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I recall a confirmation/warning message that read something like "this will post to thousands of sites... are you sure?" What was a typical such message in the days of pay-per-minute dialup access?

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    The question presumes this to be an aspect of Usenet, rather than an aspect of one particular software. Usenet wasn't the source of the message, so the idea of there being a "typical" Usenet message simply does not apply. – JdeBP May 12 at 7:19
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The message was

This program posts news to thousands of machines throughout the entire civilized world. Your message will cost the net hundreds if not thousands of dollars to send everywhere. Please be sure you know what you are doing.

This message isn’t inherent to Usenet, it’s output by certain clients. It originated in rn, Larry Wall’s news reader; it can still be seen in trn’s Pnews.SH, where it is shown for posts with explicit world-wide distribution (“Distribution” set to world), or with default (also world-wide) distribution to groups in the Big 7 (comp, news, sci, rec, misc, soc, talk) or alt hierarchies (basically, any non-local, non-country-specific group which would be carried by all news hosts).

Digging through net.sources archives shows that warning messages were present very early on. Dave Taylor’s Pnews (December 1, 1982) says

This program posts news to more than just this machine.

Are you absolutely sure that you want to do this?

Larry Wall’s rn 4.1 (September 24, 1984) figures out what the distribution scope is and, for world-wide distribution, says

This program posts news to many hundreds of machines throughout the world.

Are you absolutely sure that you want to do this?

(It also features many other educational messages pointing new users to netiquette, explaining the purpose of cross-posting, limiting distribution, what subjects should contain etc.)

Version 4.3 patch 30 of rn’s Pnews.SH (September 5, 1986, published to support the new top-level groups) introduced the “thousands of machines” message:

This program posts news to thousands of machines throughout the entire civilized world. You message will cost the net hundreds if not thousands of dollars to send everywhere. Please be sure you know what you are doing.

This type of message started a trend in newsreader programs, in university student onboarding instructions, and prompted a few humorous reactions (see this alt.culture.internet post or this rec.humor.funny port; thanks to JdeBP for pointing them out).

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    The statement was and is factually wrong though, isn't it? (The cost should be much lower, for a few hundred bytes of text. I am not sure about 1990, but in the mid-90s a news server (program) would often run on a machine which was up anyway and consume relatively few resources in terms of bandwidth and storage. I'd be curious to see statistics about that.) – Peter - Reinstate Monica May 12 at 15:18
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    @Peter before UUCP I think connections were quite expensive, and even with UUCP there’s a specific cost to transfer each message. I remember a story about Bell Labs’ bandwidth bills, but I can’t find it now. Apart from that I don’t know, and yes, by the mid-90’s it would have been less of a problem (although outside the US Internet access remained expensive for a long time, even on academic networks). – Stephen Kitt May 12 at 15:46
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    A cursory google search brought up tldp.org/LDP/nag/node256.html which seems to indicate that by 1990 nntp had (mostly?) replaced the original uucp. Uucp was, iiuc, a dial-up point-to-point protocol and as such would have been expensive; but even then it is unclear whether we talk 1000 dollars here. After all, it's a few hundred bytes which squeeze in a few seconds of modem idle time, and back then not so many hosts. – Peter - Reinstate Monica May 12 at 16:14
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    @Peter-ReinstateMonica along with much of the email-connected commercial side of the UK, we were running dialup UUCP for email and news until around 1992-93, when we got one of the UK's earlier commercial leased line Internet connections (64 Kbit/s). Dialup was pay-per-minute. – roaima May 12 at 23:08
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    @Peter-ReinstateMonica In 1990 I worked at a college with a 56kbps Internet connection for the entire campus. We ran UUCP over the Internet, but from what I read at the time, I gathered that many sites were transferring the messages at night using 2400 baud modems and long-distance phone calls. Long distance cost around $0.25/minute. The above answer is about 2000 bytes. It might take 10 seconds to transmit it on USENET at a cost of about $0.05 per node or $50 per thousand nodes. Since 1000 nodes was passed around 1985, the cost estimate seems reasonable. – David42 May 13 at 13:17

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