Brad Wardell's views about technology, politics, religion, world affairs, and all sorts of politically incorrect topics.
Internet Netiquette, getting along with others, and more.
Published on May 24, 2004 By Draginol In Blogging

The On-line Community survival guide

Going on the Internet and interacting with thousands of people in open forums can be a really wonderful and enlightening experience.  But it is also an experience that has its share of pitfalls and challenges for the unwary. I've spent the better part of the last two decades taking part in on-line communities. From the days of Commodore BBSes to massive web based communities, the faces and names change but the joys and frustrations remain the same. Hopefully this guide will help you get the most out of your on-line experience and also help you avoid some of the gotchas that often strike those who are new to the community.

1) Pretend that the person you are writing to is standing in front of you in person. Much angst on-line comes from people who feel insulated from their actions. Even people who are normally good members of the community can easily forget their "filter" when they write on-line. There are people on the other side of those screens.

2) The Internet is not the government. There is no such thing as "free speech". Every on-line community has its own rules and they have unlimited power to enforce those rules. On some sites, it's against the rules to even disagree with moderators. On other sites, it's pretty much a free for all. And on others you can be banned for using profanity, having bad grammar, or any number of arbitrary reasons. Nothing advertises the inexperience of a user than the complaint "What happened to free speech?"

3) Quantity of correspondence does not equal quality. Some people believe it polite or useful to respond to everyone, no matter what, who comments in a thread/article/blog they've created. Don't. The more often you write things of no substance, the more likely you are to generate a detractor. If you have something interesting or worthwhile to add to a conversation, by all means, do so, but beware of writing "thanks for your comment" to every person who responds to you.

4) Control the inner narcissist. The number of narcissists on-line is much higher than in general society. These are people who are so self-involved that they can only be stimulated by a conversation if it revolves around them. Beware of this trait because it is what leads to people hijacking topics. Don't change the topic of a conversation if you can avoid it. Stick with what the original topic that was originated by the thread creator. If you have a different topic you would like to discuss, start your own thread.

5) Not all people are equal in a community. You may not think it fair but that doesn't matter. Accept it. On-line communities physically exist on someone's computer. Unless you helped pay for that computer, your influence only goes as far as your ability to convince the people who do own that computer of the validity of your position on some issue. Administrators and site owners tend to not be very tolerant of abuse any more than the host of a party tends not to be very tolerant of rude guests. Unless you're helping pay for the party, you're a guest. Many a prolific writer in an on-line community has met their doom by believing that their popularity trumped the will of the site owners.

6) People of principle can disagree.  There is a big difference between disagreeing in principle and a personal attack. Don't let someone's disagreement with you on an issue cause you to lash out at them personally. Most people occasionally forget this but those who repeatedly do this will eventually be ostracized by the community. The key is being able to make the distinction between being "attacked" versus being disagreed with.

7) Don't fight "the man". If you don't like the way a community you are part of is run, your best option is to find a different community. No one community is the end all, be all community. If you think the admins are "jerks" (or fascists) it's pointless to try to change them. Just find a different place to hang out.

8) Avoid excessive quoting. Not to quote netiquette (there are guides for good on-line netiquette elsewhere). If you are involved in an on-line discussion about some issue, heavily quoting some other source is annoying to others. No one cares what some stranger thinks, if they want that, they could just read Newsweek. People want to know what you think. Regurgitation is heavily frowned upon as it wastes other people's time and makes you look like a sheep.

9) Avoid using charged words such as: Racist, Fascist, ignorant, childish, Nazi. These add nothing to a conversation and usually have the effect of ending any sort of meaningful dialogue.

10) Remember the golden rule: It's supposed to be fun. Hanging out on-line is a hobby to be enjoyed. If you're finding yourself getting angry, stressed out, upset, or worried, you need to re-evaluate your goals. Often times that just means taking a little break and returning with a different attitude towards it.  Don't let people upset you. If someone makes you angry, try to avoid them. Some sites, like JoeUser.com, allow you to actually filter out who can comment on your articles. There is nothing noble about letting someone piss you off or abuse you: It's supposed to be FUN.

