I Garbugli della Rete - 17
November 1997

English translation

Are we forgetting Netiquette?

disponibile anche in Italiano


A friend of mine called Arthur (all names in this column are made up, but the stories are real) asks me to read a two-page text. I say OK, send it. I have to download a 2 megabyte file, containing a complex program. After some elaborate digging, eventually I find the text. Why couldn’t he extract the two pages and send me just what he wanted me to read?

Andy has been on the net for ten years. If I send him a 15 kbyte document that the wanted, I get a one-line “thank you” reply, followed by a quote of the entire text I sent him. He does it all the time. I asked him of he could avoid the clutter, but he mumbled something like “oh, well, you see, that’s how my off-line reader works and it’s bothersome to fix it” (I wonder who wrote that crappy software). It’s unbelievable how common overquoting can be, even among very experienced people

Audrey goes on a trip to some remote place and stays offline for three weeks. She sets up an automatic e-mail answering device that says I shall be away until such-and-such a date. She forgets that by doing so she produces endless repetition of that message in all the mailing lists that she didn’t unsubscribe. After a few days of unbearable clutter the list administrators are forced to cut her off.

Albert enjoys teasing Ann and that makes her nervous. She reacts quite viciously and that makes him angry. When someone suggests that they could have their skirmishes in private, they both blow up and start a full-scale flame.

Anthony likes to correct any little typing mistake made by anyone else, or any terminology that he thinks isn’t right; he also makes quite a few mistakes of his own. That causes endless and extremely boring discussions about lexicon and spelling.

Andrew, when he finds or dreams up something that he thinks is interesting (though often it isn’t for most people) places it in ten lists, in nine of which it’s off topic.

And there’s Angela, that can’t resist the temptation of telling everybody what she ate last night, or how she was courted in Ibiza three years ago, or what academic skullduggery reduced unfairly her graduation marks.

Adam finds it absolutely necessary to tell the whole world that he is leaving on a short trip and we shall have to live without him for two days.

Alfred is often insulting and does everything he can to embarrass people and start some silly argument. Over time most people learn to stay away from him, but there is always some newcomer that falls into his trap.

I could go on forever. Each one of us, I think, has daily experience of behaviors that, taken one at a time, are not particularly mischievous, but when they pile up and are repeated often become quite a nuisance.

Netiquette may seem an old thing, born in Usenet when it was a small circle of people with shared interests and culture. But even if the net has changed, and there are many more and different people, I think those simple principles of good manners and common sense are as valuable today as they were when they were written

It’s never been a rigid set of rules, it was never enforced, nobody is expected to follow it literally. It’s only a matter of courtesy and mutual respect. And that is why Netiquette deserves to be understood and followed.

For any reader that doesn’t know them... several sites report the principles of Netiquette. One of the most thorough is the Network Working Group.

Most people on the net are considerate, friendly and kind. For instance, a few days ago, a professor from Tel Aviv e-mailed me to ask permission to quote one of my papers, that he had found by chance somewhere on the net. It wasn’t necessary, but it was nice. We are having some interesting correspondence. Other people reproduced my stuff without even telling me. There is no copyright problem: I would have gladly given them permission, if they had asked. But, at least, they could have told me. A few misquoted me... and that, I think, is wrong.

There isn’t enough room here to summarize the “golden principles” of Netiquette. But they are based on a few simple criteria. Listen before you speak up. Don’t be long-winded. Write offline and read your own prose before you e-mail it. And, above all, try to place yourself in other people’s shoes.

Errare humanum... we all make mistakes. But some keep doing the same irritating things over and over. The bad manners of few make the net less pleasant, for the rest of us, than it would be if they were a bit more careful.

I really think Netiquette should not be forgotten.


Giancarlo Livraghi
  January 1998

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