There are currently six Transformers newsgroups. Three are for discussion, two for selling and trading toys, and one is for posting fanfic. The newsgroups and their topicalities are listed below. Take a look, and feel free to participate in any that you wish. A FAQ or guide for each newsgroup is available on the Transformers FAQ Homepage.
Six may seem excessive, but the creation of each new group did have a justification. Here's a little history lesson:
It all started in 1992 with an email distribution list called, simply, the Transformers Mailing List, formed by a group of fans who had found each other in rec.arts.animation. By the middle of 1993 the list had grown large and unwieldy, so to lighten the burden a newsgroup was created to replace the list: alt.toys.transformers. For several years ATT served as "the" place to be online for Transformers fans.
As the Internet's population grew in the mid 90s, the newsgroup started to become bloated. In an effort to make ATT easier to navigate by moving sales posts to a different newsgroup, alt.toys.transformers.marketplace was created in December of 1996.
By that time, the internet boom had truly begun, and there was a huge influx of people to the newsgroups. Eventually there were enough posts that the fanfic-writing sub-community was feeling stifled; with so much going on, it was hard to find fanfics among the vast field of headers, and even harder to maintain a discussion about it. In order to provide a more nurturing forum for TF fanfic alt.toys.transformers.fanfic was newgrouped in January 1998. The low traffic of ATTF is better suited to the creative process.
Later in 1998 talk began of splitting ATT yet again in hopes of solving two problems: A) many of the new netizens who were posting to ATT seemed wholly unconcerned with behaving themselves, and 2) Beast Wars had become so popular that there was little bandwidth left for discussion of G1 TFs, which understandably distressed fans who didn't care about BW.
In the spring of 1998 the command message was sent to newgroup alt.toys.transformers.classic.moderated, providing a forum for classic TF discussions that would be safe from spam and flamewars. Shortly afterwards, the call-for-votes was completed on a proposal to create a new set of Transformers newsgroups in the rec.* hierarchy, which has higher visibility and distribution than alt.* does. As a result, two more groups were birthed: rec.toys.transformers.moderated and rec.toys.transformers.marketplace, which are essentially "new" versions of ATT and ATTM. Unfortunately, the rec groups have not been very successful. While they are there and functional, they don't receive very many posts.
Copies of the creation messages for each of these groups are available in the "Tidbits" section of Steve-o's TF website. The creation messages are of mild historical interest, and also contain the newsgroup charters. Also possibly of interest is a story about the early history of online Transformer fandom written by Phil "Skyjammer" Zeman, one of the guys who's been a part of it from the very beginning.
If you are unable to access a newsgroup that you want using your ISP's newsfeed, the best thing you can do is write to your news or system administrator and request that the groups you want be added locally. If the group is available to them from their "upstream" site, they will most likely do this for you after only one request. You may need to nag occasionally, though. For many netizens, the news admin's username will be "news", and their domain the same as your own. So, if you are "email@example.com", your news admin is probably "firstname.lastname@example.org". That's not universal, though, so if it doesn't work, do a little digging to find the right person to write to.
As an alternative to getting the group from a local server, you can set up an account with a remote news server, or use a web-based news service. The most popular web-based news is Google Groups, mainly because it provides free reading and posting. (It also has a fully searchable archive of Usenet from almost the beginning of time.) There are many other options, though. Below you'll find links to lists of news providers in the Open Directory.
This is a much harder question to answer than "What newsgroups are available?" Before the days of web boards, if you wanted to post messages about something, you went to Usenet. Usenet is nothing except forums, and it's easy for anyone to see a list of every last forum that exists there. Cataloguing web boards is all but impossible in comparison, because any website, even a small one, can host its own discussion area. There are dozens of active (ie. non-tiny) TF web boards, and an uncountable number of small ones. Pretty much every TF website that has its own domain name has a board system, for example. The best I can do is point you to a few of the biggest boards; the ones that I see people talking about. Please don't take this as an endorsement or condemnation.
As mentioned in the "Transfans" section, I/A, there is one clear leader in terms of population and activity, and that is The Allspark, at www.allspark.com. (To make things confusing, there's also a significantly smaller board of the same name at allspark.net, instead of allspark.com.) The Allspark has lots of members and lots of activity. It, and some other popular, significant, or big web boards are listed below.
Ahh, a potentially dangerous question. Newsgroups and web boards serve the same fundamental purpose -- letting fans post messages -- but they are very different beasts.
The most obvious difference is that boards, as a web-based forum, allow fancy text formatting, colors, and graphics. In principle, this is an advantage over newsgroups, which are limited to plain text. In practice, these capabilities are often over-used. Each post typically contains an "avatar" image next to the poster's name as well as a signature in the post which may contain several more images. To load a page of posts on a web board, your browser needs to fetch all of the images for all of the different people who have a post on that page, and many of these images reside on different servers of varying speeds. On a dialup connection, it can take as much as five minutes to fully load a single page of messages. On the other hand, this is easily avoided by simply turning off image-loading in your web browser. Without images, the pages load quickly and you don't miss much worth seeing. Still, some people feel that web boards are bloated and cumbersome. (Conversely, others think that newsgroups are hopelessly primitive and lacking in functionality because of the plain-text-only format.)
Web boards are pretty easy to learn how to use, and finding a board to get involved with doesn't take any special knowledge or even much effort; they're all over the place. Find one, start reading it, and make posts just by filling in the "post a message" form. If you want to participate in a newsgroup, on the other hand, you need to first know that such things exist. Usenet newsgroups are a completely different "place" in the Internet than the WWW. Still, most web browsers have a newsreader of at least decent quality. So, for a first experience with Usenet no special software is needed, but you will need to configure the newsreader by giving it information about your news server (similar to setting up an email program). After that, you have to figure out how to find the newsgroups you want and "subscribe" to them before you can read. None of this is really all that difficult, but for a first-timer it can be intimidating or not worth the trouble.
