Netiquette: Mind your online manners

Online communities are not that different from real ones. You can interact with other people in many different places on the Internet. And all of them have their own unique culture, rules and expectations.Whether you choose to use email, a text-based chat or a discussion board, there will be times when you’ll ask yourself, “Should I say this?”While common sense should be your guiding light, there may be times when it is hard to see the right choice – except perhaps in hindsight.

Can’t read intent
A major difference between email, a phone call, or speaking to someone face-to-face is that you can’t tell intent from text on a page.

“That was nice!” can have totally different meanings depending on your tone of voice. Everyone has bad days. You can’t know what may make a normally mild-mannered person post something that they will regret later.

If you find yourself reacting angrily, take a deep breath and wait until you are calm before responding. You will never regret the message you don’t send.

Unwanted contact
If someone indicates that your correspondence is unwelcome, immediately stop alcontact. Internet service providers (ISPs) are extremely sensitive to the legal and ethical concerns of harassment in any form and if there are any complaints you may lose access to your account.

If you receive unwanted messages, save the message, or forward it to your ISP with a note explaining your concerns. They can help you resolve the issues appropriately.

Time lag
Keep in mind that email messages may not appear on all systems immediately due to various technical problems that you may not be able to anticipate. You are not necessarily being ignored if you do not receive a timely response.

Never send unsolicited commercial email to strangers. It almost always results in angry, unpleasant confrontations.  If you are at all tempted to try it, visit the CAUCE web site first

Usenet Groups, Email Discussion Lists and Web Forums
The Usenet is an older area of the Internet, which features thousands of discussion groups on just about every topic under the sun. You need a special program called a “Usenet Reader” to participate in these groups. (Outlook Express has this ability in addition to the ability to read email).

The Usenet is a mostly lawless, unmoderated area however, and it is not a good place for a beginner to start making online connections.

Web forums
There are hundreds of moderated web and email based discussion groups and forums that are friendlier. You can find forums right here on on Topica PAML or Yahoo Groups (

Remember that messages that you leave on open forums are communicated to people around the world. They are not private places, though they may give a false feeling of intimacy. You cannot know who might be “lurking” or reading quietly without posting. You should “lurk” yourself for a few days when you first join the list, so you can get a feel for the flow of conversation.

Arguing, name calling
Arguing in discussion groups is not evil, though it is often portrayed to be. Strong disagreement is not a breach of netiquette in most groups. Name-calling and personal attacks are another matter. That’s called “flaming”.

If someone posts an ugly or offensive “flame”, it is best to send the moderator a private email expressing your concerns. Don’t quote the offender in a public post. Poor taste should not be dignified with repetition.

Watch headers
When you are new to an email-based group, pay extra attention to the headers when you reply. “Reply to All” should not be used in email discussions. In some mailing lists, when you hit “Reply” alone you just get the private email of the person you are responding to – but “Reply to All” gives you both their address and the address of the list. Remember to erase the private address so you don’t send two copies.

Keep your comments as brief and “on-topic” as possible. Most groups have a clearly defined subject. If you cannot find a group that discusses the topic you want, select the closest match. Start your posting by qualifying, “I was wondering if I could ask …”.

  • Never upload an attachment to an email discussion group.

You’re shouting!
Remember that CAPITAL LETTERS AND EXCLAMATION POINTS are the text equivalent of shouting. They also make your messages hard to read.

Commercial messages, sales and advertising pitches are generally not tolerated, even in those newsgroups that target business discussions. If you have any doubt as to what may be acceptable, contact the moderator.

Netiquette sites
There are more Netiquette details on the Albion Netiquette Site

If you are seeking information for business netiquette, visit Business Etiquette International or Email-to-the-Max Both sites have advice and tips for anyone new to the Internet business scene.