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Some Notes on Netiquette and 'Net Basics

(Version 1.00)

With Thanks to Cyne Enright, Bunny, and an anonymous contributor for their help

This article with is dedicated with admiration to Sam Jeske -- a leatherman and long standing selfless contributor to the Austin Leather and BDSM scenes. He's touched many of us in Texas positively as volunteer, educator, leader, and friend. He was the fearless leader of GWNN during it's greatest period of explosive growth and served in several capacities in NLA: Austin. He's a gifted educator -- not only about safety, protocol, and technique -- but about behaving honorably, honestly, and responsibly in the scenes. And he consistently puts the good of the community ahead of his own reputation.

The Short List of Essential Netiquette Guidelines

There is something about e-mail that turns off the politeness gene in people.
- Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon.com

  • Never assume your email messages are private; or, that only yourself and the recipient can read them.
  • Keep messages short and to the point
  • Edit out unnecessary quoted material in your replies
  • Stay on topic when a topic is designated
  • Select relevant and descriptive subject lines when posting to usenet, newsgroup and mailing lists. Don't be cute at the expense of identifying the specific topic.
  • Don't send unsolicited commercial email (SPAM)
  • Don't send chain letters -- including dubious virus warnings.
  • Don't include more recipients than necessary in emails
    • Use "Reply to All" sparingly and only where appropriate
    • Watch when replying that you reply only to the correct recipient
  • Include signature files but keep them short -- usually less than 4 lines in length
  • In mailing lists or news groups, don't respond with one liners and "me toos." If you feel compelled to respond with a single line affirmation, keep it "off list" -- reply directly to the author of the post.
  • Ask before sending attachments larger than 50 kilobits
  • Be careful with sarcasm -- or what might appear to be sarcasm. Use emoticons.
  • Keep it civil. Don't participate in flame wars.
  • Use proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
  • Don't forward personal email without the author's permission
  • Don't disclose personal information or post other people's personal information anywhere online.

The rest of this article will elaborate on -- and to a limited extent supplement -- these guidelines and try to put them in context.

This "Short List" is largely based on the following "Historical Sources":

A quick on-line search will reveal many similar lists.

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Some Context

The use of the Internet is in its relative infancy. In the words of counsel, it is 'an unruly beast.' Or so it will certainly become without a foundation of good-neighbor commercial principles.
-- Justice Janet M. Wilson
of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice
in Toronto, Canada

The preceding guidelines have been the accepted wisdom of netiquette since before what most users consider "the beginning" -- 1994.

(Of course the construction of the Internet began in 1969 but it wasn't until about 1994 when it became popularized -- discovered by the news media, marketed by on-line service providers like AOL and commercial ISPs, and made accessible to mainstream of North American society.)

The point is that the preceding guidelines have a relatively long precedence. The author has not drawn them up whole cloth in response to a personal list of peeves.

For more Internet history please see theHistory of the Internet by Bruce Sterling.

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Seven Formats of Electronic Communication

The blogger's philosophy goes something like this:
Everything that I think about is more fascinating than the crap in your head.
The beauty of blogging, as compared to writing a book, is that no editor will be interfering with my random spelling and grammar, my complete disregard for the facts, and my wandering sentences that seem to go on and on and never end so that you feel like you need to take a breath and clear your head before you can even consider making it to the end of the sentence that probably didn't need to be written anyhoo.

~ Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert comic strip

Think of this forum as an auditorium and you the poster are standing at the lecturn ready at the mic. Is what you are about to write something that you would say at the mic in front of 100s of people or would you bend over and just say it to a few people you know in the front row? If its the later, send a personal email.

~ Ms. Siren of Central Texas

Correspondence on the Internet can take a variety of forms and each form has it's comparative strengths and weaknesses. Some forms of communication will be received better in an instant message between two intimate friends than on a mailing list that serves hundreds of subscribers.

