The Definitive Guide to Internet Etiquette

Tempers flare easily on the Web, there’s no doubt about that, and while it can be very tempting (very tempting, trust me) to jump into the fray of an argument or heated discussion or to start one yourself, remember to mind your manners. You’ll far more likely invalidate your own points if you load them down with snark and sarcasm in a comment on someone else’s blog, but that doesn’t mean there’s no place for snark on the Web.

I wrote about how snark can be more harm than good over at our sister site, Gears and Widgets, a while ago, and I stand by that piece: there’s plenty of room for snark on the Web, but here’s the catch: it needs to be in your own playground, it needs to be done intelligently and used rarely if at all, and you need to know your audience.

The best and most notable members of any community are the ones who can speak intelligently without resorting to personal attacks or sarcasm, and the ones who contribute something to the discussion or debate, and it’s actually easier than you might think to be one of those people.

So then, how do you manage to be a contributing member of maglie calcio poco prezzo any online community – whether it’s around a personality, a blog, or a forum, while being true to yourself without making more enemies than friends? Let me help.

I’ve spent a lot of time running forums, mailing lists, writing blogs and writing for other people’s blogs, and being part of a collaborative editing team. From my days moderating groups at Yahoo! Groups to helping tamp down spam and trolls at some now defunct technology and politics blogs to moderating comments at my own blogs today, there are some very fundamental rules that I think anyone, whether they’re a blogger or a commenter, can follow to be a positive contributor to any online community while still finding a way to vent their own opinions.

  1. Don’t be a Dick

    This one comes from the venerable Wil Wheaton, who pretty much made the phrase “Don’t be a Dick” his mantra for behavior on the Internet. I completely agree with him: when you’re reading someone’s blog entry or forum thread, read over the comment or post you’re writing and before you click Submit, think to yourself “if this were my blog, what would I think of the person who said this? Am I being a jerk here?” If there’s any doubt in your mind whatsoever, step back and review what you’re saying.

    Is your comment actually saying anything, or just whining? Are you commenting on the content of the piece, or about the way it’s being presented? Are you offering anything to the author or other readers or just venting at the author’s/blog’s/topic’s expense or attacking them personally?

    Highly insular communities on the Web – some of the best that I’ve seen – have some incredibly snarky communities and some of the most self-loathing and self-deprecating members I’ve ever seen. They don’t hesitate to lay waste to one another at the drop of a hat. What keeps them so insular is that in the end and past all of that, they actually give a crap about one another, and while they take your ego and self-esteem with one hand, they give you a solution to your dilemma with the other.

    Before you click Submit, just stop and think “what am I contributing to this discussion, and am I doing it in a way that the author or other people in the community would be receptive to?” A good way to answer this question is to actually read the community – read the articles, read the comments, and be a passive member Maglia AC Milan before you jump in and start speaking your mind. That doesn’t mean you have to be super-nice, but it does mean that you should tone up your actual point and tone down your rhetoric.

    Oh – and in case it needs to be said? Don’t be a troll, and don’t feed the trolls when they appear. Making your own upbeat and positive commentary without referencing them (or at least not directly) can do a world for your own presence in the community and marginalize negativity at the same time.

  2. Be Positive (or at least understanding)

    I see a lot of posts that I don’t agree with, or posts that highlight things that I just don’t care for, or favor something else over it. Lots of people read things they dislike: in fact, common knowledge among bloggers is that the first people you’ll encounter when you start a new blog are the people who dislike your work enough to comment on it – that’s how you’ll know you have readers: the people who agree with you just move on and don’t say anything.

    If you want to be a part of the community, or if you want your dissension to be heard, the important thing is to be positive with your comment, even if you disagree. For example, I love Lifehacker’s Featured Workspace posts, but I see a lot of workspaces that I actually really dislike. I want to comment on the post, to be a part of a discussion, but I don’t want to just rant about how I hate the colors or the positioning or the angle of the desk: so what do I do?

    The rule of thumb this time is to be positive. Sure, you can say that the colors on the walls make your eyes bleed, if you follow it up with the fact that you’re sure that the person who owns it likes it and wouldn’t choose anything different. If you find a blog post about an app that does something similar to an app that you already use or prefer, don’t just comment “how is this different from -my favorite app-,” actually look at the features and contribute something to the discussion by pointing out those differences. Odds are someone else has a similar question, and could benefit if you lifted a finger to answer your own question.

    All in all, feel free to open up – even if you’re about to explain how wrong the author is, or how horrible the app in question is, or how you would never make the same decisions as the post implies – as long as you’re actually contributing something positively to the discussion. If the post is wrong, say you disagree, and then explain what you would do instead. Not only do you make your point, but you offer some good reasons for others to consider your perspective and areas of future reference for the site owner or forum OP to investigate on their own. If you take the positive approach, eventually your voice on said blog will get some weight behind it, and people will look to your comments as valuable additions to the post.

