4547 California Street
San Francisco, CA 94118
Netiquette, Virginia Shea, 1994, 0-9637025-1-3, U$19.95
The word, "etiquette," we are told in the book, comes from the French word for "ticket". It is your entree, or passport, to proper society. Given the human propensity for exclusivity, however, large sections of the populace take great pride in a reverse snobbery by proving that they don't care about the "right" society, and have no intentions of following its rules. Rebels have a disproportionately high representation on electronic networks. All that this proves, of course, is that different cultures have different specifics in terms of etiquette: netiquette can be much more rigid and picayune than arguments about which fork to use.
Nevertheless, as Shea points out, there are some common sense guidelines that form the basis of netiquette.
The fundamental principles could be applied to entering any society: lurk (use your eyes and ears first), learn (pay attention to what is going on and find the acceptable, and unacceptable, patterns), and, live and let live.
Shea's treatment is not, as the cover blurb states, the only book to offer guidance in this area, but is certainly the most complete. While the material is definitely of use to the newcomer, long time net denizens will note a lack of familiarity with certain aspects of computer-mediated communications. The advice, for example, to wait a few days before replying to a flame, or composing a flame in reply to an "ignorant" message, is of no use to busy net communicators. The standard time management advice applies--once you pick it up, don't put it down until you've dealt with it. I tend to get one or two flames per week in response to these reviews, and, inevitably, the messages betray the fact that the flamer hasn't even read the message. However, after a careful review to ensure that there isn't some point to take, I'd rather delete such messages without replying, instead of wasting my time composing a reply in order to try to convince the Internit that he, she or it was wasting my time. (Alternately, if you don't like my solution, forward the flame to Canter and Siegel, thus killing, or at least aggravating, two nits with one flame.)
There is also little analysis of the social forces behind flammage. Users are often told to be temperate, don't flame, use smileys and don't be abusive. The "rules of correspondence" too often fail to demonstrate how easily electronic communications can generate misunderstandings. Shea's book is better than most because it covers more related territory, but some up-front explanation of the mechanics involved would have been helpful.
Although a brief discussion of netiquette is now a standard fixture in net guides, a work of this larger scope is long overdue. A note asking for suggestions implies corrections and additions in a later version. I look forward to such future editions and the salutary effect on net traffic that this, and they, will have. ¤
Robert M. Slade is author of Robert Slade's Guide to Computer Viruses (Springer-Verlag, 1994).
Copyright © 1994 Robert M. Slade.