NETIQUETTE

by Robert Bramucci


Netiquette is Internet etiquette, the suggested rules for online behavior that have evolved over the Internet's short life span.

A Couple of General Principles

ē Even though you are staring at a machine, you are talking to a person. Ever notice how some people become terrors behind the wheel of a car? That is, when driving theyíll engage in rude behaviors (e.g., cutting you off, obscene gestures) that they might never perform at home or work? Experts think thatís because the isolation of a steel cocoon makes people feel more anonymous and less connected to other people. Well, for some people, the Internet is similar to that isolation. When youíre staring at words on a screen, itís easy to forget thereís a real person, with feelings, on the other end.

ē You are not the center of the Internet universe. The Internet is worldwide, and itís huge---it consists of millions of sites with billions of pages, all visited by millions of people who might not believe as you do or share your concerns. Take care that your posts donít come across to people from other countries or cultures as examples of narrow-minded intolerance.

SUGGESTIONS FOR COMMUNICATION

Don't criticize people's sspellingg.  Typos are more accepted on the Internet, so sending a message pointing out all the spelling errors or grammatical mistakes in someone's messages is considered gauche.

∑ Even so, spell-check your own messages and quickly review them for punctuation and grammar.

DON'T USE ALL CAPITAL LETTERS!  Occasional capitals are OK for emphasis, but typing in all caps is the Internet equivalent of shouting (plus messages in all caps are hard to read).

don't use all lowercase letters, either.  it's viewed as mumbling.

∑ If possible, donít use fancy text features like boldface, italics, underlining, or diacritical marks, because many online systems won't display them. Instead:

o _Underscored Text_ indicates underline or italic.

o *asterisks* are used in place of bold text.

∑ Realize that typed messages lack vocal and nonverbal cues, the kinds of cues that normally carry a lot of meaning in a face-to-face conversation. Without this supporting context, itís easy to be misinterpreted---for example, satire or sarcasm can come across as pure meanness. Try using "emoticons" (also called "Smileys) to make your emotional intent more obvious (e.g., make it clear when you're joking ;-).

Define terms that may be unfamiliar to most other people.

Be brief and to the point.  People expect brevity online and won't read lengthy messages. Plus, it's harder to read words on a computer monitor than on paper.

Don't have an only copy of important files.  Computers crash and things get lost in cyberspace, so have backup copies of files and email messages.

Don't say anything over the Internet you wouldn't say to someone's face. Someone once said, "When you send a message over the Internet, pretend you're sending a copy to your boss, your minister, and your worst enemy". Think of email and bulletin board messages as postcards rather than letters---theyíre not private and other persons can keep them for a long time.

Subject Lines

Keep subject lines short. Otherwise, they could scroll off peopleís screens.

Make subject lines informative (e.g., don't title messages "FYI", "Important", or anything else that doesn't indicate the content of the message). 

Make subject lines clear and unambiguous, and don't use misleading subject lines or titles. Clear subject lines aid in prioritizing, filing, cataloging, cross-referencing, and retrieval.

Keep your message focused. If a new topic is introduced it should be under a separate message with a new subject heading.  Similarly, don't post replies dealing with multiple subjects in one message.

Quoting

When you reply, use relevant quotes from the original message.  It may not be apparent to everyone else who you're replying to or what you're replying about. Hereís how to indicate quotes:

∑ > Lines of text with brackets
> preceding them are used to denote a
> quote from a previous message.

Don't overquote: Don't quote long messages in their entirety---quote only the relevant portions of the message.

SUGGESTIONS FOR EMAIL

Be careful when addressing emails.  One character out of place, or a ".com" suffix when the person's email really ends with ".edu", and your message won't be delivered

Keep your emails brief.   People cherish lengthy "snail mail" letters but are accustomed to short emails and are less likely to read your email messages if theyíre long.

Say hello at the start of your message and goodbye at the end.

Don't cry "wolf!": that is, donít mark messages "Urgent" unless they really are.

Don't publicly post email that was sent to you in private unless you are explicitly given permission by the messageís author.

Don't use "HTML" code in your messages unless you are sure that the recipients' email programs can understand "HTML" correctly.

Realize that email does not guarantee an instant response.  Don't "dun" people for responses before an acceptable amount of time has elapsed.

It is not necessary to reply to every email message. Avoid trivial responses.

If it is going to take considerable time to reply fully, try to acknowledge receipt of a message promptly and let the sender know that you will answer more fully at a later time. 

Pay attention to whether material is copyrighted (copyright laws apply to email, too). 

Compose several drafts of important messages. Email can be archived for a long time, so if a message is particularly important, you might want to compose several drafts of it in a word processor and spell-check it.

Compose long emails in a word processor and then "cut and paste" them into your email program. This can prevent you from losing long or important emails in the event of a technical problem.

Don't leave your email account open when you leave your computer. Anyone could sit down at your keyboard and send out embarrassing, offensive, or even libelous messages under your name.

