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Since the birth of civilization, each and every society has adopted its own code of socially acceptable behavior. And contrary to popular perception, the same holds true for today’s burgeoning online community.
Despite the absence of an actual governing body, some enlightened cyber citizens have established a number of informal guidelines to help maintain civility on the Internet.

Below are a few basic principles of what has become known as Netiquette.

Identify yourself. Be sure to include a “signature” file—a personal snippet of information, such as a name, phone number, e-mail address, or memorable quote—at the bottom of e-mail messages. Keep it short. Three to five lines are quite sufficient.

Pay attention. Read all outgoing e-mail carefully, checking for errors in both grammar and spelling.

Respect others’ bandwidth. Keep electronic messages short. Some people still pay for connectivity based on the amount of time they spend online. Consequently, the longer your dispatch is, the more they pay to read it. For the most part, try to refrain from sending extremely large messages. Remember, other people’s connections may be significantly slower than yours.

Summarize. When forwarding or re-posting, don’t quote the entire text of the original message. Instead, summarize just what you are responding to. In the online community, brevity is a virtue.

Don’t shout. Unless you intend to emphasize a point, refrain from typing words or phrases in all caps. IT LOOKS AS THOUGH YOU'RE SHOUTING! Besides, it’s annoying and difficult to read.

Be discrete. If you’ve got something to hide, keep it to yourself. Electronic messages are not private. In fact, they routinely pass through a sophisticated network of computers with the possibility of interception at every point. What’s more, any message you transmit can be saved or forwarded by the intended—and, indeed, unintended—recipient. Once you hit the “Send” button, there’s no turning back.

Lurk, then talk. Before posting to a newsgroup, chat room, or message board, monitor the ongoing topics of discussion and read the thread or archived FAQs (frequently asked questions). Asking a repetitive question is irksome to those already participating in an established discussion.

Avoid flaming. Resist the temptation to post heated messages. Such activity—no matter how widespread—is unacceptable in the online community. All but a few pompous cyber citizens frown on those who try to hide behind the anonymity of the Internet to hurl personal attacks. If you happen to get flamed, ignore it.

Be considerate. Don’t badger or ridicule others for their lack of knowledge regarding the new medium. Take the time to share what you know. If someone makes a mistake, try to help him or her out—politely.

Eliminate spam. The practice of sending unsolicited e-mail advertisements (aka spamming), is unwelcome in the online community. If you receive any, notify the system administrator responsible for the alleged perpetrator’s connectivity. Once identified, a spammer can lose his or her account and, in some cases, face additional criminal charges.

Be descriptive. Use subject lines that reflect precisely what the content of your e-mail messages or other postings are about. This way, your peers can read or delete them accordingly.

In short, don't let your fear of the unknown prevent you from participating in cyber-gab. Rather, jump right in and pick up what you can along the way. Your thoughts are extremely important. After all, the free flow of ideas is what makes the online community such a dynamic place.