Trolling usenet for competitive intelligence

Newsgroup (Usenet) searching via engines like Google Groups can yield valuable competitive information. Here are a few tricks I use.

Searching newsgroup postings can tell you things about a competitor that could be very difficult to find any other way. When I first learned this from John Nolan’s book, I had a sudden moment of panic – I’ve long used newsgroups for all sorts of things, including getting technical help at work 😉 Sure enough, once I started searching I found several interesting tidbits.

It turns out that lots of people go to Usenet for help. High-tech companie’s help desks being as speedy as they are, newsgroups can often provide a better answer faster. It certainly did for one competitor who was making big changes to their IT capacity.

Anyway, after changing my identity on my newsreader it occurred to me that anyone using newsgroups at work is likely to think of the same thing. I went through all the posts I’d found and sure enough there were many that had a personal email address in the header, but a company domain (the one I had been searching for, and found) in the body – after all, if you have the question at work and expect a quick reply you don’t want people sending it to your home email. A search for the newly found identity revealed more posts. If there is a screen name or handle in use, try a web search in addition to the newsgroups. You may find non-Usenet forums with more posts. Also search for the company name and any slang short versions or abbreviations.

Then I noticed that many folks modify their email addresses to prevent spammers from finding them. You’ll see myname@companydotcom instead of myname@company.com, or sometimes they put “munged” or “nospam” or some other word in the middle. It’s assumed that anyone replying will know that these words should be removed from the email address before using it. So it can pay to search using just part of the company’s domain.

Finally, when going through your first batch of posts, take note of any signature lines. These few lines that many folks put at the bottom of each post are often very distinctive. Searching on for this text can yield more messages, with yet more email identities. Be careful though, as it is easy to find posts that may be written by someone else.

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