Attachments

Don't send huge attachments. Many peopleís email systems have a maximum account size, and your large attachment could fail to be received (or worse, cause their email account to be temporarily shut off).

When you're replying to a message that has an attachment, don't include the attachment again.

If you're forwarding a message with an attachment, consider whether the attachment is really necessary.

Don't send attached files that lack filename extensions (that's because some computers won't be able to open them).

Don't send attached files that other people don't have the software to open

∑ If you're not sure whether your audience has the correct software to open an attachment, try converting it to an HTML document so it can be opened in a browser. If the document is large, you could post large the document on the Web in HTML format and email the URL instead of the file.

Refrain from adding too many attachments.

The Bane of Email: "Spam"

Donít "spam" (send unsolicited generic email).

Don't reply to spam, even to demand that they stop emailing you.

Don't open email chain letters, and don't forward them to other people.

Don't indiscriminately forward jokes, petitions for "good causes", or other similar material to multiple persons unless youíre sure they want to receive them.

Don't advertise, at least in places where advertising is not appropriate.

Never forward rumors unless you know them to be true (especially rumors about viruses). 

Use "BCC". If you really must distribute a message to a lot of people, don't paste all the names into the "CC" field of your email program (where people can see everyone else's email addresses). Instead, use "BCC" (blind carbon copy), where each recipient sees only his/her name in the address field.

If you're replying to an email that was sent to dozens or hundreds of people, make sure you're not replying to all those people!

SUGGESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION BOARDS

Lurk before you leap. Lurking is visiting without participating. While it's rude to make a habit of lurking, a little lurking can acquaint you with rules and procedures, help you get the "lay of the land," and prevent embarrassment.

∑ Don't post non-informative messages on bulletin boards.  Chat is more like a telephone, so saying "Me, too!" or "I don't know" is accepted.  But on bulletin boards, people don't like to read postings that aren't substantive.

Read the FAQS. FAQ stands for "frequently-asked-questions". People generally have little patience for answering the same "newbie" (new user) questions again and again, so FAQs were created as a place where you can receive answers to common questions. So before you post a question, check the FAQs.

Pay attention to context. Remarks that are celebrated as the height of wit in one context might get you ostracized in another.

Respect thy elders. Not in the "chronological age" sense, but recognize that in many groups there are experienced persons who have earned the respect of the group through their knowledge or service. Respect them, and set about earning your own respect.

Don't evangelize (and we're not just referring to religion). If you love a particular topic so much, find like-minded souls instead of going on the Microsoft Office bulletin board and blathering about how great WordPerfect is.

Consider modifying the way you list your email address in discussions. Thatís because spammers use automated programs to comb discussions, harvesting email addresses. If you list your email address as something like *thisisme*remove_asterisks@hotmail.com, humans will still figure out how to reach you, but youíll foil the spam programs.

Don't post anything that you won't want other people to see for years to come. Don't let your posts come back to haunt you.

The Bane of Discussion Boards: "Flaming"

Don't flame!  Flaming refers to derogatory, abusive, threatening, sarcastic, rude, or otherwise mean-spirited messages directed at people.

Be cautious when using sarcasm and humor. Without facial expressions and tone of voice, they do not translate easily through discussion boards and may be perceived as flaming.

Don't post when you're angry.  When you've calmed down, you'll wish you hadn't written that response, and you probably won't be able to delete it.

Don't write anything that you won't want other people to be able to see for a long time (posts can be archived for years). 

Avoid misinterpretation. If a message provokes a negative emotional response, put it away for a while, then reread it and see if you're misinterpreting it.  If you don't understand a particular item, ask the sender for clarification before replying to an incorrect conclusion.

Don't respond to people who are deliberately trying provoke you.   If the bully gets a flood of angry responses, the real conversation gets sidetracked and the bully wins.

Don't consider your messages to be secure.  Remember, it's very easy for someone else to forward messages you thought were confidential.  Think of email and bulletin board messages as postcards rather than letters. 

Don't "rant" without warning.  If you feel so passionate about something that you can't refrain from an emotional diatribe, at least bracket your rant with something like *WARNING:  RANT*" and  "*RANT COMPLETED*"

ē Apologize. If there's been a misunderstanding or miscommunication, you can often nip bad feelings in the bud by a brief apology.

∑ Remember that direct person-to-person contact is best for handling sensitive, complex or highly emotional issues.

SUGGESTIONS FOR CHAT

Remember that many chat rooms are "logged" (i.e., a record is kept of conversations).

Donít disrupt chat rooms by pasting large blocks of text into the input box (thus causing the screen to scroll faster than other users are able to type ) or otherwise act in a manner that negatively affects other users' abilities to engage in real time exchanges.

Move to another chat room if you are having a conversation that is off the main topic.

Fast typists should occasionally pause to let slower typists contribute to the discussion.