Even though netiquette has existed for decades, there are few definitive works that cover every aspect of the subject, behavioral, technological, ethical, and practical. Much has been written about netiquette, from technology-constrained rules of conduct for online users to ethical considerations to common-sense approaches to preserving one's privacy. These treatments are helpful, as far as they go, but provide a disjointed and uneven treatment of the subject.
I surveyed the available literature, reading several dozen articles and excerpts from 2 books. I found netiquette to be a more complex subject than I originally anticipated. This essay places netiquette in a historical context and summarizes some of the less widely considered aspects of the subject.
Netiquette, a derivation of the words network etiquette or Internet etiquette, describes the code of conduct regarding acceptable online behavior. Netiquette is typically used to refer to forms of online communication that include forums, email, blogs, message boards and chat. Whereas some netiquette topics focus on with technical issues, they all basically are concerned with how people relate to one another. As with any form of communication, it is necessary to understand what is considered acceptable behavior. In a worst case scenario, if one violates a community's code of conduct, for example by using spam, one can be banned from the community. It is possible for someone to be banned from Internet service providers, search engines, forums and webhosts, to name a few (Netiquette, 2011).
Netiquette originally grew out of a set of rules that date back to the days before the World Wide Web existed. Many netiquette conventions originated from historical and technological limitations of the precursor to the Usenet system. Early bulletin board users were constrained by bandwidth, storage, cost, and speed limitations. Some of the early rules spelling out prohibited behavior included the following:
Posting off-topic -- Users did not want to pay for or spend time downloading content in which they had no interest. Therefore users who veered away from the subject line of the original thread were strongly encouraged to change the subject line to "Off Topic: [Subject]."
Cross-posting -- Equivalent to modern-day spamming, users were discouraged from posting the same message to multiple groups.
Quoting -- This practice of forwarding an entire message over and over each time someone added a comment, such as "Me too" or "That's funny" was prohibited due to bandwidth issues (Technogeek, 2011).
As the Internet evolved, so too did netiquette. Although it seems odd by today's standards, there was actually a formal document, RFC 1855, published to define netiquette standards. A Request for Comments or RFC is normally used by the Internet Engineering Task Force, a group of engineers and computer scientists, to define network protocols and standards. Nevertheless, RFC 1855, Netiquette Guidelines was officially issued in 1995 to "provide a minimum set of guidelines for Network Etiquette (Netiquette)" (Hambridge, 1995). In the status field, the memo specifically mentions that it is not a specification document for any type of Internet standard, an almost humorous disclaimer. The following list excerpts some of the guidelines:
"Never put in a mail message anything you would not put on a postcard."
"Remember that people with whom you communicate are located across the globe. If you send a message to which you want an immediate response, the person receiving it might be at home asleep when it arrives. Give them a chance to wake up, come to work, and login before assuming the mail didn't arrive or that they don't care."
"Limit line length to fewer than 65 characters and end a line with a carriage return."
"The cost of delivering an e-mail message is, on the average, paid about equally by the sender and the recipient. This is unlike other media such as physical mail, telephone, TV, or radio. Sending someone mail may also cost them in other specific ways like network bandwidth, disk space or CPU usage. This is a fundamental economic reason why unsolicited e-mail advertising is unwelcome (and is forbidden in many contexts)" (Hambridge, 1995).
The remainder of the RFC continues in the same vein, and includes a selected bibliography of 28 sources.