Logging on to the Internet for the first time can be very confusing. There is a whole new vocabulary to learn and a new set of guidelines to follow.
If you don't follow these guidelines, you may find your email box filled with some very nasty messages called flames. The guidelines I'm speaking of are known as "netiquette" and are an important part of participating in the online community.
For starters, let's go over some basic email etiquette. Email messages are quick to bang out and send instantly with the click of a button, this makes them especially susceptible to bad grammar, lousy spelling and poor content. Remember, humor and sarcasm can easily get lost in a medium like email and can result in some pretty rude messages being sent.
Take your time with your message and if you are trying to be funny or sarcastic, use a "smiley" or "emoticon." These are little faces created with the characters on the keyboard, and when looked at with your head tilted to the left, look like little facial expressions.
For example, :) is your basic smiley; :( is the same guy only in a bad mood; this emoticon is a wink ;) and this :'( emoticon is crying. Emoticons can be used to put the emotion back into a message that's become sterile and mechanical. Using an emoticon can be essential to let your email recipient know when you are "just kidding."
If you have a word processor or email client with a spell checker, use it when you compose your message. Also, watch out for the "caps lock" button on your keyboard. Typing in all capital letters is considered shouting and should be avoided.
I've heard the argument that typing in all caps makes it easier to read, but if you have trouble seeing when you are typing your message, there are other ways to increase the font size. Learn how to increase your font size and don't rely on caps lock, it can really get on people's nerves.
Remember email has flaws. Avoid foul language and "private" or "confidential" messages. Email routers aren't perfect and your message may be accidentally sent to Mrs. Smith's first grade Discovery class. Never send anything you'd be embarrassed for your Mom to see (a deleted message can have copies archived all over the place). If you send an email message that can get you in trouble, Murphy's Law will kick in and you will (usually long after you thought the message in question was "deleted.")
These guidelines apply not only to email, but even more so to message boards and "blogs." Message boards are an area where netiquette is of the utmost importance, they are online bulletin boards that are read every day by countless people all over the world and if you post a bad message to one of these boards, you may find yourself the center of a "flame war" and your email box flooded with hundreds of nasty responses.
Use common sense when posting messages to message boards or blogs. If you have a gut feeling that maybe you shouldn't post a message, don't. Once you post a message, you usually can't take it back and you may offend thousands.
Other pitfalls to avoid in the message boards are the "trolls." These insidious little messages are designed to generate outrage and flames. Again, you'll recognize them when you see them, don't respond. That will only encourage them! Remember these words of wisdom -- "don't feed the trolls!"
And lastly, don't fall for any of the countless "get rich schemes" on the Net. They're there and you'll know them when you see them. Trust me, there is no money waiting in Nigeria, you didn't win some foreign lottery and you'll do nothing but annoy people if you forward that chain letter. If it sounds too good to be true, then it's probably a scam.
Take the time to find out the rules of the road before you try to communicate with the masses. Usually checking "Frequently Asked Questions" before posting messages can help prevent your email box from overflowing with flames.
All of these suggestions also apply to instant messenger programs and texting as well. It is easy to forget about manners and grammar when sending text messages and sure, it may be "just an instant message" but remember, there is someone on the other end. Be nice!
Sean McCarthy fixes computers. He can be reached at (888) 752-9049 or help@ComputeThisOnline.com (no hyphens).