Mind your (forum) manners

Back in the days of yore, when there were only three or four TV channels, gasoline had lead and no one wore bicycle helmets, it was tough for writers to get information on a topic.

There was the library, or maybe an encyclopedia. If you were lucky, you might find a reliable source at a local community college or university. Catalogs and magazines were more valuable than gold in those days

Times change. Today, the internet drives most information exchange, and the Encyclopedia Britannica has announced it will no longer print a hard copy edition. One of the ways that information is exchanged on the internet is the infamous discussion forum.

You’ve probably seen a discussion forum. They’re nothing new, and they’re available on every topic from crocheting to plumbing to astrophysics. The basic format is that a forum member (which you can become by simply signing up) asks a question in a “thread,” and other forum members post replies, based on their opinions, news articles they cite, or what have you. Most forums are friendly places where people with similar interests digitally congregate and interactively share information, under the watchful eyes of a few moderators

This is where things go haywire. People being people, forums can quickly become hotbeds of unrest in which “BobfromTexas” gets in an argument with “Pete1976” over which load is better for their particular Ruger pistol (this is a gun owner’s forum, you see), and soon Bob and Pete are name calling and coming to virtual blows over nothing.

But don’t let ugly scenes like this deter you from participating in forums. It helps to know some basic rules that will help you navigate these halls of knowledge. Remember, even the library can be an intimidating place if you talk too loudly and get “shushed” by an old lady with spectacles dangling from a chain around her neck, standing behind a large wooden desk.

First, remember that people are entitled to their opinions. If you disagree with what someone has said, do so respectfully, and remember that they’re likely to get defensive. That’s okay. You can’t control how other people respond to things.

Second, don’t engage in cat fights. It really doesn’t matter that Sue from Des Moines endlessly wants to argue a point with you. If you find yourself arguing with a stranger on the computer at 2 AM, stop. No one can win the internet.

Third, use emoticons generously. Unlike e-mail and other professional forms of communication, most discussion forums are laid back. Humor is encouraged. Just make sure you make it clear when you’re being cutesy by throwing a smiley face J in there.

Fourth, be kind to new members of the forum. They don’t usually know these rules that I’m telling you now, and which you probably already know if you’ve used discussion forums for more than a few months. Yes, they probably should have done a search for their ridiculously-common-question-that’s-been-asked-1,000-times-already before posting it. Remind them gently. You were new and naïve once, too.

Fifth, there are jerks on every forum. People that know it all. People that degrade, poke excessive fun, and are generally all-around annoying. Bu that’s true in real life, too. Unlike real life, most discussion forums allow you to ignore certain users, so you never have to see or read their posts. Use this feature.

There you go. The discussion forum—follow these rules, and you’ll never have to deal with that angry librarian again.

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