Friday, May 16, 2008

Masechet Cyberspace #6 - A Netiquette Primer

An entirely new ethical field is growing regarding proper online behavior. A nice summary of some of the issues can be found at, a site that was just sent to me from colleagues working on new initiatives regarding the impact of Cyber Culture on Jewish education. This is being coordinated by the Lippman Kanfer Institute Learnings and Consultation Center at JESNA, a Jewish education think tank. I’ve become involved in the project and will be attending special sessions on the topic at this summer’s big annual happening in Jewish Education, the CAJE Conference.

So if you look at this site you’ll find the following definition:

Digital etiquette, or netiquette as its sometimes called, is a basic set of rules you should follow in order to make the internet better for others, and better for you. It’s just as important to treat people with courtesy and respect online as it is in real life. When you instant message, chat, or email someone over the Internet, they can’t see your face to tell if you’re teasing them or saying something in jest. How do you practice good Netiquette? It’s simple – just treat others as you want to be treated – with courtesy and respect. People know these rules but usually do not follow when using the Internet. This includes hacking others computer, downloading illegally, plagiarism and using bad language on the Internet. Not a lot of schools teach students how important it is to follow these rules that everyone knows. If all of us follow this it could make the Internet a better space to share and use.

Interesting that it always comes right back to the Golden Rule.
They must have been thinking of Leviticus 19:18 when they wrote this. In fact at Tech they even call them “Golden Rules” – and here they are:

1. Keep e-mails short and to the point
Office e-mail has a specific business purpose such as getting results, communicating an important fact or getting a response. The chances of quickly accomplishing that purpose increase when your e-mail is short, easy to understand and gets to the point.

2. Write the action you are requesting and topic in the ’subject’ line
Describe what you need the recipient to do and the topic in the “subject” line. Something short and to the point. For instance: “Please review Jones proposal letter;” or “Need blueprint for Jones project.” By clearly identifying the purpose of your e-mail in the subject line, the recipient will quickly know what you are writing about; it’s easy to find; and it separates your e-mail from spam.

3. Check your grammar and spelling
Grammar and spelling are often overlooked, but remember that your e-mail may be going out to a client, a prospective client, your employees or maybe your boss. You want to look smart, not sloppy. Use any built-in spell check before sending an e-mail.

4. Be cautious.
Think before you send an e-mailIt’s so easy to hit the “reply” button and write a message. This can be a problem if you act spontaneously. Temper and tone matter.In most instances, once an e-mail is sent, it’s gone. You cannot take it back. So if you have written any harsh words or forwarded an inappropriate e- mail to several colleagues and inadvertently added your boss’s name to the distribution list, once you hit “send” they will be reading it shortly.

5. Remember that e-mail is not private
When you send an e-mail to someone, it goes through many networks before it reaches your recipient and may even leave copies of your e-mail on a server, which can be accessed. It may seem as though you are communicating only with that person (and in most instances you are); however, your e-mail can be forwarded by the recipient to others. A number of companies, including Verizon, offer e-mail encryption products, which encrypt a sender’s e-mail message and digitally sign it. The services also verify and authenticate that the message has not been altered and prevent it from being opened by anyone except the intended recipient. Additionally, users can lock e-mails so that they cannot be viewed by others.

6. Use out of office response, if available, to alert others of your absence
Many e-mail systems and services let you set up an automatic reply advising senders that you are not available. For efficiency of communications, trigger this auto-reply tool when you are away so senders know not to expect a timely response.

7. Keep it strictly business
It is best not to use the business e-mail systems for personal communication. Use your personal e-mail instead.

8. Be courteous, considerate and responsible when writing an e-mail message
Communication via e-mail is often considered informal, but you shouldn’t treat it that way. Remember, your e-mail may be going to your boss, your clients, your prospective clients, your colleagues. Be courteous and reply in a timely manner. It’s good to have a signature in your e-mail so the recipient can easily contact you. Additionally, it clearly identifies you and your company. Before e-mailing a large file, it’s wise to alert the recipients to be sure they want the file and in case they need to make room for it.

9. Keep your computer virus free
Lastly, make sure your computer is virus-free because you don’t want to be the person sending everyone a virus. As an aside, with the success of this book every computer journalist and writer (me included) is thinking “doh”, why didn’t I think of email etiquette as a topic for book? Just goes to show that the next hot topic may be something as unlikely as email…

These suggestions are very helpful, but the conversation about Netiquette is only beginning…

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