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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) History

A number of groups include Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) lists, which give the answers to questions or points that have been raised time and time again in a newsgroup… For example, in the newsgroup alt.tv.simpsons, one recurring question is `Did you notice that there’s a different blackboard opening at the beginning of every Simpsons episode?’ As a result, it’s part of the FAQ for that group.

– Brendan P. Kehoe; Zen and the Art of the Internet; January 1992

FAQ’s started as lists of answers to common questions in Usenet newsgroups. Mark Horton wrote the first FAQ, which he regularly posted to the Usenet newsgroups with the answers to eighteen common questions, such as “What does ‘foobar’ mean?”, and “What does ‘unix’ stand for?”.

Eugene Miya wrote the next FAQs for the ARPANET “space” and “net.space” mailing list, which he started distributing in 1983 once a month to try to answer a lot of the simple questions from new users that could drown out the rest of a list.

On 15 September 1983, Jerry Schwarz announced on net.general that he was going to publish a list of “questions not to ask”. On 1 November, he published the first Usenet FAQ under the title “Frequently Submitted Items”.

The idea of FAQ’s then caught on quickly as a convenient, standard mechanism for answering the basic questions asked by new users on a mailing list, greatly reducing redundant postings and allowing more time for discussion of new subjects. If there is a FAQ for a newsgroup it can usually be found posted regularly to that newsgroup with a subject line including the word “FAQ”.

Today, FAQ’s are still used on the Usenet, but are also used on all sorts of other topics and subjects throughout the world, collected in comprehensive archives.

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