Communication Format Description Formality and Topics
Instant Messages (IMs) Quick, short messages in real time exchanged directly between two computer users over a network or the Internet. Analogous to a short telephone conversation but more convenient if both parties on on-line. The least formal. The appropriateness of any topics are left entirely to the two parties participating. It's usually assumed that both parties are multi-tasking.
Chat: IRC and Chat Rooms Free form broadcasted discussions/conferences among ad hoc communities united by a specific interest or topic and taking place live and in real-time in designated forums -- channels or virtual "chat rooms." Very informal. Typos, misspellings, and poor grammar are generally accepted. Several different discussions can go on at once but messages appear in the order that they are sent to the designated server. Topics -- when there are topics -- are generally designated by the name of the chat room or channel. Often the topics deviate or degenerate to very casual small talk between old friends and strangers. Chat is an easy way to form and maintain on-line friendships and foster a sense of community; but they are not as effective for in-depth intellectual discussions. Even with moderators, trying to keep a chat "on topic" can be like herding cats. A lively chat with many conversations going on at once, can seem like the participants are interrupting and drowning each other out.
Email Messages exchanged over the Internet on a network among specific friends and associates More formal than IM, Chat, & IRC but less formal than mailing lists and usenet newsgroups. The generous time allotted by using email -- rather than real time communication like IM or chat -- allow for deliberative composition, thoughtful arguments, and spell checking. Since the recipients of email are chosen by the author, the author is free to determine which topics are appropriate. Emails can cover a lot of ground and numerous subjects. They are often longer that IM messages.
Mailing Lists Discussion groups -- linking people who share common interests -- that occur through mass email distributions where subscribers "post to the list" by sending e-mails to an "alias" -- a single address where copies of the email are forwarded to all list subscribers. The two most formal of the seven electronic communication formats. Since the participants do not have to respond in real time, Mailing Lists and Usenet Newsgroups allow for deliberative composition, thoughtful arguments, a modicum of care, and correct spelling. Short, one line posts, "me toos," fluff, and off topic posts are discouraged. When the lists are moderated, adherence to the list rules and to the designated subjects are enforced by moderators who have the powers to unsubscribe subscribers or restrict them from posting. In both Mailing Lists and Newsgroups, posts should adhere to the designated subject.
USENET Newsgroups Discussion forum found on USENET devoted to talking about a specific topic and consisting of messages -- and replies to messages -- posted on electronic bulletin boards. Messages and their replies are organized by their subject headers into "threads." Newsgroups are similar in concept to mailing lists, but the messages are archived on servers and don't reside in private e-mail accounts.
Web Logs (Blogs) Web Logs -- or blogs for short -- are on-line diaries, journals, commentary, or newsletters -- written by a single author, posted on web sites for public consumption, and organized into dated entries listed in reverse chronological order. They contain philosophical reflections, opinions on political issues and the state of the Internet and as such mirror the personality and strong personal perspective of their authors. For example: The Drudge Report In "Weblogs: a history and perspective" <http://www.rebeccablood.net/essays/weblog_history.html>, Rebecca Blood writes that "typically this commentary is characterized by an irreverent, sometimes sarcastic tone. ... Indeed, the format of the typical weblog, providing only a very short space in which to write an entry, encourages pithiness on the part of the writer; longer commentary is often given its own space as a separate essay."

Bloggers are free to choose their form and content subject to their blog host's Acceptable Usage Policy.

There are basic differences between the "in real-time" formats -- like IM and Chat -- and the "less immediate" formats -- e-mail, mailing lists, and newsgroups. What works with Chat doesn't work as well in mailing lists. Short, personal, irreverent one-liners are best used in chat. Longer, more intellectually involved debates and discussions are better served in email.

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Instant Messaging (IM) Netiquette

  • If someone's status is busy, do not send them an instant message unless your matter is urgent.
  • Keep your messages concise and to the point
  • Request an acknowledgment that the other participant has received your message. It's possible that they are logged on to the Internet but for whatever reason they haven't seen your message.
  • Don't send meanlingless greeting by themselves. Don't send "Hi" alone as a single line. Either don't include the greeting or supplement the greeting with more of the message. In other words, send "Hi. Can you send me URL of that site?" instead of "Hi!"
  • Don't use it at work for personal use. Keep it business related.

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Chat/IRC Netiquette

  • Follow the conduct standards of the chat room or IRC channel
  • Use courtesy when chatting
  • Stay on topic when a topic is designated
  • Keep in mind that people can keep logs of Chat sessions
  • Don't use scrolling macros or distracting text effects while chatting. This disrupts the flow of chat.

