Law Office Management
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NETIQUETTE – What is it and why should you care?

By Patricia Yevics
Director, Law Office Management
Maryland State Bar Association, Inc.
In January, 1999, Bar Bulletin


FIRST SOME HISTORY

Most people who use the Internet do not realize that it began in the late sixties as a result of Russia putting a communications satellite (Sputnik) into orbit before the United States. As a result it has a long history.

In 1969, the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) was formed by the Department of Defense to provide a network (ARPNET) that would survive a nuclear attack.

In 1972, the ARPNET had 40 machines and an e-mail system. In 1973, England and Norway joined the network making it international.

In 1982 ARPNET interconnected all major educational and research networks using a common set of communications protocol (TCP/IP). This protocol starts what becomes known as the Internet. In 1984, there were only 1000 hosts and that number had grown to 100,000 by 1989 and 33,000,000 by 1998.

In 1989 CompuServe and MCI set up E-mail gateways opening the way for even more communications. This also allowed the proliferation of discussion groups and Email Lists.

WHERE IS THIS LEADING?

With all this history come rules and procedures. The original users of the Internet were very technical individuals and they created many arbitrary rules and do’s and don’ts for using e-mail and discussion groups. Many of these rules were intended to encourage active communication between people.

As more and more "newbies" started to get connected, they were unaware of the rules and for the most part, this was more of an annoyance than a real problem. However, some of the rules are very valuable and need to be known and understood by anyone who uses e-mail, Email Lists and other electronic communications.

NETIQUETTE - On –Line Etiquette

The rules which I am going to list are only a few that will help you and the people with whom you communicate live more kindly and courteously in virtual reality. For you history buffs, netiquette was started at a Xerox facility called PARC – Palo Alto Research Center in the 1970’s. They developed e-mail etiquette to help employees learn to handle the new e-mail system. It was called the Electronic Briefing Blurb.

At Carnegie Mellon, the first university to get connected in 1973 to the internet using the TCP/IP protocol, students wanted to be able to communicate emotions and subtle humor on paper and so the emoticon was invented. Emoticons are "smileys" at the end of sentences to indicate that the statement was funny and not to be offensive. The most recognized emoticon (which means smiling) is :-) .

RULES – Ignore at your own risk

These are listed in no particular order.

  1. If you subscribe to a Email Lists such as MSBATax@lists.msba.org or any of the other MSBA Email Lists, and you are planning to be away from your office, you must unsubscribe from the Email List while you are away, if you are going to use the auto response feature with your e-mail. If you do not unsubscribe, DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT, use the auto response feature.
  2. If you do not wish to unsubscribe and are not going to use the auto response, you can set up your e-mail to put all your Email List messages into a separate folder so that you are not inundated with messages when you return.
  3. Do not forward jokes or any other message because you have no idea where it will eventually be received. The Internet allows for very easy forwarding and sending of information. If you would not send out the jokes or message on your firm’s letterhead, then do not forward it.
  4. Do not send anything via e-mail you do not want to see in public. (See Microsoft trial).
  5. When you participate in a Email List, it is not always necessary to send a reply to the entire list although the REPLY TO: default is usually the address of the list. Please be careful when hitting the reply button, especially if you do NOT want your reply to read by the entire list. I have read many replies on Email Lists that were obviously not meant to be read by the entire list.
  6. If you are responding to posting on a Email List, trim some of the original message.
  7. Do not send a reply that just says "Me, too" or some other short response. Too many Email Lists are clogged by hundreds of "Me, too"s.
  8. If you are replying to an e-mail or other posting, it is helpful to put the word REPLY in the Subject box.
  9. Do not send messages without something in the Subject box.
  10. Do not use capitals. IT MEANS YOU ARE SHOUTING.
  11. Do not flame people on Email Lists. Flaming means insulting people.
  12. Watch the subject carefully. If a subject starts to go off the topic, those replying should indicate that in the subject header. This will allow you to delete messages off topic. It may look like: Subject: Expert Witness – Off Topic. This indicates the subject matter is no longer Expert Witnesses.
  13. Keep messages short and to the point. If you are going to post a long reply or in some cases, a long rant, please indicate that in the subject header. Subject: Expert Witnesses - Long Reply.
  14. Your signature should be at the bottom of all your e-mails and your signature should be short. The rule was 4 lines but that may be a little arbitrary. It should not be more that 6 or 8 lines.
  15. If you would like additional information about netiquette, Arlene Rinaldi, has been the keeper of the rules for sometime. You can see a list of rules at www.fau.edu/netiquette. There are also Internet Use Guidelines www.unl.edu/websat/use.html.

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