MAILING LIST NETIQUETTE---------------------------------------------------------
The following is an excellent tutorial on Internet etiquette or netiquette as
it relates to mailing lists and Usenet newsgroups. The author of the document
is unknown. We've edited it womewhat. It was originally obtained from a mailing
list. For a more painfully in-depth look, go
One of these days you're going to get tired of Web surfing or listening in
on LISTSERVs, IRCs, Usenet newsgroups or whatever, and you're going to want
to say something yourself. At that moment your life will change. Let's see if
we can't make that a change for the better.
Everyone is tempted from time to time to evangelize, to stride boldly into the
enemy's camp and throw down the gauntlet. We will never see the end of people
who pop up on "comp.sys.intel" praising Macs and Amigas; who send
mail to the SKEPTIC list that flying saucers really, truly do exist; who enlighten
the Buddhist newsgroups that they're all bound for hell, and on and on.
In the entire history of the Net, no one has managed to do this without looking
like a complete idiot. If you believe you are the one person who will succeed
where millions have failed, then you're ready to learn about...
Sometimes, there is almost nothing you can say that won't offend somebody:
>It's a bright, sunny day today.
"You filthy *@!?$, what have you got against Cleveland?"
Flames (violent verbal expressions of disapproval), misunderstandings, overreactions,
and hurt feelings are par for the course. Lessons from experience:
- HEDGE YOUR BETS.
Rather than saying, "Metal rules! Death to all that appose [sic]!!"
try saying "In my humble opinion (often abbreviated IMHO) metal bands
perfectly express my feelings, choices, and lifestyle. Your mileage may vary"
(another net cliche', less frequently abbreviated YMMV). By the way, BTW is
another frequent net abbreviation, for what it's worth (FWIW). Watch the abbreviations
until you're sure of them, or you may have your readers ROTFL (rolling on
the floor, laughing).
When misunderstanding is the culprit, and especially if you respect the person
who misunderstood, take the blame on yourself for being unclear, apologize,
say what you meant more clearly (if appropriate) and put it behind you. As
in real life (remember that?) people who are quick to anger are often equally
quick to forgive.
- AVOID FLAME BAIT
(conduct which gravely offends the norms, mores and folkways of a particular
group). "Now wait a minute!" you say. "Do you mean that something
that's accepted behavior on one list or newsgroup will draw dozens of stinging,
ridiculing comments in another?" Yep. Think about it. Do you expect the
people who post on "comp.lang.ada" (about the Ada programming language)
to be anything like the people who post to "rec.pets.cats?"
Some people unfortunately get a kick out of prodding others into a debate
with inflammatory remarks. It's called "trolling". It's a quick
and easy way to get moderated (where every one of your messages has to be
approved by a list moderator before going ot the general list), or even banned
(ejected completely, not to return).
What can you do? Lurk a while before you post. Read what's said like an anthropologist,
trying to discover what the big "don't"s are. The beginning of a school
term is a wonderful time to do this, as you will observe the clueless newbies,
who weren't smart enough to read this paragraph, being torn to shreds. There
are some things you should NEVER do, and we'll list them in a minute, but let's
get to the last bit of advice.
- Bow down to the group's gods.
In every Usenet newsgroup and LISTSERV mailing list there are old, gray heads
who have earned the respect of everyone in the group. For example, amongst
the subscribers to the list discussing the late American bandleader Stan Kenton
are the producer of a Kenton box set and the authors of definitive Kenton
biographies and discographies. You are entirely ignorant compared to those
people. Never pretend you're anything else. They would dearly love to help
you -- to answer a question, help you find a rare record -- but you'll always
come out second best in a head-butting contest with them.
Still other group members have earned their status through long service. Friendships
have developed over many years, and marriage is not unknown. By commenting
abusively to or about one of these gods, you'll earn not only her enmity,
but the enmity of all of her friends -- which may be everyone in the group
DO'S AND DON'TS (or how to avoid most flames):
- DON'T include the entire contents of a previous posting in your reply.
- DO edit/cut mercilessly. Leave just enough to indicate what you're responding
to. NEVER include mail headers except maybe the "From:" line. If
you can't figure out how to delete lines in your mailer software, paraphrase
or type the quoted material in.
- DON'T reply to a point in a posting without quoting or paraphrasing what
you're responding to and who said it. Reason: a dozen postings may occur between
the original message and your reply. Due to mail service vagaries your reply
may arrive to many recipients before the original does.
- DO quote (briefly) or paraphrase. If the original "Subject:" line
was "Big dogs" make sure yours says "Re: Big dogs". Some
reply functions do this automatically. By net convention, included (quoted)
lines are preceded by ">" (greater-than signs). Some mail editors
and newsreaders do this automatically. Others require you to do it manually
or to set the "indent character" to ">." Microsoft
Exchange is the hardest to use if you want to correspond on the Internet.
Unless you're a Word expert, you'll have to enter the ">" signs
by hand and get rid of the mail header and indentations. Some versions of
Exchange client put the cursor for your reply *before* the message you're
replying to; how useless! Move the cursor so that your readers will see the
message you're responding to first, then your response.
