You say 'potato', I say 'potato'

People are often quick to tell you that anything goes on the Net, that it's a complete anarchy and so on.
They claim that there's no one to tell you what to do, that no-one's in charge and that there are no rules.
These people are wrong. There is a set of foul-smelling 'unofficial' rules called Netiquette that some Net users enforce with the vigour and dedication of judge Dredd on acid.

These rules are nothing more than simple guidelines on how you should behave on-line, tips that should make everyone's time on the Net much more pleasant. In fact, one of the best reasons for trying to stick to them is so you don't get a mailbox full of abuse from a self-appointed Net cop, whose loud-mouthed on-line persona makes up for his shortfall in the trouser department in the real world.

Most of these rules apply when you're posting and replying to messages in Usenet newsgroups, but many are handy hits for good e-mail practice as well.

Always read the Frequently Asked Questions file for a given newsgroup before posting messages to it. It will tell you what the group is (and isn't for) and enable you to work out whether you're asking your question or raising a subject in the appropriate area there's nothing Net cops hate more than people posting irrelevant messages in newsgroups. The FAQ will probably be posted regularly to the group, but if you can't find it post a message in the group asking for someone to direct you to it.

Don't send your messages to loads of groups at once. This is known as spamming and is irritating because people have to pay to download several copies of the same message.

When replying to a message, edit out irrelevant parts of the previous post and type your reply under the relevant bits that are left. Your newsreader software should automatically add a line at the top of your message saying who posted the previous message when. Don't quote the whole of the previous message just to add "I agree" at the end of it.

Both your e-mail software and your newsreader software should be able to add an automatic signature to your messages. Your signature shouldn't be more than four lines long because this makes the Net cops lose their erections.

If you think you've got a good line in ASCII art, show it off in an ASCII art newsgroup, not in your signature.

DON'T SHOUT. IT'S HARD TO READ. Shouting is when you type in capital letters. The Net cops also say that you should always try to use correct English (if that is your chosen language, of course), and that you should use correct spelling and punctuation. On the other hand, they also say that you should never criticise someone for incorrect spelling or punctuation. This leaves them in something of a quandary because they get annoyed by bad spelling, but their own rules won't allow them do anything about it.
Ha ha ha.

Smileys In the main, these are the devil's work. Little punctuation marks grouped together to make shorthand ways of expressing emotion, to wit, if you write a joke that isn't very funny, you can put a happy smiley :-) after it just to make sure everyone realises you're joking and doesn't take offence.
For example: "Hugh was watching Divine do the lewd business and to his surprise she actually seemed to be enjoying herself.
'Blimey,' says Hugh, 'you're really enjoying that, aren't you?'
'No,' replies Divine, rather naughtily speaking with her mouth full,
'I'm just a much better actress than Liz.' :-)

Other acceptable smileys include: :-( Sad or what a bummer' and... Er, that's it. There are tens, hundreds even of these foul little things, but ignore them all.

TLAs and ETLAs Now these are nearly as bad as smileys, but not quite. Net cops will tell you that TLA stands for Three-Letter Acronym, and ETLA Extended Three-Letter Acronym (one with more than three letters) and they're right, except they're not.
An acronym is a word formed from the initial letters of other words, such as radar or laser or RAM, but many of the TLAs ad ETLAs that pop up on the Net are things like IMHO (In My Humble Opinion), ROTFL (Rolls On The Floor Laughing) and AFAIK (As Far As I Know). Unless you speak a very strange Ianguage, these are not pronounceable as words, and so the 'A' should really stand for 'abbreviation', which would also encompass proper acronyms such as FOAD (Fuck Off And Die) and FU BAR (Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition).

Glad we've got that sorted then.