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COMMENTARY

Net Etiquette Revisited


By Jeff Bloom & Rob Kay

For newcomers, the Internet may seem like a free for all but there are definite rules and social conventions that govern cyberspace. Known as Net Etiquette, these unofficial laws that rule the social protocols of the Internet are just as vital to a smooth functioning cyber society as table manners are to the analog world. The advent of email capacity on every desktop and every kitchen table has spawned communications problems that can only be solved by education. No one is immune from online misbehavior over the Net and the problem is growing worse daily.

A few months ago we did a column on this often neglected area and got some excellent feedback from Yuka Nagashima, the President of LavaNet, one of Hawaii's leading ISPs. Yuka told us that it's not only important for end users to understand the subtleties of Net Etiquette but it's also extremely important for companies to establish internal policies geared towards customers, vendors and employees. Nagashima discussed LavaNet's commitment to Net Etiquette and passed along some excellent suggestions that might be used by other companies. These include:

Come up with a policy statement or handout on Net Etiquette issues for every customer. In LavaNet's case the handout discusses spam (not the cannned variety!), when to use upper case in email and other fine points governing the use of email. Naturally this type of document would be more focused specifically on ISP customers but given the preponderance of the Internet nowadays, a handout might also be in order for trade organizations, clubs, schools or other entities that entail heavy use of email.

Commit your company not to sell customer information. As more people use online features to sign up for products and services, this type of pledge is extremely important. Do you know if your bank, your insurance company or your service organization is selling your email address or personal information? LavaNet deserves kudos for making it clear that they don't participate in this practice. Your company should also let customers know what your policy is in this regard.

Don't inundate customers with excessive email. It seems like once people get your email address, the spam starts to flow. When everyone has your email address, even innocuous messages start to add up and tend to clog your email inbox. LavaNet not only prohibits customers from abusing its system but the company tries to minimize messages to its customers when only necessary such as announcements of system maintenance, holiday hours, etc.)

Encourage high standards when using email among employees. Nagashima told us that she regularly holds staff meetings to make sure that all employees adopt a company-wide standard when it comes to email etiquette. Said Nagashima, "Corporate email etiquette goes beyond regular netiquette. For example, we trust our employees to make the right judgment in whether a thread of an email should have a wider or a narrower audience than it originally addressed." She cited something that all of us sometimes fail to do: Reading the entire thread of an email before responding to it. This avoids having to repeat answering questions already answered by others.

Train employees on proper use of email. It's one thing to hold staff meetings but employees must also be trained on how to write clearly and concisely using email. For example if you're sending someone a URL, it should be accompanied by enough background information so that the recipient understands the context. Also, when replying to an original email, it's good to send appropriate portions of the text back but in other cases it's better to trim the message. "Finally," said Nagashima, "it's useful to instruct employees that sometimes it's best NOT to send email if you can easily meet face to face." Often it's much more productive to stop email exchanges if you're trying to clarify a misunderstanding rather than continually hack out message on top of message.

Jeff Bloom, SBA Small Business Person of the year, is the founder of Computer Training Academy/Network Resource Center, a computer education/consulting firm based in Honolulu. His contact is jeffb@cta.net or 839? 1200. Rob Kay is a Honolulu-based public relations practitioner who specializes in technology. He can be reached at rkay@pactechcom.com or 539-3627. Suggestions for column topics are welcomed.

Published October 5, 2001

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