YOU DON'T HAVE TO SHOUT: Lessons in electronic bulletin board etiquette There's a real person on the other end


When you are online, using an electronic bulletin board with your computer, you don't have to worry about your breath.

Your clothes don't have to match and your fingernails can be dirty.

But you still need to observe online etiquette. Consider this a lesson in "netiquette" basics.

One of the first lessons is that YOU DON'T HAVE TO SHOUT.

That's what all-capital letters seems like online: shouting.

SO DON'T DO IT. Please. Makes the reader's ears hurt.

Another thing: asterisks flanking a word or a phrase. They are for emphasis. To *REALLY* emphasize something, use caps *AND* asterisks. Works, doesn't it?

These aids have evolved as people struggled to communicate without being F2F (face to face).

That's another: shorthand. Messages tend to be brief, so a shorthand has developed. If you know it, "talking" is easier; if you don't, it can be downright confusing.

Here are some abbreviations:

* BTW: By the way.

* IMO: In my opinion. You also will see IMHO (in my humble opinion) and IMNSHO (in my not-so humble opinion).

* NTBIHB: Not to butt in here, but (and variations, such as NTBI.)

* TTFN: Ta-ta for now. Usually used at the end of a message.

* Smilies: They indicate anything from humor and sadness to irony and cynicism. Turn the page clockwise for the basic smilie: :-) . There are a lot of variations.

Have any other online abbreviations or "netiquette" thoughts? Send 'em to me online.

The computer screen is impersonal. Try not to be too blunt. Bluntness is magnified and comes across as cold and harsh. This leads to misunderstandings and unintended hurt feelings. And flame wars (see below).

Remember there is a person on the other end. A human being is receiving your message.

Studies have shown that people tend to be more bold and outspoken online.

Flaming is often the result of insensitive language or impetuous responses. A flame is an inflammatory remark or message. You disagree with someone, so you fire back a quick retort. If the person on the other end takes offense, you could start a flame war.

That's when two or more people fire hot and angry messages back and forth in what becomes an online verbal food fight.

I've seen it happen with innocent but unthinking comments and I've seen it happen because two people decided to take their personal disagreement public. It's never pretty, it fills messaging areas with unnecessary garbage and is usually a waste of time.

So avoid flame wars. If you seem about to get into one, head it off.

Be yourself. When you go online, you are who you say and no one else. I've heard incredible stories (some very funny) about people impersonating other people online (teen-age boys with time on their hands seem to do it most).

Be yourself, but beware: people aren't always who they seem. :-)

(Opinions, gripes and story ideas: Post mail to Steve Snow on The Observer BBS, (704) 358-5072 (8-N-1; ANSI); Delphi (snows); Prodigy (jmbk98a); or the Internet ( Or call me at (704) 358-5245, any time -- but what fun is that?)

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