(See also "The Idiocy of Chat Conventions" by Rowan Ste. Julian at http://www.EvilMonk.org/A/irc_idiot.cfm)

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USENET Newsgroup / Mailing List Netiquette

  • Read Introductions and FAQs of the group or list before posting to the list
  • Lurk: subscribe to the list and read the posts for a while before posting yourself
  • Don't post advertisements or personals before determining that they are acceptable to the particular list or group
  • Remain on topic
  • Don't participate in Flame Wars (see Flames)
  • If you start a new thread by replying to an old thread, please change the subject line.
    Example: SUBJ: Middle Aged Heart throb from Houston (was RE: Houston Ball)
  • If the list allows for off topic posts and fluff, please identity those posting in the subject line: OT, FLUFF, etc.,
  • If you're responding to several emails on one topic, combine your thoughts into a single response.
  • Trim your replies so people don't have to scroll through long, quoted passages.
  • Don't send the following:
  • If you must unsubscribe to a mailing list, follow the instructions for doing so yourself. Don't send an ill mannered demand to the list owner or -- worse yet -- to the mailing list. Instructions are usually posted on the group's home page or maybe even at the bottom of every posted message.

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During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet.
- former Vice Preseident Al Gore on his support for Arpanet funding in a 1999 interview with Wolf Blitzer

  • Disagree without attacking personally -- even in response to personal attacks.
  • Reread the emails that upset you and make sure you are picking up on the message the author intended,
  • Wait a day before sending out angry responses. Ask yourself is it worth it to "score points" in flame war. (Hint: No.) Hopefully after 24 hours you will think better about sending am angry response.
  • Keep to your facts and keep your facts straight.
  • Apologize when appropriate
  • Don't apologize when inappropriate. Some people out there are masters of "winning through indignation." If you are not in the wrong, stand by your ground.
  • If you must flame, keep it off list so as not to embarrass or bore the rest of us. The most of us really don't care about the true character of a particular troll -- or we already know it. From my personal observation as a list moderator, nothing drives people to unsubscribe to a mailing list faster than a prolonged flame war.

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Stay On Topic

In both Mailing Lists and Newsgroups, posts should adhere to the designated subject. The large groups of subscribers choose the lists and groups for their specific topics. If someone is upset about a current event that is irrelevant to the topic at hand, they should post to a mailing list or news group that covers that topic rather than one that doesn't. After all, people subscribe to a particular list because they want to read or post about a particular subject regardless how timely and important. If they wish to discuss the Arab-Israeli conflict, they can subscribe to a news group that covers that topic. The other subscribers shouldn't have to weed through posts about the justification of targeted assassinations on a group dedicated to fly fishing. (You chose this mailing list out of all the mailing lists on the Internet because of it's subject matter, so did all the other readers.)

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Safety and Privacy

You have zero privacy anyway.  Get over it.
- Scott McNealy, CEO of Sun Microsystems

Information wants to be free
- Hacker, Cracker, and Digital Pirate Maxim

Sending anything over the Internet is like sending a postcard: The contents of your message can be seen anywhere along the route your message takes.

Using Internet access at work: it is generally accepted among the American legal community that if the employer provides Internet access for business reasons then the employer has the right to monitor the employee's Internet usage. The employee has no guarantee to privacy when using his employer's systems.

  • Never give your user ID or password online to someone who claims to be a systems administrator.
  • Don't use something obvious for your password such as your name, the text string "password," or your user ID.
  • Select a combination of letters and numbers for your password

See also Do Internet Petitions Work?

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Avoiding Spam

  • Don't post your email address on web pages where they can be harvested my SPAM-bots. If you want to be contacted through your web site you can:
    • Use a JavaScript that prevents spambots from retreiving the device (but doesn't prevent humans from seeing the address in their browser.)
    • Encrypt your email address in HTML numeric code -- which spambots are not supposed to be able to read.
    • Display your email address as part of a graphic image.
    • Use an email form that doesn't include your email address in the source code.
    • Insert redundant, additional text into your address: "LordHughesCoq@HughesCoq.org" becomes "LordHughesCoq@TrimThisHughesCoq.org". Ideally humans will know enough to remove the "TrimThis" but you will have to include instructions.
  • Use a free email account from Yahoo, Hotmail, Google, etc., for answering surveys or posting to newsgroups
  • Never reply to spam email, even to opt-out.

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Avoiding Internet Fraud

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Do Internet Petitions Work?

E-mail sent to everyone in congress is likely to be received by no one.
 - David Carle, spokesman for Sen. Patrick Leahy.

E-mail has no weight, no mass. It comes in quietly.
 ~ Jonah Seiger, co-founder of Mindshare Internet Campaigns, Washington consulting firm

Do Internet Petitions Work? No.