- DON'T SEND A MESSAGE IN ALL CAPS. CAPITALIZED MESSAGES ARE HARDER TO READ
THAN LOWER CASE OR MIXED CASE. IT'S KINDA LIKE SHOUTING IN SOMEONE'S FACE.
- DO use normal capitalization. Separate your paragraphs with blank lines.
Make your message inviting to your potential readers. Read Letitia Baldridge.
- DON'T betray confidences. It's all too easy to quote a personal message
by mistake in a message to the entire group.
- DO read the "To:" and "Cc:" lines in your message before
you send it. Are you SURE you want the message to go there?
- DON'T make statements which can be interpreted as official positions of
your organization or offers to do business.
- DO treat every post as though you were sending a copy to your boss, your
minister, and your worst enemy. Remember - your post is PUBLIC. It can probably
be found with a search engine. I fyou wouldn't want your name attached to
your comments in public, keep it to yourself or offline.
- DON'T rely on the ability of your readers to tell the difference between
serious statements and satire or sarcasm. It's hard to write funny. It's even
harder to write satire.
- DO remember that no one can hear your tone of voice. Use emoticons (or smileys)
like :-) or ;^) -- tilt your head counterclockwise to see the smile. You can
also use caps for emphasis or use net conventions for italics and underlines
as in: You said the guitar solo on "Comfortably Numb" from Pink
Floyd's _The Wall_ was *lame*? Are you OUT OF YOUR MIND???!!!
- DON'T put a huge signature at the bottom of your messages.
- DO exercise some restraint. Remember that a large number of mail and news
readers out there are set up to use proportional fonts, and your lovely ASCII
art will look nothing like you intended it to on those readers. Remember also
that there's a Usenet newsgroup(2) out there whose sole function is to make
fun of people's signatures. Try not to appear there.
- DON'T send a message that says nothing but "Me, too." This is
most annoying when combined with (1) or (2) above. Ditto for "I don't
- DO recall that you aren't obligated to reply to every single thing you read.
Remember the immortal words of Martin Farquhar Tupper (1810-1889): "Well-timed
silence hath more eloquence than speech."
- A word to people living in the United States: the net is international.
If you tell a Belgian she's being un-American, the gaffe is obvious, isn't
it? OF COURSE she's un-American; you're un-Belgian. She doesn't care about
being lectured on the First Amendment and American values. She doesn't HAVE
a First Amendment, and she likely thinks Belgian values are BETTER. We Americans
have made fools of ourselves by forgetting this everywhere else. Let's try
to behave a little better on the net.
Finally, many groups have had the sense to write down some of their norms and
folkways in a frequently asked questions (FAQ) list along with (what else?)
the answers to frequently asked questions. Many Usenet FAQs are posted monthly
or so on the news.answers (alt.answers, comp.answers) newsgroups. Listowners
of LISTSERVs are often quite willing to mail you the FAQ for the list. In fact,
they may have already told you where it is in the letter you get welcoming you
to the list.
With all we've said above, and with all the help newsgroup moderators and listowners
are providing to newcomers, it almost seems like you'd have to work at it to
go charging in with your mouth open and your eyes and ears shut, thereby aggravating
and alienating some otherwise perfectly nice people. The good Lord gave us two
eyes and two ears and one mouth to remind us of that very thing. But then he
went and gave us ten fingers to type with, and here we are.
The Typical Life Cycle of Mailing Lists
Kat Nagel (KatNagel@eznet.net) sent this terrific piece to the EARLY-M mailing
list in December 1994. It is the best description of the social development
of a mailing list I've read.
Every list seems to go through the same cycle:
- Initial enthusiasm (people introduce themselves, and gush a lot about
how wonderful it is to find kindred souls).
- Evangelism (people moan about how few folks are posting to the list,
and brainstorm recruitment strategies).
- Growth (more and more people join, more and more lengthy threads
develop, occasional off-topic threads pop up).
- Community (lots of threads, some more relevant than others; lots
of information and advice is exchanged; experts help other experts as well
as less experienced colleagues; friendships develop; people tease each other;
newcomers are welcomed with generosity and patience; everyone -- newbie and
expert alike -- feels comfortable asking questions, suggesting answers, and
- Discomfort with diversity (the number of messages increases dramatically;
not every thread is fascinating to every reader; people start complaining
about the signal-to-noise ratio; person 1 threatens to quit if *other* people
don't limit discussion to person 1's pet topic; person 2 agrees with person
1; person 3 tells 1 & 2 to lighten up; more bandwidth is wasted complaining
about off-topic threads than is used for the threads themselves; everyone
- Smug complacency and stagnation (the purists flame everyone who
asks an 'old' question or responds with humor to a serious post; newbies
are rebuffed; traffic drops to a doze-producing level of a few minor issues;
all interesting discussions happen by private email and are limited to
a few participants; the purists spend lots of time self-righteously congratulating
each other on keeping off-topic threads off the list).
- Maturity (a few people quit in a huff; the rest of the participants
stay near stage 4, with stage 5 popping up briefly every few weeks; many
people wear out their second or third 'delete' key, but the list lives
contentedly ever after).
Where is THIS list in that cycle? What is YOUR role in the placement of this
list in that cycle?