FAQ

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Frequently asked questions, or FAQs are listed questions and answers, all supposed to be frequently asked in some context, and pertaining to a particular topic. Since the acronym FAQ originated in textual media, its pronunciation varies; "fack," "fax," "facts," and "F.A.Q." are commonly heard. Depending on usage, the term may refer specifically to a single frequently asked question, or to an assembled list of many questions and their answers.

Contents

Origins

While the name may be recent, the FAQ format itself is quite old. For instance, Matthew Hopkins wrote The Discovery of Witches in 1647 in FAQ format. He introduces it as "Certaine Queries answered," ... Many old catechisms are in a question-and-answer (Q&A) format. Summa Theologica, written by Thomas Aquinas in the second half of the 13th century, is a series of common questions about Christianity to which he wrote his reply to each.

The "FAQ" is an Internet textual tradition originating from a combination of mailing list-laziness plus speculation and a separate technical and political need within NASA in the early 1980s. The first FAQ developed over several pre-Web years starting from 1982 when storage was expensive. On the SPACE mailing list, the presumption was that new users would ftp archived past messages. In practice, this never happened. Instead, the dynamic on mailing lists was for users to speculate rather than use very basic original sources (contacting NASA which was not part of ARPA and had only one site on the ARPANET) to get simple answers. Repeating the "right" answers becomes tedious. A series of different measures from regularly posted messages to netlib-like query email daemons were set up by loosely affiliated groups of computer system administrators. The acronym FAQ was developed in 1983 by Eugene Miya of NASA for the SPACE mailing list.[1] (Miya notes that Mark Horton's "18 question" periodic post (PP) happened concurrent to the SPACE FAQ, although it was not labelled with the word FAQ.) The format was then picked up on other mailing lists. Posting frequency changed to monthly, and finally weekly and daily across a variety of mailing lists and newsgroups. The first person to post a weekly FAQ was Jef Poskanzer to the Usenet net.graphics/comp.graphics newsgroups. Eugene Miya experimented with the first daily FAQ. The first FAQ were initially attacked by some mailing list users for being repetitive.

On Usenet, Mark Horton started a series of "Periodic Posts" (PP) which attempted to answer trivia terminology such as "What is 'foobar'?" with appropriate answer. Periodic summary messages posted to Usenet newsgroups attempted to reduce the continual reposting of the same basic questions and associated wrong answers. On Usenet, posting questions which are covered in a group's FAQ is often considered poor netiquette, as it shows that the poster has not done the expected background reading before asking others to provide answers. Some groups may have multiple FAQ on related topics, or even two or more competing FAQ explaining a topic from different points of view.

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