As one anonymous cynic said "Internet petitions aren't worth the paper they're not printed on."

Why? Because the target recipients view them as little more than spam. The powers that be are unimpressed by e-mailed petitions for several reasons:

  • There are duplicate signatures in petitions (resulting naturally from the process of circulating petitions like a chain letter.)
  • No credibility: The signatures are easy to forge. A petition containg thousands of signatures might have been signed by thousands of people or by one enterprising individual who generated the signatures through a simple program or cut and pasted the signatures from another petition.
  • Signing and forwarding petitions reveal no effort or dedication to the cause
  • Petitions often contain unreliable information (often bogus urban legends like the "e-mail tax.")
  • Undated petitions contain out dated information and may have been circulating in the aether for years

On-line petitions create a false sense of doing something positive and might actually divert energy away from efforts that would have a real consequence. Some more effective strategies to change the world include

  • Send paper petitions. To quote the TruthOrFiction.com site: "They carry more weight because real people have signed with real signatures and, presumably, real addresses."
  • Respond directly to the person in authority -- newspaper editor, congressman, president, etc., -- by personal visit when possible or by sending snail mail. (But don't send it to any congressman other than your own.) "The most powerful form of communication from constituents is the face-to-face comment." explains Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.)  "Then it's a personal letter or phone call.  After that is a huge dropoff to preprint postcards, and well below that is the paper petition."
  • Set up a web site or blog about an issue that needs to be addressed
  • Send out Action Alerts -- where appropriate -- to keep interested people informed. They should be dated, include contact information, and encourage the recipients to contact a specific person in authority about making a positive change. (You might ask the activists to BCC a designated email address so that you can monitor the success of your action alert.)

CitizenDirect Program
To email to your representative, simply visit the House's web site and enter your ZIP code. The site will automatically format an email addressed to the appropriate member. To contact a member of the Senate, visit the official web site for a list of Internet and postal addresses.
URL: http://www.house.gov/writerep/


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"My Time is More Valuable Than Yours"

The tone that they would take in e-mail was pretty astounding. 'I need to know this and you need to tell me right now,' with a familiarity that can sometimes border on imperative.
- Michael J. Kessler, an assistant dean and a lecturer in theology at Georgetown University on student e-mail.
  "To: Professor@University.edu Subject: Why It's All About Me"
February 21, 2006
New York Times

Please don't write mailing lists, newsgroups, or web sites with questions that you can easily research yourself. Such as:

  • "Are there any munch groups in my area?"
  • "What are some ideas for BDSM play? I want to try a new scene with my new sub I can't think of anything new to try on her. (I've asked this question before but all of the suggestions stank. Try a little harder this time please!)"
  • "What does S.A.M. mean?"
  • "I don't like this mailing list! It's STOOPID! Get me off!"
  • "Can you find me a sex slave?"

Instead of sending an email for an answer to simple questions like these, there are ways to find the information yourself:

  • Most news groups have a FAQ -- Frequently Asked Questions documents -- that answers the most common questions the novice subscribers might have.
  • Use a search engine such as Google and Yahoo.
  • RTFM: Many mailing lists contain instructions for unsubscribing to the mailing lists at the bottom of each post. Reading and following the instructions are more effective and less frustrating then sending ill mannered demands to the list that someone else unsubscribe you.
  • Asking someone you've never meet to procure you a partner for free is not a fair request. Better to find a partner on your own.

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Reporting Internet Crimes and Annoyances

If the 'opportunity' appears too good to be true, it probably is.

