“Always let the lady download first...”

A guide to the rules of etiquette on the Internet.

Canadian Business Technology, Spring 1995 [inaugural issue]  

The Internet is a new medium of communication on a global scale. But making the transition from standard discourse to “Netspeak” requires some careful adjustments. And while there are books and manuals explaining how to navigate the Net, none tell you what to do once you get there.


Here are a few simple guidelines for well-regarded social behavior in cyberspace. Call then “The Rules of Netiquette.” Memorize them or risk being ostracized from the vast new artificial intelligentsia.


Rule No.1: Shrink your vocabulary. You only need about 200 words on the Internet, and about one third of those will be jargon. Using any more will make you appear as though you’re some kind of smart-ass strutting your erudition, which will upset your fellow communicants.


Rule No. 2: Learn the acronyms. This is the best way to follow Rule No. 1. Commonly used acronyms on the Internet range from the useful (FTP for File Transfer Protocol) through the complex (MIME for Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions) and the breezy (WYSIWYG for What You See Is What You Get) to the downright rude (RTFM for Read The [expletive] Manual).


Rule No. 3: Express your emotions. Remember the happy face, that grinning yellow disk from more than two decades ago? It’s made a comeback of sorts in the form of “emoticons,” feelings expressed in a sequence of chracaters. If, for example, you tilt your head to the left and look at the symbols [;-)], you’ll see that they vaguely resemble a smile and a wink. So if you’re happy, say it with punctuation. It’s one of the few chances you’ll get to use any in cyberspace.


Rule No. 4: Prepare for debate. And plenty of it. Net surfers are a notoriously obstreperous lot. A good deal of the debate focuses on computers but there are other topics too. Is the government eavesdropping on Internet communications? Did NASA really put Gene Roddenberry’s ashes on the space shuttle? Was Lee Harvey Oswald working for the Trilateral Commission or the British Royal Family’s Secret Albanian Drug Bund? If you know the answer, keep it to yourself. Telling kills the fun.


Rule No. 5: Settle all arguments with rock lyrics. Net surfers have been known to invoke record sleeves as a kind of rhetorical flourish. They might, for example, sum up a bulletin-board discussion on UN intervention in Bosnia with “As Bob Dylan once wrote...” or “Wasn’t it Geddy Lee who said, ‘Invisible airwaves crackle with life’?” In this vein, I’m fond of quoting the Residents: “Edweena went to Calumet and left from there to college/She took along a porcupine whose name was known as knowledge.” I don’t know what it means either, but it usually clinches the round in my favor.


Rule No. 6: Lose your inhibitions. That you’re a faceless, anonymous typing entity on the Net will eliminate your — and everybody else’s — sense of shame. Your lust for barnyard fowl, for example, need no longer be a dirty little secret. Chances are there’s someone else on the Net who feels exactly the same way. Nor need you be self-conscious about that special ritual involving a king-size jar of peanut butter, a goat and a car battery. To meet interesting people, you have to learn to share.