Hopefully this little guide will help you have a much more enjoyable and smooth experience in whatever on-line communities you participate in. Have fun!


Comments (Page 1)
on May 24, 2004
Am thinking of printing this off and giving it to my college freshman writing classes and saying "Use this info in your papers, your debates, your e-mails, and your every day life." Then again, I don't want them to be reading JoeUser or my blog.

Thanks.
on May 24, 2004
Great advice post!
on May 24, 2004
I am glad you put the last point in there - this is a really good article Brad, and it displays your obvious online experience...

I would just like to add... there is nothing wrong with a little narcissism

BAM!!!
on May 24, 2004
Hmm liked the article but hung my head a bit everytime I came across one of those I have violated flagrantly (nearly all of them at one time or another). Just part of the learning process I suppose?
on May 24, 2004
*refrains from filthy limmerik involving blogging and flogging*

I'd like to add that while online has a degree of anoniminity, if someone rrrrrrreaaaaaaally wanted to know who you are, they can find out. This ties in with point #1. There is someone on the other side of the screen. The internet on the whole can be a great learning tool or a dangerous playground for the mentally unfit.
on May 24, 2004
""""If you're finding yourself getting angry, stressed out, upset, or worried, you need to re-evaluate your goals. Often times that just means taking a little break and returning with a different attitude towards it. Don't let people upset you.""""

I loved that point, too. Develop a new attitude. That can be applied to lots of things....everything!

Trinitie
on May 24, 2004

Helix, good point.

I am quite conscious that someone can look up in Yahoo People Finder where I live for instance when I post.

on May 24, 2004
Excellent article Brad. Thanks for posting that as there are many important and useful tips in there. I especially appreciated the one about free speech. That one just raises my hackles. I have, in the past, had to take a break because I found myself feeling upset about some online interactions. It helped immensely. Thanks again for the tips.
on May 25, 2004
Very good advice, I have only one point I would question:

I definitely agree with point 1:
Pretend that the person you are writing to is standing in front of you in person.


But then you say in point 3:
Quantity of correspondence does not equal quality. Some people believe it polite or useful to respond to everyone, no matter what, who comments in a thread/article/blog they've created. Don't.


These seem a little contradictory to me and disagree with point 3 for two reasons:
Firstly, if I was carrying on a face to face conversation with someone and they said something to me I would always respond, even if the response was a bit inane. To do otherwise is pretty rude.
Secondly, If it is my post surely I can respond to commentors as I like on it.

I would use point 3 as a guide for leaving comments on others articles but on my own, generally, I like to thank people for bothering to take the time to read and comment.

But then I am new to this stuff.
on Sep 29, 2004
As I understand the rules it means-
Don't speak unless you are spoken to, and not even then. The reason that some of us want to blog is to keep track of what we are bombarded with while we are online.
If I pretend the person I am writing to is standing in front of me, and I'm not allowed to be self-absorbed, then I just bounce around blogs.
on Sep 29, 2004
I think there's just this to keep in mind that makes a person on the internet a happier person:

Don't take things too personally. Don't take stuff that happens on the internet too seriously, sometimes the personality on the otherside of the screen is just a sock puppet for someone to amuse himself/herself.


>>beware of writing "thanks for your comment" to every person who responds to you.

I don't know what to do about that. I am grateful if people leave their thoughts.
on Sep 29, 2004
he he he . . . "tampon humor"

TW *hearts* LW
on Sep 29, 2004
>> my my, who set your tampon string on fire?

Little Whip, you certainly have a way with words. *cleans up coffee spill on the keyboard*
on Sep 30, 2004
I think this needs to stay on the top for awhile, as it appears that people need to read it again.
on Sep 30, 2004
good post, Draginol, as somebody who NEEDED to read something like this
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