  • Report ID Theft with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) ID Theft Complaint Input Form
  • Report Spam:
    • Report SPAM to your Internet Service Provider (ISP). Forward the offending email and try to include the original headers so that your ISP can determine from where the SPAM really originates. Usually the email address for reporting SPAM is "abuse@ispdomainname" where "ispdomainname" is the domain name of your ISP. Examples: abuse@aol.com, abuse@bellsouth.net, abuse@earthlink.net.
    • Also report SPAM to FTC at SPAM@UCE.GOV or fill out the form at https://rn.ftc.gov/pls/dod/wsolcq$.startup?Z_ORG_CODE=PU01
    • Forward investment-related spam e-mails to enforcement@sec.gov.
    • Investment/Securities Scams: The SEC's Office of Internet Enforcement Complaint Center -- at http://www.sec.gov/complaint.shtml -- indicates that investment-related scam spam can be forwarded to enforcement@sec.gov. Please include:
      1. Your name, mail and email addresses, and telephone numbers.
      2. The name, mail and email addresses, telephone numbers, and website address of any individual or company you mention in the complaint.
      3. If you have a complaint about a security or a securities salesperson, specific details of how, why, and when you were defrauded or encountered problems with investments or your broker or adviser.
    • SpamCop at http://www.spamcop.net/: "SpamCop determines the origin of unwanted email and reports it to the relevant Internet service providers. By reporting spam, you have a positive impact on the problem. Reporting unsolicited email also helps feed spam filtering systems, including, but not limited to, SpamCop's own service."
  • Internet Fraud: FBI's Internet Fraud Complaint Center (IFCC) at http://www.ifccfbi.gov/index.asp
  • To report complaints about deceptive or unfair business practices against a company in another country, please file it at http://www.econsumer.gov/
  • Attacks on the information systems (worms, viruses, hacks, etc.,)
    • United States Secret Service - The Financial Crimes Division's Electronic Crimes Branch: http://www.secretservice.gov/fcd_ecb.shtml
    • Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) is a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C). "IC3's mission is to serve as a vehicle to receive, develop, and refer criminal complaints regarding the rapidly expanding arena of cyber crime. The IC3 gives the victims of cyber crime a convenient and easy-to-use reporting mechanism that alerts authorities of suspected criminal or civil violations. For law enforcement and regulatory agencies at the federal, state, local and international level, IC3 provides a central referral mechanism for complaints involving Internet related crimes."
  • Report Child Porn:
    • According to the US Customs and Border Protection web site FAQ: "You can contact the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-843-5678 or www.missingkids.com and the information will be forwarded to the appropriate agency for investigative action."
    • According to Joe St Sauver, Ph.D.: "Please note that you should not download any child pornographic materials under any circumstances, since the mere possession of this type of material is a violation of federal and state laws. Let trained law enforcement officers conduct their own investigation when it comes to child porn spam." (Spam Remedies: Some Special Federal Government Addresses for Reporting Spam)

When forwarding offending e-mail, be sure to include the header information, so that the agency handling your report can accurately identify the real source of the offending email. Often spammers and other 'net scum will "spoof" an address -- hide their true identity and real email address by make it look like they sent the email from the address of an innocent party.

See also "Internet Crime Prevention Tips" at http://www.ic3.gov/preventiontips.aspx, "FBI Tips for the Internet" at http://www.fbi.gov/page2/tips.htm, and "A Parent's Guide to Internet Safety" at http://www.fbi.gov/publications/pguide/pguide.htm

(Main Source: "Spam Remedies: Some Special Federal Government Addresses for Reporting Spam" by Joe St Sauver, Ph.D. at http://cc.uoregon.edu/cnews/fall2002/spamreport.html)

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Putting "Information wants to be free" in Context

The maxim "Information wants to be free" is often quoted out of context. It is attributed to Stewart Brand but by itself it doesn't accurately convey his meaning.

"On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it's so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other."
- Stewart Brand at the 1984 "Hackers' Conference"

"Information wants to be free because it has become so cheap to distribute, copy and recombine – too cheap to meter. It wants to be expensive because it can be immeasurably valuable to the recipient. That tension will not go away. It leads to endless wrenching debate about price, copyright, 'intellectual property,' the moral rightness of casual distribution, because each round of new (technological) devices makes the tension worse, not better"
- Stewart Brand, "The Media Lab: Inventing the Future at MIT" 1987

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Further Reading on Netquette and Internet History

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Reposting Policy

An early draft of these notes was part of a handout for a class -- "BDSM for the 'Net Generation" -- that Cyne Enright and I presented at the Austin chapter of the National Leather Association's Texas Leather Pride XI. You're free to copy, distribute, and re-post it, provided you:

  • Post it in it's entirety --- including these instructions, any copyright notice, and any dedication --- EXCEPT FOR graphic images, 3rd party code (i.e. APIs), or lists of links located below this notice (such as "Further Reading on ...," or "Additional Articles by Ambrosio.") They are optional.
  • Credit the author (Ambrosio) properly
  • Include a working hyperlink to EvilMonk.org at the bottom of the article
  • Contact me (if possible) with the details (including the URL of the posting.) If I'm dead or it's impossible to contact me, you can skip this requirement.
  • Do NOT post my email address. (I've gone to a lot of trouble to hide it from spammers.)

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