A Netiquette Primer
When signing up new customers to the Internet, we talk them through configuring a dialer, checking their e-mail, and point them to a search engine. And that's generally just about all an ISP can do. After all, we're not familiar with how their particular tax program uses the Internet to update itself or the finer points of how their genealogy program creates and publishes web pages to the Internet. In short, everyone's purpose for being online is different. Some never leave e-mail; others live in search engines; and still others are active participants in vibrant online communities.
Nevertheless, there is one thing that is common, something that we don't take the time to explain because, well, it seems so obvious. We are all human. Everyone in those online communities, the person at the other end of that e-mail, they are all people. This seems terribly obvious but sometimes we seem to forget this because of the nature of the medium itself. E-mail, bulletin boards, web sites, and even tech support phone calls tend to be very impersonal.
As a result, we tend to say things that we wouldn't say to a person's face. This isn't always a bad thing, as anyone who has ever met the love of their life in an online bulletin board or dating service would tell you. However, in many cases, we behave in a way we wouldn't in the real world, represent ourselves in a manner contrary to the way we want people to think of us.
This is compounded by the fact that computers make us all (yes, even the techies amongst us) extremely frustrated. We don't know why the computer won't stay connected to the Internet. Or, maybe we do know (it hasn't worked right since installing that music swapping program), but we can't lash out at the true culprit. They live in another country. They don't even speak our language. I need to tell someone how frustrated I am, and I need this problem fixed, now!
So, rule one of Internet etiquette, netiquette, is to remember that though the medium may be impersonal, the person on the other end of the conversation isn't. Along these lines, here are few more guidelines. After all, we rarely meant to be rude, we just didn't understand the rules.
- Never type messages in all capital letters: Communicating in text can be very limiting because you can't use vocal tone or facial expressions to help get your point across. As a result, certain conventions have arisen. One of these that typing in all capital letters is signifies that you are screaming. Unless this is truly your intent, don't use all caps.
- Don't forward chain letters: Anyone who has been on the Internet for a year or more has no doubt received many of those ubiquitous "send this message to 10 friends or you'll have bad luck." Do not, under any circumstances, forward such messages. Chances are the person you are forwarding the message to has already seen it and doesn't care to see it again. For them, even downloading and deleting it is a waste of time. If it is a virus or scam warning, do a quick search using a web search engine and verify its authenticity.
- Clean up forwarded e-mail: If you are forwarding a joke or any other message which has itself been forwarded to you, the message tends to get line breaks in all the wrong spots or strings of ">>>" at the beginning of each line. This makes the message difficult and time consuming to read. If you want someone to read it, take a moment to clean it up.
If you are interested in more information, you can find more guidelines about a wide range of Internet communications medium and forums in this article.