A Class on the Net for Librarians with Little or No Net Experience
LESSON 11: NETIQUETTE
"If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion
and avoid the people, you might better stay home."
-- James A. Michener, 1982
As with every other form of communication, there's a code of
proper behavior for talking on the Internet -- it's called
"netiquette". Knowing and following proper "netiquette" is
extremely important because of the ease of communicating almost
instantaneously on the Internet. When you find yourself with
the ability to respond immediately and in a semi-anonymous
fashion to the remarks of another, you may also discover within
yourself an uncomfortable tendency to "shoot from the hip"
verbally, and that can cause problems.
Because you have the ability to answer an email or discussion
list message a moment or two after receiving it, you may find
yourself forging straight ahead, without taking time out to
consider how your remarks are likely to be received at the other
end. Then, there's the problem with humor -- clever asides, gentle
sarcasms, and friendly kidding are sometimes lost in the transmission,
because the receiver of your message can neither hear your voice
nor see your expression. Furthermore, he may not know you at
all, and thus not be familiar with, or attuned to, your
individual manner of speaking or "quirky" sense of humor.
Many an argument on the Net has been started over a small and
simple misunderstanding that could easily have been avoided. If
not squelched early, the argument could provoke a "flame," a
particularly nasty verbal attack on somebody in response to what
he or she has previously written. Sometimes, an exchange of
flames can erupt into a "flame war" that can go on for days and
clutter mailboxes with unwanted and unnecessary pieces of mail
serving no useful purpose.
That's what this lesson is all about -- observing the rules of
proper Netiquette in order to calm the conversational waters,
promote safe navigating, avoid treacherous rocks and shoals, and
reach safe harbor.
Here's some basic rules of Netiquette that you should know and
And here's a mini-list of smileys to get you started. (BTW,
you can create smileys either with or without the nose ...
it's a private, personal, and individual decision that only
can be made by you. Your smileys may either look like this,
:-) or like this, :) It's your call. I prefer the nose,
so here goes:
- Never communicate in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS. On the Net, this
is *shouting* and it's considered rude. Without being able
to see expressions or hear voices, there aren't many ways to
express strong opinions in Net correspondence; so ALL CAPS
has been designated for this purpose. Besides, if you've ever
tried reading a document written in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS, you'll
know immediately how it can strain your eyes. Staring at a
computer screen all day is hard enough to begin with, so don't
make it harder. If you want to emphasize a word or phrase, ALL
CAPS is fine, or better yet -- separate it from the rest of the
text by using the * at either end, *like this*.
- Always fill in the subject line in your correspondences to
others on the Net; this is considered polite. If the original
subject line was "Gopher Subject Tree Sites," make sure your
reply says "Re: Gopher Subject Tree Sites, or mentions "Gopher
Subject Trees" somehow as a reference. That way, the recipient
of your message will know what to expect. If you are
communicating to a discussion group or listserv, members then
have the option to read or to discard your message without
reading it -- an option they may choose if it's a subject in
which they have no immediate interest. Keep your messages
short and to the point. Remember, some of us have other things
to do with our lives. (That's a joke; don't flame me! ;->)
- Respect the character of the list and try to stick to its
designated subject. If the list is one devoted to discussing
reference issues, members may not be willing to consider
problems associated with various types of hardware and
technical support. When you first subscribe, don't jump into
the discussion right away but listen for awhile before you post.
Members may have only recently finished discussing your topic
when you broach it again, and they may resent your coming in
and dragging them back over ground they just covered
(that's what those archives are for!).
- Answer individual requests individually, and submit relevant
responses of global interest to the list. Some large lists
ask members to do this, in order to keep correspondences to
a manageable level.
- Don't type anything on your screen that you wouldn't tell
someone face-to-face. Remember, there are *people* out there
on the Internet, and sometimes they get cranky and take what
you say the wrong way. If you're rude, or if your words
appear to be rude, you could start a "flame war" and end up
being flamed yourself. That's not a pleasant experience, and
it creates unwanted litter on the information highway.
- If you are replying to a previous posting, always quote or
paraphrase the part you are replying to; do *not* include the
entire original message in your reply. Take the time to delete,
cut and paste so that only relevant parts of the original
message remain. This is important because it's tedious to
re-read the entire original message in someone's else's reply.
However, inserting a clue, or reference point, is appreciated,
especially if the reply is delayed or if it arrives before
the original message does (this happens!).
- Avoid being labelled a "ditto head." If you have nothing
more than a "me too" to offer, don't post at all.
Unfortunately, the worst offender is often the one who
includes an entire previous message in his posting, and then
adds a single line: "I agree." To top it off, he's likely
to be the sort who will append a monstrous signature to his
posting (more about "sigs" in a moment).
- Don't talk out of school. Email is not secure and someday,
you may be dismayed to learn that the words you sent to one
recipient, even in confidence, have been forwarded to the
- Be very careful not to make statements that could be
interpreted as official pronouncements of your organization or
as offers to do business. In his online workshop, "Roadmaps,"
Patrick Crispen quotes his dad, the Rev. Bob Crispen, as
saying, "treat every post as though you were sending a copy
to your boss, your minister, and your worst enemy." Excellent
advice; please try to follow it.
- Remember, no one can see you or hear your tone of voice.
If you're not sure how your remarks will be received, insert
an emoticon, i.e., <g> for "grin," or a "smiley," like the
few you've been seeing throughout this lesson. To read the
smiley, cock your head slightly to the left and you'll see a
face. For example, here's a wry "winky" smiley for those
times when you make a comment you hope the recipient won't
take too seriously: ;->
- Basic happy smiley
- Winky smiley
- Devilish winky smiley
- Sad, sorry smiley
- "Oh,oh" smiley
- Non-committal smiley
- Angry smiley
- Hosehead smiley
- Nyahhh ...smiley
- LOL smiley
In order to save space and give your fingers a break, there's
also an accepted list of abbreviations, or *Net-Lingo* you can
- BTW -- By the way
- TANSTAAFL -- There ain't no such thing as a free lunch
- GOK -- God only knows
- FWIW -- For what it's worth
- IMHO -- In my humble opinion
- OTOH -- On the other hand
- LOL -- Laughing out loud
- HHOK -- Ha ha, only kidding
- YHGTBK -- You have got to be kidding
- ROTFL -- Rolling on the floor laughing
- YMMV -- Your mileage may vary
- RTM -- Read the manual
- RTFM -- Read the manual (with added emphasis)
- AMF -- Adios, my friend
Finally, if your organization allows you to create a signature
file for yourself, don't overdo it. If you do, you'll not only
be guilty of taking up too much bandwidth, you might also end up
as another example in the files of the Usenet newsgroup,
which delights in ridiculing big .sigs. Five lines or less
should be sufficient for any .sig file.
Find and read "The Net; User Guidelines and Netiquette," written
by Arlene Rinaldi, Florida Atlantic University. This
is the best handout on netiquette I've seen yet. It includes
"best-behavior" advice for email and files, USENET, listservs,
Telnet, and anonymous ftp. It also contains the Ten Commandments
for Computer Ethics.
It is available on the web at:
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