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By Virginia Shea

Review by Howard Rheingold

The power of the Internet comes from the communication that happens between people, not the raw transfer of information from one place to another. Person to person communications grow into relationships. From those relationships, people build communities. Along with those communities come social codes. Because of the richness of novel social structures, culture shock strikes every person who starts to poke around the Internet. There's a world out there. A galaxy. A universe full of galaxies. And every planet in cyberspace has its own social conventions, written and unwritten.

Social agreements about how to use the new medium have kept the Internet growing at a remarkable pace without breaking the social architecture as the size and diversity of the online population scales up. But the existence of new and invisible rules can be frightening at first. One of the first things you learn is that there are ""lurkers'' who might ""flame'' you if you transgress some fine point of online etiquette and act like a ""clueless newbie.'' I should know. It happened to me last week. I made the mistake of trying to unsubcribe from a mailing list by sending a request to hundreds of other subscribers instead of the administrative address. I got flamed.

I felt like a newbie, although I've been lurking on the net for years. And I understood why: I had broken an essential piece of netiquette by squandering two seconds worth of attention from several hundred people (and implied that I wanted every one of them to know that I wanted out of their group) instead of finding out how to unsubscribe properly.

I comforted myself by thinking about the two middle managers who exchanged explicitly adulterous e-mail to one another and accidentally forwarded it to everyone on the corporate e-mail network. There are many ways to make a fool of yourself or pollute the online environment. Netiquette is what you need to know to avoid trouble.

Netiquette is not just about niceties of behavior or avoiding embarassment. Netiquette is like the double yellow line in the middle of a highway. It's a social agreement that enables a large number of people to have access to the attention of a large number of other people with minimum damage. People have done a great job compiling handy lists of rules and posting them in online forums where newcomers are encouraged to visit. But at the rate of growth the Internet is experiencing, the informal methods of passing the old culture on to the newcomers is breaking down.

Fortunately, Virginia Shea has published "Netiquette," an astute introduction to the net's unwritten rules. She has mined the net for accumulated social wisdom (acknowledging her debt to netizen Gene Spafford's "Emily Postnews" series on Usenet etiquette), and explains lucidly how each rule makes the net a more valuable and convivial place. Her core rules of netiquette ought to be studied by everyone who pokes a mental tentacle into cyberspace: "Remember the human, adhere to the same standards of behavior online that you follow in real life, know where you are in cyberspace, respect other people's time and bandwidth, make yourself look good online, share expert knowledge, help keep flame wars under control, respect other people's privacy, don't abuse your power, and be forgiving of other people's mistakes."

Not bad rules for communicating in any group, in either the virtual or fleshworlds. Read this book if you just got online. Or give it to someone who just got online. And since you are reading this via the World Wide Web, check out some of the original source material, Chuq Von Rospach's "How To Work With the USENET Community," or the more satirical"Dear Emily Postnews" by Brad Templeton. Another contemporary netiquette info site is Arlene Rinaldi's Netiquette Home Page.

""Netiquette,'' Albion Books, 4547 California Street, San Francisco, 94118[ep
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