Polishing up your Internet manners Despite attempts by organisations to control and limit the Internet's content and growth, it remains untouchable. There are no hard and fast rules or boundaries in place; in fact, just a short time online can demonstrate that it's very much a case of anything goes. While that's true of Web page content and the media that's available, it's a whole different ball game when it comes to communicating with other people via the Internet. Again, there's no official rulebook to adhere to, but there is an unspoken law that you'd do well to abide by: netiquette. The more you use the Internet, the more you find out about how it's run, what you need to know and the important things to remember. Anyone who's ever played golf will understand. When you're on the fairway there are certain do's and don'ts. There are things you can say and do and things you can't, and knowing how to act in any given situation is extremely important. It only adds to your enjoyment while you're on the course. This analogy can be applied to the Internet and we've gathered together all those things you should know before you set out online. Chain letters There's always one person who appears to be a magnet for humorous email messages. It's a mystery where they originate from, but your friend always does you the kind service of sending them on to you and a hundred other people at the same time. Of course, netiquette doesn't dictate that you can't have any fun, but don't get taken in by the chain letters that are always doing the rounds. You know the kind of thing: send this message to ten other people in the next five minutes or you'll meet your untimely demise. Take our word for it, you won't! Stop shouting Email has become second nature to most people and we think nothing of rattling off a few words and hitting Send. However, a faux pas that's common among inexperienced users is the use of block capitals. While this is acceptable when emphasising a particular point, it can be offensive if used throughout an entire message. Using block capitals in any form of electronic communication is akin to shouting, so it's important to be frugal when using them. Word your email with care Expressing humour, feeling and emotion in an email can often be difficult, even for the most skilled writer. In fact it's one of the criticisms levelled against the medium. When speaking recently to a business conference Bob Geldof commented that, 'The tone can be wrong,' and went on to say that, 'An ill-considered email can destroy a deal.' Remember to be careful when writing about delicate or important subjects because you have the power to offend easily right at your fingertips. Watch what you type Never trust the contents of an email: it's that simple. This is due to the fact that malicious users have become adept at using email as a means of obtaining personal financial information from individuals and then using this to commit fraudulent acts. Favourites are emails purporting to be from a bank or even eBay. They go on to describe how your account information needs to be confirmed and could you just fill out this form. This form contains fields that are for bank account numbers, dates of birth and so on. Never reveal personal information that's been requested by email. Enough said. Keep your message private When sending the same message to a group of people you may wish to keep all the addressees private from one another. This is essential if you're sending sensitive information. The easiest way to do this is to address the email to yourself and then put everyone else's addresses in the BCC field. They will automatically be hidden and the only email address that will be displayed is yours. Keep your message relevant If you want to participate in newsgroups or chatrooms there's an unwritten code of conduct to which you should abide. When you post your message make sure it's relevant to the group or chatroom you're participating in. Indiscriminate posting won't be tolerated and will incur the wrath of the other users. Mind the flames Having indiscriminately posted and subsequently upset other users, you may find yourself subjected to a 'flame' or two. If you have intentionally or unintentionally annoyed someone then you could become subject to the practice of flaming. This is where you'll find yourself on the receiving end of angry, if not rude postings from other users. If you're at fault it's best to sit back and take it on the chin. Trying to respond will often see other users join in to give you a good old barracking. Stay tight lipped in public When you post a message in a newsgroup or enter into a conversation in a chatroom, remember that whatever you say is there for the world to see. Be careful not to divulge any personal information in your postings or anything that can be used to identify you. No surnames, no bank information and certainly no telephone numbers. Irrelevant content There are numerous stationery utilities and email client replacements such as Incredimail that enable you to included brightly coloured backgrounds and animated content in your messages. They may look good and verge on the amusing, but the person receiving the email may not experience the full effect as you intended. In Outlook Express you can prevent received messages from being displayed in HTML. This security setting can help prevent preventing malicious code from being run on your system that's sometimes embedded in email containing images. Enter a subject When sending an email it's important not to leave the subject line blank. You should always try and fill in a brief description of what your message is all about. Failure to enter anything in this field could lead to your email being treated as spam by the receiving server and may be subsequently deleted. In addition, don't use all upper or lower for words: make sure you capitalise correctly. Safe Hotmail Exercise caution when using Web mail because the pages you view will be stored in the Temporary Internet Files folder. For example, if you've been working with Hotmail, set Internet Explorer to work offline and you'll be able to browse through your Inbox and Sent Items folders you were viewing previously. Something you can do is check the option 'Always ask for my email address and password' when you sign in. The effect will be that although the URL of the pages you visit in Hotmail will be stored, the actual page content won't be. It's possible to go one step further and remove all details of your visits to Hotmail by clearing your Internet History. You can remove individual URLs by clicking on the History button in Internet Explorer and deleting those you no longer require. Alternatively, click Tools > Internet Options and click Clear History to delete the entire contents of the cache.