Minding Your Manners on The Internet

Published in ‘Times Computing’ on 19th July 2000
Where are your manners young Man – A phrase we are all too familiar with in our younger  days. Well it’s here to haunt you again if you are a new entrant to the dynamic world of the Internet. And if you are planning to be a law-abiding netizen you need to read on to discover the world of Netiquette. Look up the dictionary for the meaning of Etiquette and you would come up with – the forms required by good breeding or prescribed by authority to be required in social or official Life. So what then is Netiquette, well simply said its network etiquette. In other words, Netiquette is a set of rules that govern how one should behave on-line. If you are new to cyberspace culture you are bound to make a few mistakes and social blunders. There is a chance you may offend someone without meaning to or even worse, you may misunderstand someone and take offence of it when its not been intended. The problem with the net is that most people tend to forget that they are interacting with a real person on the other end and could land up being insensitive to this fact. Some basics of Netiquette may seem very obvious but its surprising how we conveniently forget these tiny details which help to lead a smooth and harmonious existence in cyberspace.

  1. Remember the human touch

Always remember that you treat people exactly the way you want them to treat you. The same is applicable on the net. Machines have a way of changing people’s behaviour and attitude. Have you ever wondered what posses perfectly nice people to become abusive behind the car steering wheel. The same applies to a person in front of a P.C. People tend to forget that they are communicating with other human beings. The best way to put a check to this is every time you send a message make sure to ask yourself this question – if you were face to face with the same person would you say the same thing. If your answer is no then you need to take a look at your message and probably rephrase it. Another reason for not being offensive on-line is that when you communicate through cyberspace anything you write is written forever and once sent you have no control over it.

  1. Be Ethical

Be ethical in your dealings over the Internet. Don’t forge your information or pose as someone else. Avoid using other people’s e-mail ids to access information. When hosting some information in terms of facts and figures make sure that you have cross checked the information and that it is reliable. Always remember someone somewhere is relying on your data and information for his decisions. When in doubt and pondering over an ethical dilemma on the Internet, use the book of codes, which you would use in a real life situation. You might find some answers.

  1. When in Rome act like a Roman

All domains on the Internet are not the same. Remember that One man’s food may be another man’s poison and it is also applicable in communities on the net. What may be acceptable in one community or domain may not be acceptable in another. So if you are new to a particular community it is advisable to have a wait and watch approach to understand what is acceptable and what is not in the community. It may not make any sense talking about Sachin Tendulkar in a Movie chat forum.

  1. Be Relevant

We all know that the most precious commodity today for the hurried Internet age is time and hence respect other people’s time. Make sure that the message or query you post has relevance to the current topic being discuss. Make sure your e-mail has all the relevant facts and is to the point.
5.Use of Emoticons and Acronyms
Netiquette not only deals with the serious governing rules of the internet communication but also suggests a lot of interesting ways of communicating on the net. Nearly everybody is familiar with the colon and right parenthesis : ) as a smiley face. These are emoticons i.e. icons for emotions and are gaining in popularity on chat and e-mail messages. They are used to express your state of mind at that point in time. There are a variety of emoticons to choose such as a face with a moustache, a kiss, a yawn, a yell etc. Many of these are available of the net. With communications speeding up with e mail another way of speeding up things which is slowly gaining popularity is use of acronyms. Some of the common acronyms used on the net are AISI – As I see it, CU – See You or LOL – Laugh out loud etc.

  1. E-Mail Netiquette

Don’t type your messages in CAPS. This is perceived as loud and rude in cyberspace.
Limit Line lengths in mails to 65 to 70 characters in your mail settings. Many old e-mail programs will wrap the text at wrong points making your mail look discontinuous.
Restrict the size of your e-mail to 100kb. If more than 100kb make sure you get the permission of your recipient. Many e-mail providers provide less space for mail storage hence a huge e-mail message from you may choke up the mailbox of your recipient.
Always fill up the subject line of your e-mail message don’t keep your recipient’s guessing. It helps the receiver to filter urgent mail.
While forwarding a mail to a group of people use the blind cc option. Sometimes mails sent to people may have the first 50 lines of e-mail addresses followed by the message. It also exposes other people’s e-mail ids to another person. Remember it is your responsibility to maintain confidentiality of e-mail ids on your list.
Signature files should be short and should not carry unnecessary information. Details like name, address and telephone number would do. In one line replies avoid using signatures. A good bench mark would be the message should be twice the size of your signature.
While replying back highlight only the previous matter that is relevant to your reply. Reply on the same mail in order to maintain continuity in the flow of information.
Avoid using html versions of e-mail as many people may not have html compatible e-mail programs.
Don’t participate or forward chain letters. Chain letters are a good way of getting someone else Spam for you. Not only are they annoying and rude but they are also illegal.
Avoid sending too many forwards to people, you are just blocking their bandwidths and wasting their time. Leave space between paragraphs it makes better and easy reading.
Don’t send a message addressing a single person on an e-mil group id.
Don’t get carried away by e-mail alerts and forward them to friends only if you have verified that it is not an hoax.

  1. News Group Netiquette

If a person has posted a question on a newsgroup and requested a private response, don’t post your message on the bulletin but make sure you mail it personally to him.
If you encounter a familiar sounding name on a newsgroup refrain from asking personal questions on the public domain, address them directly to the person through personal mail.
Before posting a question or message on the newsgroup make sure you have gone through the FAQ’s and archives to avoid repetition of a question already answered before.
Make sure you use a wait and watch attitude if new to a newsgroup so as to ascertain what is acceptable tone and language in the group.
With the Internet gaining popularity as the best communication medium today. Its high time we shape up and become responsible netizens by following the governing rules which help make surfing a pleasurable experience.