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Ps And Qs In The Online World

"Mother always said...

Wait. Many of us didn't have a computer when we were growing up, and Mom never covered this. When the subject is online etiquette, we're in uncharted territory.

For the most part, cyberspace is a pretty easygoing place. The general rule of thumb: "No harm, no foul."

But knowing the DOs and DON'Ts of cyberspace is like having good table manners. They're better to have than not to have. Regina Lewis, AOL's online adviser and author of Wired in a Week, visits The Saturday Early Show with a few pieces of advice.

  • If you don't have something nice to say, don't say it and, for goodness' sake, don't put it in writing.

    Candid conversation makes sense online, but use good judgment. An offhand remark behind someone's back is just one click away from being forwarded and landing on the front of that person's computer screen.

    Often, this happens inadvertently when people respond to an e-mail and press the REPLY ALL button. The next thing you know, everyone knows exactly what you think of your boss or mother-in-law -- including your boss or mother-in-law. Yikes!

    Also, on the business side, keep in mind e-mails can be subpoenaed, so be smart about what you put in writing.

  • Reciprocate. Brevity is bliss online. If someone sends you a long e-mail, it's appropriate to acknowledge the effort even if you don't have time to return the favor word for word right away.

    For instance, if you get a play-by-play account of a friend's vacation, you could simply reply, "Thanks for the update. Great to hear from you. Things are good on this end. Thanks for checking in. Look forward to catching up more."

  • Listen well. Be sure to read e-mails and message boards before replying and/or posting a message. If you don't look before you leap, you're likely to send or post a reply that is off the mark.

    In message boards and chat rooms, stick to the topic at hand. If you agree with a group email or message board, reply with an informative comment. It's the thought that counts. No one likes to receive dozens of e-mails or read through hundreds of postings that just say, "Me, too."

  • DON'T YELL. Using ALL CAPS in chat rooms and message boards is considered poor form. It's the equivalent of YELLING at everyone. It also makes your message more difficult to read. So while it's terrific to relay INFLECTION, make sure you use it sparingly as not to OVERWHELM people.
  • Add some style. We don't all have the same handwriting, and we need not have the same e-mail stle. There are all kinds of ways to add personal touches to your online correspondence through color, fonts, links, photos and other graphical images, including the very popular emoticons otherwise known as smileys.
  • One person's junk is another's jewel. Chain letters and junk mail can add up. If you would prefer not to receive chain letters, it's appropriate to send a quick e-mail to the sender saying that while you love staying in touch, but you'd prefer not to receive chain letters, particularly if you're accessing your e-mail at work. And if you'd like to curb unwanted "junk mail," different services provide tools for managing your incoming mail.
  • Talk to strangers. Yep. Go right ahead. Today's online stranger might be tomorrow's buddy list pal. But be smart about giving out personal information online (like your home or work address). It's better to keep those facts to yourself.

    Etiquette tip: Don't ask, don't tell.

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