Computer & Internet Etiquette

This page is meant to serve both as a general introduction to the concept of netiquette and a guide to the local conventions followed here at

The term "netiquette" refers to online etiquette; basically the conventions of what is and isn't polite in an online environment. The basic rules of netiquette were established years ago, and reflect three basic concepts:

  1. Remember that even though the interaction is going by way of computers and network lines, there is a human on the other end that should be treated with the same level of respect you would treat him or her in person;

  2. Everyone has limited bandwidth, and most people have to pay for it in some way or another (and with some mobile plans in particular it can be very expensive) -- other people's bandwidth shouldn't be wasted; and

  3. People connect to the Internet in all manner of ways using all manner of hardware and software, and whenever possible system dependencies should be avoided.

The myriad of various rules that have slowly become accepted behavior have all spawned from these three. They are not always obvious, however, and novices often get themselves into uncomfortable situations by being oblivious to the fact that such conventions exist.

For example, Usenet news allows ordinary people to converse directly with the world's leading experts on a vast number of topics. If you're interested in a topic like genealogy, it's quite possible to post a question that will be read by numerous noted experts; such a question could get an extremely negative response however if the basics of netiquette are ignored.

Of course, the Internet is big, and different conventions exist in different parts of it. This guide only attempts to cover the extreme basics -- those conventions that should be assumed unless explicitly told otherwise; and conventions that apply here locally.

General Conventions

There are a handful of general conventions that apply to everything from an e-mail message, a message to a Usenet news group, a form entry on a web site, an online chat facility, or a MUD. Most of these relate to the above three rules in a very direct manner.

  • Online communication tends to be extremely informal in nature. The Internet grew in part out of academia as a research tool, and researchers are often quite informal. Informal is not the same as rude; treat people online as you would treat them face-to-face.

  • Using different type styles isn't safe in most forms of online communication. Whenever you change a type style (or font, for that matter) you will be creating something that others will potentially see as gibberish. Often the underscore character "_" is used before and after a phrase that is meant to be underlined. Quoting phrases is also used, as are capitalizing phrases (but see the next item). Stick only with things that are possible with a regular typewriter (and this includes avoiding things like curved quotes and computer-specific characters -- these will also often appear as gibberish on other people's machines).

  • Typing something in all capital letters is considered shouting. Capitalization should only be used extremely sparingly for emphasizing particular words or short phrases. If (for whatever reason) only all upper or all lower case may be used, it's generally better to go with all lower case. Most people don't shout most of the time in face-to-face conversations; most people probably don't want to shout most of the time in online communications.

  • Don't send someone a binary file (this includes pictures, audio clips, video clips, animations, etc.) without asking first. Ensure that the person's Internet connection and hardware / software combination can handle such a download and that the person's hardware and software will be able to make sense of the file. A person accessing the Internet from a cell phone usally won't want your WAV or AVI file, no matter how cool it is.

  • Respect other people's privacy. Don't publish things that were meant to be private. Most people wouldn't broadcast a private phone conversation over a P. A. system during a crowded event; publishing a private e-mail message over Usenet (or whatever) is a similar action.

  • Respect other people's material. Don't take other people's work and pretend it's your own. The Internet is a mostly friendly place; often people will allow you to use their material free of charge if you just give them the proper credits. Remember the Internet's research roots.

  • As something that started off in a very non-commercial way, the Internet by-and-large has something of an anti-commercial attitude. Don't expect that just because something allows posts it allows commercial posts.

  • While the advanced users often grumble about newbies and the various problems they cause, remember that everyone starts off that way. As you get more advanced, always try to show the newbies by example; go easy on them and remember your own social blunders as you learned about the online world.

E-Mail-Specific Conventions

People often inadvertently abuse e-mail. The note about binary files above applies double to e-mail -- people use e-mail as a business tool and access it from cell phones, airplane phones, remote kiosks, PDAs, and in all manner of (often expensive and uncomfortable) ways. This fact should always be kept in mind when sending an e-mail to someone, especially if it's to a business address. E-mail addresses are usually in the form of "" where the "machine" part is not always used; the "domain" part will typically be something like "com" for commercial, "net" for network, "org" for non-profit organization, "edu" for educational facility, etc.; the "place" is the actual target site; and the "username" is the name (or handle) of the target person. If only the username is given, the rest is assumed to be the same as for the current user.