Lastly, these two environments are inhabited by slightly different groups of people. I can provide some highly-exaggerated stereotypes to illustrate this (note that this paints an awful picture of both groups). You might want to choose the population that you are more comfortable with:
Newsgroupers see web board readers as shallow morons who know only one way to express their opinion: shouting and cursing at the top of their lungs about how much everything sucks. The stereotypical web board user is a 14 year old boy in the suburbs who wants to be "kewl" and badass; his favorite musician is Eminem, and his favorite TV show is Dragonball Z.
Web boarders see newsgroup readers as hyper-crticical elitists whose only satisfaction in life is belittling others. The stereotypical newsgroup user is an overweight 30 year old who lives in his parents' basement; he hates everything that is even remotely popular or well-known (and yet watches/read/listens to it anyway), because by championing obscure media he appears to be more sophisticated and, thus, more important than other people.
A spoiler is a piece of information about a story which "spoils" part of the story or takes away an important surprise. For example, some spoilers for the Transformers movie would be "Optimus Prime dies", "the talking planet transforms into a giant robot", and "don't worry when Spike and Bumblebee get eaten; they're okay at the end." Knowing these things before seeing the movie could easily make it less enjoyable because you will be waiting for them to happen instead of being surprised.
Some fans don't mind being spoiled. In fact, some fans actively seek out as much information as they can find about how future storylines will pan out. Many fans, however, find these stories much more enjoyable when they do not know ahead of time what is going to happen. Because not all fans are able to see new episodes or comics at the same time, it's important to take precautions to avoid spoiling new stories for other fans. So, for example, make sure you don't use a spoiler as the subject line for one of your posts.
On Usenet, there are two precautions that should be taken in any post that contains spoilers: The first is a subject-line warning, usually in the form of a subject tag: "[SPOILERS]". The rest of the subject should state what episode/issue you are spoiling without including the spoiler itself. Some examples: "[SPOILERS] War Within #3 developments", "[ARMADA][SPOILERS] New episode, 12/13/02". The other precaution to take is "spoiler space" - twenty or so blank lines at the beginning of your post - so that someone reading posts one by one, without looking at subjects first, will still not be in danger of having the story ruined for them.
On message boards, if the person starting a topic plans to discuss spoilers, they are generally expected to put a spoiler notice in the topic's title. If spoilers are introduced within the body of a topic, however, this is not always possible. There are two ways to provide spoiler protection within a message board post. One is a modification of the Usenet "spoiler space" idea. Just put a warning "SPOILERS BELOW" followed by a bunch of blank lines, then write your spoilers, then do more blank lines and write "END SPOILERS". It should be easy enough for people to skip over the spoiler block while looking for the "END" notice. Another option is to change your text color to match the page's background so it becomes "invisible" unless highlighted.
You only need to worry about spoilers for developments that are new, of course. When Beast Wars season two came out on DVD, that didn't mean that BW S2 needed to be spoiler-protected again. Deciding how "new" something has to be for warnings/space to be expected is tough and subjective. It will vary from forum to forum. Typically it takes a few weeks after the "official" reveal of the information (be it a comic hitting stores, the identity of a convention-exclusive toy, the airing of a TV show, or whatever), but it's hard to say. When in doubt, go ahead and use spoiler-protection.
Careless posting of spoilers to a popular forum can instantly destroy the viewing experience for hundreds, if not thousands, of fans, so it's very important to be cautious. It's better to err on the side of safety. Depending on the medium involved, a spoiler might take a week or two (or more) to become common knowledge within the United States, and sometimes as much as a year or two before fans in places like Scandenavia or Israel will get to see it. (And we do have participating fans all over the world.)
This will vary a bit from forum to forum, of course, but there are a few topics that are good to avoid. These are questions, ideas, etc., that have been discussed so thoroughly, or are so pointless or ripe for flamewars, that even one post of about them is seen by many as a waste of bandwidth. It's probably best if you don't bring these up unless you are confident that you have a completely new and fascinating idea to contribute. I recommend that you also do a cursory search of archived discussions and websites (and read about them here in the TF FAQ) before making any posts.
Again, the standards of behavior vary from place to place, but the gist of it wherever you go is this: Don't be a dickhead. If people seem to find you abrasive, it's probably because you're being abrasive, and not because they are all big babies. There are many guides to Net Ettiquette ("netiquette" or "nettiquette") around; do a web search and you'll find several. I have a little guide, myself, called Playing Nice, which is basically a collection of newsgroup posts with little lessons in them. There's also a classic document written by Transfan "Megabee" (Jameel al Khalfiz) called "How to win friends and influence ATT", which can also be found at "Playing Nice".
You'll go a long way in online fandom if you just make the tiny effort to be a nice and helpful person. Don't respond in kind when somebody flames you, even if "they started it". Protect your spoilers. Be careful about posting rumors. Quote the person you are responding to, but do so sensibly: we don't need to re-read their entire post... just the relevant parts. If somebody trolls your forum, don't make the disturbance larger by telling them off. (The point of a troll is to goad people into telling them off anyway, so you gain nothing by doing it.) Try to stay on-topic for your forum, and never begin a thread which is off-topic from the start.
Steve-o's Transformers FAQ is written and maintained by Steve-o
Steve-o and this FAQ are not affiliated in any way with Hasbro, which owns trademarks on many of the terms used within. This FAQ is presented for the entertainment and reference of Transformers fans, and is made available under the terms of a Creative Commons License