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Net Etiquette - Part II

By Jeff Bloom and Rob Kay

In our last column, we began a series on the etiquette of the Internet and discussed the nuances of direct marketing via email. This week we'd like to expand on the subject of email and discuss how one should comport oneself in this department. Email is a relatively new form of communication and with it come special rules and protocol.

Hawaii's own Guy Kawasaki, author, founder of Garage.com and Mac Evangelist, tells a story about getting email from someone he's never met. Via email this stranger tells Guy that he's an awful writer with very little to say. Seems incredibly rude, doesn't it? Sure it is, but unfortunately, this kind of behavior happens all the time online.

Sure it's cool to be able to send email directly to someone like Guy Kawasaki or Larry Fuller, publisher of Pacific Business News, to make your point known. In this situation, it's often tempting for some people to "flame" or be extremely critical. However chances are, the sender of an unkind email would be a lot more circumspect if he were staring the recipient straight in the eye.

What Guy says is really the golden rule of email. This is a useful exercise to go through if you're about to mail a note. Just ask yourself, "Would I say what I've typed out in this email to the person's face?" If you don't feel comfortable with what you've composed, rewrite it. Repeat this process until you're confident what you're about to send is kosher.

Here are some other rules of the information superhighway…

  • Use mixed case text in your writing. Using uppercase text denotes shouting so UNLESS YOU HAVE SOMETHING REALLY IMPORTANT TO SAY-DON'T DO IT IN UPPERCASE!!!! Besides, all uppercase text is also hard to read.

  • Don't send chain letters via the Internet. Sending a chain letter can annoy recipients and cause hostility. Some recipients will return so many copies of the letter to you (mail bombing) that it could crash your email system. (Also other people will report you to your local system administrator who might suspend your Internet access privileges).

  • Always include a subject heading in each E-mail message you send. Be sure that your subject heading is brief and clearly indicates exactly what you intend to discuss. This helps people organize and prioritize their incoming E-mail. Some people will ignore a message if it does not have a subject indicated. Nowadays people are strapped for time and if you don't indicate what you're interest is, they may they feel that any message simply isn't worth reading.

  • Additionally, if you reply to a message, make sure your reply is relevant to the subject of the original message. If not, the thoughts you intend to convey in your message won't match up with what the subject says it should be about. This may confuse your readers. It's also a good idea to respond to every email with a specific reply. Thus if you get half a dozen messages on different topics from the same sender (like your boss!) reply to every individual message with the specific answer.

  • Try to respond to messages within 48 hours. It's rather rude just to leave a message lying in the bin.

  • Be careful what you say and how you say it. E-mail, by nature, is faceless. It's easy to unintentionally offend someone because your facial expressions cannot be seen nor can the emotion in your voice be heard. If you're joking, say so or use a "smilie face" symbol. For example, use :-) to denote a humorous smile. That way, it's clear that you're intending to be funny.

  • Safety first. The Internet is neither private nor secure. As we've repeated in this column on numerous occasions, a skilled hacker can read almost anything you send through the Internet--even your most intimate E-mail. Don't send confidential information (i.e., social security numbers, credit card numbers, etc.) to anyone else via the Internet.

  • Although this final point isn't strictly "Net Etiquette" we thought you ought to hear about it just the same. If you're tempted to engage in spamming via phone as a marketing ploy-resist the urge. This is a computerized technology that phones people with recorded messages. The phone messages invariably come during dinner hour. We got an irritating, unsolicited call from a Honolulu Chevrolet dealership the other day and what a turnoff it was. It's not the way to make friends and influence people!

We hope we haven't missed anything important. If you have any suggestions, let us know.

Jeff Bloom 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 May 11, 2001

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