Thursday, 6 January 2005

What Happened to Netiquette?

Following the release of Firefox, one user based in London called Jesse had the great idea to start a Firefox London User Group, or FLUG, to organise get-togethers and help spread our favourite browser quicker and further. Having proposed the idea, he then set up a mailing list, to which I subscribe. To cut a long story short, the beginnings were a bit difficult. Jesse tried to set up a meeting in a London pub several times. Finally it seems the first meeting will be next week. However, yesterday, a few email that were well intentioned but not very positively worded were posted on the list and started a flame war between two of the subscribers.

Going through the emails and reviewing how it all started, I am absolutely appalled at how quickly it degenerated and how insulting the arguments became. It showed that the two people involved had no notion of netiquette whatsoever. This is a problem that is more and more apparent on forums, mailing lists and Usenet and is probably related to what geek jargon calls the September that never ended, that is, the fact that the Internet is now accessible to virtually everybody, most people having never been told what netiquette was all about.

It's a shame that this sort of things could happen but, if the Internet is democratising itself, how can you teach people netiquette and how can you prevent people from behaving as they've always done? When I first started at ESIAL, the college where I studied software and IT, we were told about netiquette before being allowed anywhere near the computers. What made it work is that, first, it was at a time when Internet was available only in universities so none of us had ever heard of it, let alone connected to it; and, second, the university had warned us that if they got complaints due to us not following the rules of netiquette, they would suspend our account.

I suppose flame wars are the price to pay for generalising the Internet and there's no question the net needs to be accessible by everybody. It doesn't prevent any of us from promoting netiquette though.

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