A Discussion on Netiquette

by Jacques Dimanche

THE INTERNET IS experiencing a growth that is rapidly overtaking the world.

What was once the sole province of the computer gurus, is now, more and more, reaching into the homes of people who have never even used a computer before. Just about anyone can simply contact an Internet Service Provider (ISP) to get an account, and get on the 'Net.

This large growth of the Internet brings together the experts, the neophytes, and that large majority to be found in between-the enthusiasts. This mixture sometimes causes friction between the groups; and the largest cause is the lack of awareness about certain norms of behavior when it comes to interaction on the Internet. These norms of behavior have been aptly dubbed Netiquette (for 'Net Etiquette).

Simply put, netiquette is the proper way of interaction on the internet, and mostly applies to Email and Newsgroups.

These rules of netiquette, much like standard etiquette, have never really been formalized, and yet are oft times more binding than laws since they are the common benchmark for courtesy and politeness.

These rules came about in the early days of computer-based telecommunications. At the time, certain behaviors were realized to be either too ambiguous, requiring clarification; or annoying and downright offensive and needed to be stopped.

Following these rules often ensures that everyone interacts in a more-or-less civil way, and everyone's rights and feelings are considered. Being aware of these rules is a small price to pay for the order that it helps maintain on the Internet.

These are the major ones that need to be covered. If you follow these simple guidelines, you will find that more people on the Internet will treat you fairly and with respect. If you choose not to heed these guidelines, that is okay too. But be prepared for any weird reactions that you might receive.


WHAT IT IS: Some will argue that this is the most annoying of all breaches of netiquette. When you reply to a message, most email software includes the text from the previous message. This is what is known as quoting. Most new users will just leave all the text there, and put their reply either at the front or end of the message. This can result in long replies, which at the very least inconveniences the recipient, or in most cases forces the recipient to endure longer mail downloads which can cost him or her more money in Internet charges.

HOW TO AVOID: The best way, is to cut out most of the text, and just leave one or two lines as a reference to what you are replying to. This way, the person that you are replying to will be able understand what you are replying to, without having to reread his whole letter again. You should always remove the signature of the person that you are replying to, as that will also be included in the message, and he/she does not need to see his/her signature again.


WHAT IT IS: Flaming is when you insult another user, in one way or the other. This is normally something that most users do not do in the first place, but should at least be aware of. Flaming is to be particularly avoided in the context of mailing lists and newsgroups since these are public domains, where everything is for everyone to see.

HOW TO AVOID: This one is very simple, but at times it can be really hard to avoid. Just do not insult anyone, no matter how deserving you feel that person is of your comments. If you disagree with something someone is saying, it's usually enough to either express your disagreement or correct the mistake. If someone insults you, it is usually better to just ignore the message and just erase the message. Replying to a flame by flaming back can easily result in a flame war, which is above all a waste of time and effort. If you feel that you are being unfairly attacked, please notify your system administrator and he will investigate the matter.

On the other side, to avoid being flamed by others, make sure personal opinions are stated as such-opinions. Many a flame war has started inadvertently because someone stated an opinion as if it were fact. Another common cause of flames is the breach of common netiquette.


WHAT IT IS: Another offshoot from the mailing-list/newsgroup domain, Spamming is the email equivalent of sending junk mail. It commonly refers to the practice of sending a message to a wide selection of email addresses whether you know them or not, regardless if they want it or not. The offense is usually made more unbearable when the contents of the spam are obviously the efforts of people who are trying to sell you something, not caring whether or not you are actually interested or not. The most common type of spam is the 'Get Rich Quick, Get Rich Now' type of message.

For those who are interested in the history of the term, it actually stems from an old (aired Dec. 15, 1970) Monty Python Sketch from the Flying Circus that revolves around a café where everything is served with Spam. The point was this: pretty soon with enough Spam, there won't be anything else BUT Spam.

HOW TO AVOID: Simple.... just do not send email to people you do not personally know. This includes sending file attachments. Avoid sending messages to others, unless you know for a fact that the recipient is interested in receiving such messages. And if you are forced to email someone you do not know, make sure you introduce yourself properly and indicate why you think the recipient may be interested in what you have to say. Don't come out as a door-to-door salesman or something.

Also, if the recipient specifically requests you not send such messages again, DO NOT send them again. Period.

As an added note, should you receive a spam, courteously reply that you do not want to receive such messages again. That usually takes care of it. It's also a good idea to forward a copy of the message (including all headers) to the administrators of your ISP.


WHAT IT IS: Have you ever gotten the message where the ENTIRE message is in all capital letters? Well, to an experienced user, texts in all-caps are said in a louder or emphasized tone. An entire message in all-caps it makes the reader feel like the author is shouting at him/her. This misuse of the capital letters can even change the whole meaning of your message, and some people will not even bother to read the message.

HOW TO AVOID: Simplest way is to make sure that your CAPS-LOCK key is off. You can still use the all capital letters on certain words to help accentuate them and give more "feeling" or emphasis to your message.

Better still, you could use emoticons to further enhance your messages.


WHAT IT IS: This applies primarily to mailing lists/news groups, but sometimes can be rather annoying on personal email. On mailing lists, it is to be avoided since a simple one word or line message expressing agreement or disagreement usually doesn't really add to the exchange of information (unless of course the initiator of the exchange was asking for a vote of sorts).

When combined with excessive quoting, this can be even more annoying. Imagine receiving your original letter, quoted in full, sent back to you, with one word at the bottom like "Okay". Wouldn't you get upset if you spent the time downloading the message?

HOW TO AVOID: This is mostly a judgement call since, for email, there will be times when you will be unable to avoid one word replies. In cases like this, just try your best to avoid. With regards to mailing lists and newsgroups, whenever you are about to post something really short (like a yes, no, or a one-liner), ask yourself this: am I really adding anything to the information being passed around? This will usually save you from committing this breach of netiquette.