July 10, 2007
Three things that cometh not back: the arrow, the lost opportunity and the spoken word or, in this case, the typed word. Online-etiquette or 'netiquette' is the way a person behaves in the virtual world in emails and chat-rooms. As there is no direct contact with the person in virtual correspondence, it is easy to forget etiquette and good manners.
Appearing to be badly behaved in emails and other forms of online communication can damage your reputation. If it is professional correspondence, you would do well to know the netiquette rules, so as to not offend the person in question. So here are some conventions to follow the next time you get online.
All the rules about good manners that we learnt back in pre-school apply to when you are on the internet as well. Remind yourself about how you would behave if you were talking to that person face-to-face. Would you use the same words? If saying something out loud sounds rude, then typing it will not be much different. Keep in mind that you are talking to a real human being with emotions similar to yours, and ask yourself if you would liked to be spoken to like this?
Think twice before you click 'send'. Sometimes, what we speak and what is typed can appear to be different. The person sitting in front of the computer in another corner of the world cannot know what you are thinking. He/ she doesn't know your tone of voice, expressions or gestures. What may seem like a casual joke to you may appear to be an offensive comment to the recipient.
Anonymity can be tempting. Cyberspace gives people the chance to be someone else or no one at all. This anonymity is a power that can easily be abused. People take advantage of this and misbehave online by being rude, insulting and abusive. Never assume that you are hidden. On computer networks, it is possible to track the computer from which any data is sent, which can easily lead to you. So be wise and use the power carefully.
Don't disregard detail. Small details are very important while typing a letter. Avoid using all caps, which tend to give the impression that you are shouting. For instance, typing "where are you?" instead of "WHERE ARE YOU?" an make a world of difference. The latter says that the speaker is angry and might change the meaning of seemingly normal conversation.
Exclamation marks are another such detail. Avoid using them as far as possible. If you need to express an exclamation, use only one. Too many exclamation marks are not acceptable in formal conversation. They make the email seem casual and the exclamation is believed to be only an exaggeration. This applies to question marks as well. For example, compare "Please do not post this question here." to "Please do not post this question here!!!!!!!!". The first line is just a kind request, while the second is a scolding.
When in Rome, do as the Romans do. You will notice that in different chat rooms, the style of conversation is different. Some may be very casual while others are businesslike. It is advisable to first go through the previous postings and conversations before starting a conversation yourself. See what the others are talking about; what the nature of the forum is; and whether your post will hurt the sentiments of any members.
Avoid being repetitive and redundant. In discussion forums, people ask the same questions over and over again. Not only are you wasting bandwidth, you are also wasting the time of those people who will visit the forum. Also, by starting a new conversation every time with the same question, you break the existing thread and may annoy other members of the forum.
In the web world, you are what you write. With only your words to represent you, spelling and grammar count. Make it a point to always type out your letters in a word processor first. An automatic spell check can undo a lot of errors that would have otherwise gone unnoticed.
Avoid swearing. In chat rooms, it is very tempting to use swearwords to express your emotions but it is definitely not polite. People may be offended by your explicit language and may feel uncomfortable to chat with you. If you do feel that you have to use a mild swear word (as is very common in chat rooms), use the asterisk to mask the word.
Copy-paste is a no-no. Plagiarism is severely loathed in the web community. Using other people's information and passing it off as your own is not appreciated. Not only will you hurt the sentiments of the person who originally wrote the material, but those who read it, in all probability, will come to know that it is copied. Other than being a very unsavoury thing to do, it is also a criminal offence if the data is under copyright.
Personal attacks in web forums are frowned upon. In discussion groups, each is entitled to an opinion. By directly attacking a member in the group, you will only invite distrust from the other members.
And finally, breaking cyber laws counts as bad netiquette! Abide by all the rules. Go through the privacy statements and declarations made by individual websites and forums. Never post content that may harm other people's sentiments. Pornography, racial comments and severe political criticism are some of the things best avoided.
It is quite easy to follow these rules and maintain a healthy virtual relationship in chat rooms and with colleagues in professional emails. The easiest reminder is: would you say the same thing if you were face-to-face with that person?