What is 'Netiquette'?

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"Netiquette", a condensation of the words "network" and "etiquette", is the term commonly used to refer to conventions adopted by Internet users on the web, mailing lists, public forums, and in live chat. By being aware of these conventions you can ensure that your interactions online stay positive, friendly, and informative.

The Internet is an amazingly useful tool for finding information and connecting with people. The longer you use it, the more you'll become aware of and used to standards for polite behavior commonly accepted by those that have spent a significant amount of time online.

These helpful hints will keep you away from Internet faux pas

1. DON'T YELL. A lot of new Internet users like to use capital letters for emphasis and to differentiate their text from the text of other users. Using caps online, especially in a chat room but also on a mailing list, is perceived as "yelling", as the caps indicate a raised voice. Punctuation and proper capitalization might not always be necessary, but avoid using all caps.

2. When replying to an email thread, clip or "snip" your messages. When you reply to an email, your emailing client will usually by default quote the entire body of the message you're replying to. It is generally considered courteous to truncate or cut this message down to just the part that you're specifically replying to. This prevents list recipients from receiving a lot of repetitive information. It also protects users that are on the "digest" version of mailing lists. In digest version, users receive one large message every day (or every week, or every month, depending on their settings) composed of all messages sent during that time period combined into one long email message. Repetitive content is especially troublesome to digest users because they have to scroll through long material.

3. The #2 principle also applies to email forwards. Often an email forward will have subject header information -- and lots of carats! (this symbol: > ) -- indicating how many people it's been forwarded from. You might notice if you get a forward from some Internet users that you have to scroll down a very long way to get to the actual message text. You can save your own email forward recipients from having to do this scrolling by selecting all of that extra text and deleting it.

4. If you're on a large mailing list, don't send one line replies (referred to as "one liners") to the entire list. Similarly, messages addressed specifically to only one of the list users -- such as a short reply that applies only to the sender -- are best sent just to that recipient and not to the whole list. This guideline can differ depending on the formality of the list and the number of subscribers. Generally, the more people that are subscribed to a list, the more you want to make sure that your replies are thoughtful (meaning more than one line), relevant (meaning on topic and of potential interest to the whole list), and well-formatted.

5. If you're emailing a large number of people at once, especially people who don't know each other, it's considered polite not to make all of their email address public. You can do this by using your mail clients BCC (for "blind carbon copy") feature. This feature isn't always immediately visible, but you can find it in your message options (often by right clicking in the message header). When sending a BCC, you commonly address the message to your own email address, and then put everyone else's address in the BCC text bar. When your recipients receive your message, they will only see your email address, not the addresses of everyone else you've sent the message to, and this prevents their email address from being broadcast to people they don't know.

6. If you're posting a question to an informational list, and especially if you are new to the list, do a quick search of the list archives or on Google to see if your question has already been asked. If this is of particular concern to the list, it will often be mentioned in the informational email you will receive when first singing up. It is especially applicable when surfing usenet. Whenever possible, before raising a subject, it pays to do a quick search of list archives to see if it's come up before, so that your post can avoid being a repetition of common questions or things that have come up before.

7. Generally, when you first join a list, it's a good idea to "lurk" or remain on the list without posting for awhile before posting anything to it. That way you get a feel for the way the list works and you can make sure that your first appearance on it will be positive and well-received. Always read list FAQs (Frequently Asked Question lists) when they are available!

These are just the basics of Internet etiquette and will get you started on a positive, friendly, and polite experience online. Different interaction formats, such as usenet, IRC, web forums, and mailing lists all have their own conventions, but so long as you are respectful and polite you will often find that experienced users are happy to help you out. Always remember to think before you post -- it's easy to forget that there are real people behind the computer screen! -- and you'll be ready to maximize your time online.

submitted by Erin Hoffman