  3. Read it Again

    I can’t stress this one enough. Before you fly off the handle and start hammering your keyboard in response to a post whose headline you’ve read and text you’ve “skimmed,” actually read the article. If you’re sure your comment still applies, write the comment and – before you hit submit – read the article again to make sure what you’re saying isn’t covered somewhere, even if it’s buried.

    If it is, slow your roll – not only do you now have a proper leg to stand on, you can call out the fact that your point is buried in the post, but it deserves repeating or highlighting. I recently read an article about secure methods to send documents to colleagues, and in the article the author laid out some ways to secure or encrypt your e-mail, as he considered standard e-mail a little insecure. An angry commenter ranted at the bottom of the post that all of the methods discussed were too complicated and that with a little effort you could encrypt your e-mail and just use that. See the problem? Suffice to say the thread was nuked.

    Before you start whining what your particular perspective isn’t represented, or before you point out something that you think is an addition to the discussion, make sure what you’re saying isn’t already covered – or worse, isn’t covered at the source article that the blog you’re reading directs people towards. You never know – you could be Maglia Roma whipping yourself into a frenzy over something that’s already covered, or that the author or someone else in the thread has already noted and agrees with you over. Remember the previous point: whatever you do, be positive.

  4. Yes, Spelling and Grammar are Important

    No folks, “It’s just a blog, I don’t have to use proper grammar in my comment,” is not an acceptable excuse for not paying attention to the big red squigglies underneath the various words in the text field that pop up while you’re typing. If you want to be taken seriously – even if you’re leaving a positive comment and one that you think is a real benefit to the post or the conversation, if it’s so poorly written and horribly misspelled that no one understands you, no one’s going to read you or engage you.

    The same rule applies for paragraphs and paragraph breaks. There’s an informal rule I’ve often seen notes that the number of paragraphs in a comment is inversely proportional to the commenter’s intelligence: with the exception being for very long single-paragraph comments where the poster simply didn’t use line breaks. If you’re going to wax lengthy about a topic, be concise (after all, you’re trying to be part of the discussion, not make the discussion about you, right?) and try not to be longer than the post you’re commenting about, okay?

    I’m not going to go on about this one: make sure your comments are legible before you click submit. As more and more sites are going towards transparency in comments by using services like Disqus and Facebook Comments, you’re not going to be able to hide behind a moniker of anonymity for much longer. Don’t let your comment history make you look like an idiot.

  5. Start Your Own Blog – Save the Snark

    If you really vehemently disagree with something, especially to the point that you really want to rant and rail against the entire post, the premise, the subject of the post, how the conclusions of the post were determined, or anything else, and you just can’t bring yourself to do anything but get angry about it – the best thing for you to do is to start your own blog.

    Seriously – if you find yourself getting to the point where your comments are largely negative, where you’re walking the line between contributing and being a jerk, and you want to have your own real say on the matter, it’s time to take it to your own playground.

    Starting your own blog is a topic that I could go on about for ages and truly deserves its own post, but the sheer number of free blogging services out there that allow you to create your own blog and post to it as frequently as you want are on the rise. If you really want to have your say and make your voice heard, there’s no better way than to make your own playground, where you can be as snarky and mean spirited as you like.

    That’s no guarantee that anyone will read you, and if you’re magliette calcio a poco prezzo already a full-time troll the uncertainty of attention will turn you off to the idea (which is a great way of telling if you’re being a troll,) but it will give you a place to vent and make your own case – and then when you go back to the blogs and articles that inspired you, you’re linking your opinion instead of lambasting the author or the community there with it.

    You never know – over time you’ll likely grow your own community, and you’ll want them to read the same guide. At the very least, you can proudly claim yourself among the ranks of people who actually produce something instead of consume and react to it, if that’s a badge you’d like to wear.

With a little positivity, and “think before you speak” in the back of your head, you too can avoid becoming the kind of person that no one likes to see commenting on their blogs and the type of person that no regular reader of any site with a good community likes to see post. What do you think? Have I missed any must-include rules or suggestions? Are there any that you wish more people on the Internet adhered to, or that you think would lead us to an overall more civil Web?

Like I’ve mentioned, you don’t always have to be nice, but you do need to be concise, offer something to the discussion than just angst, and generally be able to back up your statements with actual reason instead of emotion or aggravation. If your comments are fueled more by your own irritation and anger than actual perspective and fact to support your opinion, then you need to step back from the keyboard before you find your comments moderated and your account locked down.

On the flip side, there was ways to engage with and contribute to a discussion without agreeing – or even liking – the content in question. In those cases, it’s the best test of your etiquette skills. Hopefully these tips will help you comment, write, and even disagree while still being a class act.

images in this post courtesy of Flickr user Sean Bonner (Monocle LA Shop opening,) Penny Arcade, Flickr user rocket ship, (Positivy?,) Wikimedia Commons user Michael Rosenthal, (No Frame Glasses,) Flickr user the_munificent_sasquatch, (Grammar Police,) and WordPress.







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