You can call your friends for free as long as your friends have Facebook. (No doubt Verizon or Sprint will eventually take notice and try to put a stop to that citing some technical telecommunications law.) Goodbye calling plans, Verizon. 

Later next month Facebook is introducing a free service for group video conferencing. 

If you have a Facebook account, you can receive news of a celebrity passing, read a movie review and get the latest news minute-by-minute as it happens. I practically stopped watching the evening news because I get all I want to know within one minute of looking at my smartphone using the Facebook App.

Facebook offers many other services, all of them free. But you have to be a Facebook user to take advantage of these services. Next month I will be video streaming the seminars at SPERDVAC, an annual convention now held in Las Vegas. Anyone with Facebook can watch the videos for free. Not that I want to discourage people from going to SPERDVAC but if you cannot afford the airfare, hotel, travel expenses and admission fees to attend the convention, visit the SPERDVAC Convention Facebook page on January 20 and 21 and you will be able to watch the slide show seminars and staged re-enactments for free from your computer.

Whether you enjoy old movies or old-time radio, Facebook has now evolved into something "essential." Case in point: Just within the past week, through a number of Facebook groups, I learned of "lost" old-time radio programs discovered (The Adventures of Superman), read a review about a new Kay Kyser book, received the dates of SPERDVAC's convention in Las Vegas in January, used a promo on Facebook to get 50 percent off breakfast on Saturday morning at a local diner, and bought an external 6TB hard-drive that was on sale for "one hour only" for $35 postpaid (regular price $180 when on sale). If you do not have a Facebook account, take a moment to check out the screen captures below to see a few of the recent postings all made within a three-day time period.

Facebook offers thousands of "Facebook Groups" and this is where e-mail newsgroups are becoming obsolete. For example, I enjoy old movies so I signed up for the "Turner Classic Movies Facebook Page." There I learn about events happening in the world of black and white. New restorations of old motion-pictures, release dates of BluRay titles, special screenings on TCM, and so on. I enjoy listening to old-time radio so I signed up for all three "Old-Time Radio Facebook Pages." The "Old Time Radio Lovers Facebook Page" has almost 6,000 subscribers and the postings listed above came from that group alone. So you can understand why during the past few months I discovered most (if not all) of the recent news items came through Facebook -- not e-mail newsgroups. Yes, newsgroups are a thing of the past. If you do not have a Facebook account, considering signing up today. It is free. After all, this is the 21st Century.

For Those Who Do Have Facebook... How to Declutter Your Newsfeed
When was the last time you looked at your Facebook feed and liked everything you saw? Perhaps the most common complaint from Facebook users is the endless clutter on their newsfeed. This is usually the result of friending too many people or signing up for too many Facebook accounts. Taking a few minutes to tweak your newsfeed and unsubscribe from meaningless content will resolve that problem. As an example, if the majority of the contributions on a Facebook Group consists of photos people pluck off Google images and/or generic responses such as "I love Jack Benny" or catch-phrases from popular movies and programs, I start weighing the option whether to unsubscribe or unfollow that group. Facebook is only as useful as you allow it to be.

Here is where you can turn off the notifications
(a.k.a. "unfollow" the postings) or see only postings in
the group submitted by your Facebook friends, or
the important ones.

Compare this to the love-hate relationship. You know those postings people make on Facebook (angry political rants or music videos you care not to see)? Rather than unfriend those who post meaningless content and stir emotions, "unfollow" them so they won't know you are not seeing their postings. You remain Facebook friends but you no longer see their postings. The option to "unfollow" is pure genius. Rather than get angry or upset over what they post, remember you have a choice. "It's not you, it's me."

A friend of mine once told me he was a member of more than 500 Facebook Groups and had difficulty following all of the postings. Once he started to decipher which groups were more valuable than others, he began unsubscribing from the ones not providing meaningful content. This allows you to be a better guardian of the valuable minutes you have in a day. I provide this tidbit of those who already have a Facebook account and have yet to figure out how to make the most out of something extremely valuable.

This blog post is not designed to encourage people from un-subscribing from existing newsgroups they are presently signed up with. This brief write-up is to help guide hobbyists into something extremely beneficial and how to take advantage of those benefits.