  • If it looks like the address is a business address, be careful what you send to it. People have gotten in trouble in the past for receiving "inappropriate materials" at work, even though they really have little control over what they receive.

  • Before sending someone a picture, video, MP3, WAV, or any binary file, send a simple text e-mail first verifying that it's okay. Obviously, it's possible to get permission to generally exchange such files, but it should be done on a person-to-person basis and should never be assumed in advance.

  • Related to the above rule, don't send out word-processing documents or other application documents without first clearing it with the intended target. This is a lesser offence if one is sending a document accessible with free software, but still should not be done. Remember that different people own different software, and even if you happened to get a program (such as MS-Word) for free on your computer, it might cost hundreds of dollars (or not even be available) for someone else's computer.

  • Send e-mail as plain text, not HTML by default. Some e-mail programs (usually the ones built into browsers) are configured to send as HTML by default; turn this option off completely, or set it so that it only sends HTML messages to people who have been cleared to receive them. Some people feel very strongly about this point; see this discussion for one example; there are many more. HTML in e-mail can usually be pretty easily turned off, but the method is different for different programs. See this guide for instructions about how to turn it off in different popular programs.

  • Don't leave "return receipt" on all the time. Yes, occasionally e-mail messages get lost in the ether, just like regular mail messages. Still, using return receipts is somewhat wasteful of bandwidth, somewhat insulting to some people, and won't even reliably work for all e-mail targets. Use it only in cases when you would use certified mail if sending an ordinary letter.

  • Don't forward chain letters and don't forward hoaxes. These just waste bandwidth and cause the newbies unnecessary discomfort. If you don't know if a virus report (or whatever) is a hoax or not, you should at least check out the HoaxBusters site before propagating it.

  • If you're sending things to such a big list of people the above rules are difficult to comply with, you're sending things to too big a list of people. Messages should only rarely be sent out to massive quantities of people, and then the rule of the lowest-common-denominator should apply -- that is, plain text with no attachments.

  • If you're a business, don't use spam. Spam is popular with shady businesses (and businesses that don't know any better) because it is a means of advertising that forces the receivers of the advertisements to pay for receiving the advertisements whether they like it or not. There is a large population of people out there who hate spam, and businesses that use it often become targets of unwanted attention. The proper way to create an e-mail mailing list is to set up an opt-in one; that is, make it possible for people to sign into the list, and easy to sign out; never include them by default and force them to sign out. Spam (like junk FAXing) is also of questionable legality; some standards are being discussed at the Federal level in the U.S., but there are already states that have taken stronger stances. Using spam can open a business up to lawsuits in addition to cracker and/or denial of service attacks.

Usenet-Specific, Forum-Specific, and MUD-Specific Conventions

The world of Usenet and MUDs is big and varied, and different discussion groups / different MUDs tend to have different local conventions. This page will only attempt to cover the basics. Note too that usually all the rules listed above for e-mail also apply for Usenet.

  • Don't post a question to a Usenet discussion group without first reading the FAQ for that discussion group. This is one of the quickest ways to make an unfavorable impression on Usenet.

  • Generally when going into a new area, it makes sense to lurk around for awhile and just observe without contributing. Get comfortable with the area, note how other people there behave, and then start to interact more.

  • It's usually best to avoid obscenities unless in an area that explicitly allows them. Many places follow the convention that partially-blocked obscenities (like s**t or d**n or even f***) are allowed in context, but certainly shouldn't be used for every other word. Never assume that an area allows them; check the FAQ and observe other's behavior to see what's accepted.

Local Conventions at

By and large is quite easy-going and open, and we try not to have any strict sorts of rules whatsoever. We do however try to maintain a friendly, family atmosphere, and do ask that people posting events, guestbook entries, etc. respect this attitude. We don't like censorship, but there are certain things we cannot tolerate.

  • We can't allow personal attacks on other people. Remember that things posted on often remain widely available for years; don't post something that you would not both say on television and mail in writing by certified mail. We will actively remove postings that appear to be personal attacks, but please just try and show a little maturity and be courteous to others.

  • We don't allow advertisements in the guestbook. Commercial events may be posted in the calendar, and commercial yard sales may be posted on the yard sales page (any required fees should always be listed in each case), but general advertising is restricted. if you feel you need a general advertisement; we do offer a few advertising options.

  • Posts that are in all capital letters will typically be automatically converted to all lower-case letters.


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