Freedom Of Assembly: Discussion Netiquette

Read at your own risk

This document dates from the early web period, and is kept for archival purposes only. It is no longer updated, and contains much that is apocryphal, or at least wildly inaccurate.
  1. Discussion Groups
  2. Freedom Of Assembly
  3. Personal Discussion Groups

The “Conversational Norms” apply as well to group discussion as they do to individual discussion. Group discussion carries with it an entire new set of norms and responsibilities.

Discussion Netiquette: Cites!

There are twenty million people on the net, and growing every day. Even your most basic assumptions will be questioned by somebody and when you actually start talking about something controversial, the flames can easily pile up a mile high.

If you’re presenting something as a fact, tell your reader where you came by your information. If you’re presenting something as opinion, label it as such. If you can, and it is important, explain how you arrived at that opinion.

The cry for “cites” is far more likely to come up on a political discussion, so you should detail your message accordingly. But anything controversial will generate arguments, and you would not believe what some people find to be controversial. Remember: somebody, somewhere, disagrees vehemently with what you’re saying. And they’ve got the facts to back it up. Do you?

On a related note, be very, very careful of “attributions” in any discussion. Attributions are “who said what”. People can get worried—rightfully so—when something someone else said is attributed to them, or when something they said is attributed to someone else. Remember that attributions follow the “greater than” symbols, although as you venture onto Usenet you’ll find that some ‘noncomformists’ use other symbols in place of the “greater than” and some idiots don’t use any attribution symbol at all.

Ad Hominems

When tempers flare and arguments veer away from spirited discussion into insults, “ad hominems” become common. Attacking the messenger rather than the message is a technique some people use to avoid having to buttress their arguments with facts. However, it is also used when someone keeps posting the same drivel to the same newsgroup, long after everyone realizes they’re a fool.

But your mileage may vary. In general, an ad hominem, insulting the poster rather than their arguments, is a sign of a poor loser, someone who realizes that they’re wrong but who wants to get in the last word anyway. The idiots.

Me Too! And Summaries

When one person asks for information, other people may realize that they want the information as well. The result is a barrage of messages to the discussion group saying nothing except “I want it too!” This is annoying for everyone, even the Me-Tooers. The correct way to do this is to respond to the person who originally asked the message, and ask if they can either forward the information to you when it arrives, or if they can summarize the responses to the discussion group.

And, if you ask a question, and get lots of useful responses, summarizing to the group is good netiquette and can earn you quite a few net.brownie points. You can “summarize” a group of postings by either writing a report on what everyone said, or by simply taking out the important parts of each person’s message, and prefacing it with “John ( said:”.

Personal And Group Mail

There’s a difference between personal and group mail. Personal mail shouldn’t go to group discussions. If you’re sending mail that’s really meant for just one person, you should send it to that person. Besides the obvious fact that no one else wants to read it, you can’t be sure that the individual you’re sending to will read your message. A posting to Usenet might “expire” before your intended recipient gets a chance to read it, and messages to mailing lists might be ignored. Some people even have their computers automatically separate “mailing list” mail from “personal” mail, leaving “mailing list” mail for when they have the time. If you send your personal message to the mailing list, their software will tag it as “mailing list”, not “personal”. Depending on how little free time they have, they might end up just deleting all of their “mailing list” mail if it piles up too much.

Just The FAQs, Ma’am

Most high-traffic discussion groups have FAQ files or lists. A FAQ list is a list of Frequently Asked Questions, along with their answers. In any major discussion, there are certain questions that pop up repeatedly, and there really isn’t much point in talking about them again and again. The FAQ list summarizes the past discussions, and the conclusions, if any, which were arrived at. This keeps the discussion group moving on towards new items of interest rather than continually rehashing old themes.

You should always look diligently for the FAQ of any discussion group you’re a part of. If it’s a mailing list, you’ll probably be told where the FAQ is when you receive your “welcome to the list” message. In Usenet newsgroups, the FAQ is hidden somewhere in the many articles waiting for you.

You can also find many FAQs on the Usenet newsgroup, news.answers or at FAQ.Org.

  1. Discussion Groups
  2. Freedom Of Assembly
  3. Personal Discussion Groups