Certain situations call for proper protocol to be observed. In bowling, one does not interrupt the person bowling in adjacent lanes by throwing the ball while they are already in the process of doing so. In tennis, returning a ball that is obviously out is considered poor form. On the Internet, sending unsolicited or irrelevant material, especially if done in a widespread fashion, is of the utmost rudeness.
Veteran users of the Internet expect others, especially newcomers, to learn and observe proper network etiquette or netiquette. Here are the most common--yet grave--faux pas one can commit on the Internet:
Sending chain mail: Unfortunately this annoying activity has made its way into email. Chain mail greatly upsets and annoys those who receive it, regardless of whether the recipient believes in it or not. It simply boils down to misused and wasted computing resources.
Sending irrelevant email to one or more mailing lists (also known as "spamming"): People subscribe to mailing lists because they want to participate in discussions and receive information related to the topic of the list. Because mail processing requires the message to be appended to each individual's mailbox, this type of netiquette violation wastes an incredible amount of computer and network resources. Furthermore, because an intrusion on their personal mailbox has occurred, users will react and reply to the offender with usually not-so-kind words.
Sending email to a random number of users on a system: This is exactly the same as the previous type of offense with the exception that instead of a subject-specific mailing list, mail is sent to a random number of users on one or more systems. Everything we said about the previous type of offense applies to this type just as well.
Posting an article to a Usenet newsgroup whose contents have nothing to do with the newsgroup's topic: Unfortunately, when this happens, the irrelevant article is often sent to more than one newsgroup, magnifying the offense and causing a barrage of reactions to be sent back and forth across the Internet. Although postings about controversial topics, commercial advertising, and promotion of private interest tend to draw the most clamor for resolution, seemingly valid and innocuous postings like a survey about email usage also draw angry reactions from the Internet.
Netiquette violations do a lot more than raise eyebrows. Those who get upset will reply and because a large audience is usually involved, the number of responses traveling back and forth across the Internet take up precious bandwidth that could have been used for more worthwhile traffic. An overwhelming number of replies also puts stress on the system where the unwanted message originated. System managers need to monitor their system's well-being and have to spend time responding to complaints from angry users who demand that the individual who sent the unsolicited message be immediately brought to justice. A good day's work can quickly be spent doing damage control caused by bad network etiquette. Therefore, exercise restraint before sending a reply to the offender or a complaint to the system manager because there is a good chance that someone else has already done so.
The Internet's spirit of harmonious, free-flowing information exchange that researchers, educators, and professionals have come to love and expect is constantly being challenged by an ever increasing population brought about by media coverage and commercial hype about the so-called information superhighway. To put it in terms of this overused buzzword, new drivers jump onto the information superhighway without proper driver education instilled in them. Consider this article a first lesson in Internet driver education.
Observing the simple network etiquette rule of not sending unsolicited or irrelevant material to a widespread audience makes the Internet a more productive and pleasant place for all of us.
For more information on network etiquette, refer to the following Web site: http://www.albion.com/netiquette/
In addition, view the UH Executive Policy E2.210 "Use and Management of Information Technology Resources".