Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 72 / MAY 1986 / PAGE 97

Telecomputing Today

Arlan R. Levltan

Online Etiquette

Manners are "in" this year. Since I can't turn on a television or radio without running into a self-styled expert on genteel behavior, I figure I might as well get into the act with my patented "Proper Pointers for Bulletin Board Paparazzi."
    When logging onto a BBS, remember that you are a guest in the system operator's (sysop's) electronic house. Sysops have the right to lay whatever ground rules they see fit for their personal domains. If you have any problems with the house rules, feel free to register a mild-mannered and polite complaint with the management, but be prepared to find another game in town more to your liking if the house does not relent.
    Give your real name when asked to log in. Using the name of heavy metal groups, five-letter expletives, or such hackneyed titles as "Hacker," "Cracker," or "Whacker" are considered passe and a harbinger of the imminent demise of the rest of your brain cells. If the bulletin board you are accessing encourages the use of noms-de-plume, stick with an obscure or bizarre moniker. My favorites are the names of ex-postal ministers of Liechtenstein.
    Don't be a data glutton. Downloading every new file that shows up on a BBS may keep you off the streets, but ties up many boards an inordinate amount of time. Logging off and back on with a different name after your time limit has expired is tantamount to hogging the shower until all of the hot water is gone. Show your discrimination and taste by carefully examining the descriptions of files that are available for downloading, and choose only those that are of real interest or utility to you.

Anyone Need A Ginsu?
If there is a message section on the BBS, make an effort to read the latest messages and participate in the flow of conversation. The content of messages you leave should be consistent with any statement of direction that the sysop has established. The right of free speech notwithstanding, leaving a message offering to trade a set of Ginsu knives for a Veg-A-Matic may be considered a breach of protocol on a board dedicated to discussions of artificial intelligence and the search for UFOs.
    Try to instill some degree of content into every message you leave. Politeness is a virtue, but responding to every, bit of assistance with the single word "Thanks" wastes pointer space within the BBS indexes and often leaves other folks wondering just what you were thanking someone for when the original message rolls off the message base.
    Leaving public messages that give away solutions to particularly difficult problems in the latest adventure game is somewhat less sporting than standing in front of the audience at a movie theater and announcing the conclusion before the film begins. If you must request help with such programs, solicit assistance in the form of a phone call or letter.
    Obscenity is not only "out," it's boring. Ask anyone who's read the unexpurgated Watergate transcripts. Questioning the lineage of the sysop or attempting to crash the board because you don't like a particular policy or rule is a waste of your time and as welcome as an IRS audit.

Sibling Rivalry
Perhaps the most difficult thing for many people is abstaining from the various "My computer is bigger/ better/faster than yours" message threads. These discussions usually exhibit all the charm of a dozen or so bull elks ramming their heads together during the rutting season.
    The most recent examples are the dozens of Amiga versus Atari ST shouting matches that have been jamming both public bulletin boards and commercial information services all over the country. For the most part, the opposing sides are made up of loyal Atari and Commodore followers who are anxious to defend the honor of their long-time corporate allegiances - holdovers from the Atari 800 versus Commodore 64 debates. What makes all of these arguments and insults somewhat ludicrous is that the Amiga's custom chips are largely the work of Jay Miner, who designed the graphics chips in the Atari 2600 and eight-bit Atari computers. So the Amiga is actually a mid-1980s Atari, while the Atari ST computers-the product of Jack Tramiel & Sons-are really mid1980s Commodores.
    If all the energy that has been spent on these types of discussions were channeled into more productive pursuits, I have no doubt that many of the real mysteries of the universe could have been solved - including where all of the jackets for my floppy disks keep vanishing to.
    Finally, and perhaps most important, is to cultivate an attitude of gentle tolerance toward those who insist on pontificating and regaling you with their personal vision of the "right" way to do things. Having made it through this list of dos and don'ts, you're well on your way to that end.