Humor, Etiquette, Posting & Rules

Subject: Humor, Etiquette, Posting & Rules
From: "Steven J. Owens" <puff -at- NETCOM -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 20 Dec 1995 11:37:51 -0800

In the thread titled "Re: Much of the Net is Humor Impaired",
Garret Romaine (gromaine -at- radisys -dot- com) talks about writing an
article about getting the most out of joining a news list:

> Donna dispenses sage wisdom thusly:
> <<Face it. Much of the Net--and, sadly, it seems, most of the vocal portion
> of this list--is humor impaired.>>
> [...]
> At the risk of getting too off-topic, I'm writing up an article
> [...] how to get the most out of joining a news list (like this
> one) [...]
> To bring this back full circle to the topic title, I will probably
> note that the Internet is not a generally humorous place.

In point of fact, the Internet is a vastly humorous place. It's
certain mailing lists - and certain individuals - who aren't. To be
specific, this mailing is extremely courteous and polite, in comparison
to other mailing lists. This has obvious strengths. It also has less
obvious weaknesses. "Courteous and polite" can also mean "staid and
solemn" depending upon your perspective.

This, in turn, has more pervasive effects. In the early internet
mailing lists and newsgroups, social order was maintained most often by
group consensus and community enforcement - less often by an
administrator. People were (and are, to a lesser degree) *expected* to
call to task somebody who flagrantly violated the basic rules of
posting etiquette.

On the other hand, those rules were based on practical issues,
rather than on social issues. Issues of resources - most often
transmission and display bandwidth, and reader-time consumption - were
paramount. Responses (the term "flame" is ambiguous at best and
typically mis-used) were one way early computer users privately added
checks and balances to the system, promoting a common culture of
computer usage. The attitude was "we all have to work together to make
use of this common resource" (does "the tragedy of the commons" ring a

On this "gentler, kinder Internet" such enforcement of the rules
is in itself seen as a violation of the rules, subordinate to issues of
maintaining social harmony. The result is that people stop reminding
each other and everybody suffers as the signal-to-noise ratio of the
list traffic plummets. Nobody's laughing now.

The Internet is a humorous place, but humor is about pain - about
how human beings deal with pain - and the funniest joke in the world is
no laughing matter if YOU feel hurt by it. In part the responsibility
is on the sender, to be sure to include the reader in the joke, but
another part of the responsibility is on the receiver, to consider if
the post is humor before firing off a scathing reply.

From what I've seen over the years on *this* mailing list, it's
the latter responsibility that is shirked far too often. A common
tactic is to wait at least a day before sending off a reply on an
emotionally-charged issue. This is just one way of giving yourself a
chance to reconsider the message and decide if the sender really
*meant* it to be an insult or attack.

This above all; to the medium be true - remember that what you're
participating in here is neither a formal conference nor an electronic
cocktail party, but has some of the nature of both. Don't flog
yourself over whether or not the syntax and grammar of that last
message was worthy of publication in a scholarly journal, and equally
refrain from taking others to task over minutae of punctuation, grammar
and spelling (how the heck do you spell minutae? :-). Relax and enjoy
the interactions. At the same time, remember that this is much like
being in a large auditorium where one person has the microphone at any
one time - and consider whether what you have to say really needs to go
out to EVERYBODY on the list.

> If any of you can think of something else vital, e-mail me privately
> unless you think it's of general value.

Here are a couple that are particularly pertinent to this list
(which is part of why this response is going out to the whole list):

> - the use of the signature line

...and keeping your signature line *short* (general standard is 4 lines
or less).

> - the art of the emoticon

...but more importantly, paying attention to *how* you write your
messages, *when* to include emoticons (a surfeit of smilies is far
worse than none at all), and paying attention to what other people say
before you react.

> - staying on topic

...and keeping the subject line updated, and knowing when *not* to
followup to the entire list/group. (And no, "somebody else out there
might be interested in this" is not a valid reason for posting
something that is manifestly outside the charter of the list/group).

> - avoiding all caps

I'd expand this to include general rules for formatting and
posting messages. Some of these are basically rules of good english
usage, like avoiding All-Uppercase but equally remembering to
capitalize where necessary, while others are particular to this medium
- keeping your line length to 78 characters or less, using hard returns
at the end of lines instead of soft returns, amd using sufficient white
space. These and other tips can be found in the writings of Emily
Postnews, available at a news.newusers newsgroup near you.

> - ignoring spam

Or directing complaints and similar responses to the sender, or
perhaps more sanely, to the postmaster at the sender's site
(postmaster -at- sitename -dot- domainname). Above all, don't compound the
problem by posting followups to spam, and worse yet, posting followups
that include the original 300+ line message and a one-line "Go away!"

> - lurking vs. diving in

Taking the time to acquaint yourself with this new forum, whether
it's by reading the FAQ or by lurking for several weeks and seeing what
kinds of discussions come by.

> - waiting a day before sending out irrational stuff that makes you look
> silly and hate to even open the mail [...]

...making a habit of, when you see something that rouses your ire,
carefully reviewing it and seeing if there might be more than one way
to interpret the message - and if your first interpretation is
necessarily correct.

> - doing the "I agree" post with the original message intact

Please, please, please expand this to the general issue of
carefully editing EVERY message you send, to strip out *any* included
text that does not a) identify the parties involved (i.e. leave the
names and e-mail addresses in) or b) directly relate to your post.

Most important of all, make a point of reviewing your messages
after they hit the list/group, to make sure that your Pc-based mailer
hasn't included the entire damn message on the end (again) just in case
anybody missed it the first time around. "My mailer does it that way"
isn't a valid excuse. Get a new mailer, or learn how to tweak your
current mailer. You're bright enough to be here, so you're bright
enough to figure out your mailer or find the person who has (treat it
like a documentation project).

Steven J. Owens
puff -at- netcom -dot- com

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