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Netiquette No Nos

Hi! This page exists so I don't have to keep sending the same advice to my naughty friends. If you're reading this, either because I've sent you the URL or because a search engine guided you here, then you may also be interested in Basic Online Security.

1. Sending HTML formatted email

HTML e-mail is always uneconomic, sometimes unreceivable and/or unreadable and it can occasionally be unsafe. There really is no good argument for sending e-mail in HTML format. If you want your audience to see an HTML formatted page, put it on your website and send them the URL. Do you really want to know what I think? HTML email is EVIL!

To stop sending (evil) HTML e-mail from Outlook Express
1. Click Tools > Options > Send and under 'Sending' make sure that 'Reply to messages using the format in which they were sent' is UNchecked and under 'Mail Sending Format' CHECK the 'Plain Text' box.

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2. Sending (Word) .DOC attachments

Like HTML-formatted email, Word .doc files are unnecessarily large for the message they contain and they can also carry viruses. In 90% of cases the contents of a Word .doc could be put in a plain text file. In 90% of the remaining 10%, where the layout of a document is important, the file should be (more safely) formatted as a Rich Text File (.rtf) which will not only be considerably smaller, but can be read by more programs on more platforms. (Word .doc files which have embedded drawing or picture objects, however, may end up larger on conversion to .rtf).
As well as the virus risk and large file size, there are 3 other reasons for NOT sending Word documents: 1) double-clicking to open them fires up the full WORD app, which may affect performance on (or even crash) slower machines or systems used for heavy multitasking 2) some users may not have the right version of WORD to open the file anyway (esp Mac or Lotus users) 3) because of the way WORD uses templates (and also fonts) the document may not lay out properly or even open at all on someone else's machine, even if they have got the right version of WORD.
Part of the bloat in a Word .doc is is accounted for by the header. Some of it is font information but a lot of it is created when you edit a Word file. All the edits are saved as additions to the original, so Word .doc files are always much bigger than they need to be and may even be considered a security risk (as you may not wish the recipient to be able to see your earlier versions). - A neat trick is to save Word files as .rtf then open the rtf file in Word (or Wordpad) and save it again as .doc. This will remove any unnecessary bloating such as undos or font info in Word 7 files and can drastically reduce the file size, without affecting (and sometimes even improving) its appearance.

If you want to send a WORD .doc, ask yourself does the layout matter? If the answer is NO, choose 'Save as' and select 'Text only (.txt)' or simply copying and pasting the text into a (plain text formatted) e-mail message. If the layout does matter, choose 'Save as' and select'Rich text Format (.rtf)'.

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3. Sending Huge / Unsolicited attachments

It would seem like a basic courtesy not to block up someone else's in-box with stuff they haven't asked for and probably don't want but have to download before they can use their email again, but some people just don't think. In recent months I've been sent a 2 Mb .jpg of a theatre company's poster for inclusion on Steven Berkoff's website (when the only listing they were ever going to get required no more than a plain text message) and a 3 Mb .mpg after a dear friend had unwisely announced the birth of his daughter by putting several addresses including my own in the To: line (another netiquette sin - see Sending To: more than 1 person) and two months later one of the other recipients got bored on Zimbabwe's day of bank strikes and decided to mail me a Kung Fu movie.

2. If you have to send large attachments, it is better to post the file to a website (http or better still ftp) and then send your friend the URL. Web pages download faster than email and ftp sites are faster still. Also with http or ftp your recipient can choose when to download your monster and they can use a download manager, so if the connection is broken during a long download they don't have to start again from the beginning.
3. If you ARE going to send a large attachment by email, it's courtesy to send a small (plain text) message first, saying that that's what you're about to do (and better still to ask if it's OK by them), so the monster is not so unexpected. The small file will get through first and allow the recipient to take appropriate steps in anticipation of your in-box stuffer.
4. If you have been on the receiving end of unwanted, unsolicted mega attachments, and you're not using an email client with a download-headers-only option (such as Eudora), then get the freeware Email remover which will allow you to download just the headers first and even read the first 100 lines of a message's source, and delete any unwanted messages BEFORE you download them using your default email program.

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4. "Please forward this message to everyone" - NOT!

The net is choked with traffic as it is. Much of it is unwanted spam. But there's also the net version of the chain letter - send a copy of this to everyone you know - usually with some sob story attached and an implausible (or more likely impossible) promise that the message is somehow being tracked and that everytime it is forwarded a child will be saved of dying from cancer and the world will be made a better place.
These are all bogus. At best they are benign wastes of bandwidth. At worst they may carry a virus.

In short the netiquette is: Do not ever forward anything unless you know for sure who it is from, who wrote it and that the recipient is either expecting it or will be pleased to receive it.

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5. "Visit this URL (and save the World!)" - NOT!

"Simply by visiting you'll save a child/animal/the-whole-World. Every time you visit - their corporate sponsors/advertisers will donate a certain amount to whatever good cause you're a sucker for..." Yeah, right! And that 'certain amount' is 0.000000001 if it's anything at all. And I bet a DNS look-up on that domain name will show it to be an elaborate scheme, operated entirely by and in the interests of its 'corporate sponsors/advertisers'. The fact is, if Mammon-incorporated gave a damn about anything, they wouldn't make their contributions to good causes dependent on your swallowing their advertising. These click-for-charity schemes are always a sick, exploitative scam. At best the site owner has been suckered by the advertisers. At worst the entire thing is a fraud.

Treat any message about any such charitable site as spam. Delete it, and forget it! And to save you rebuking them directly, you might want to cut and paste the following URL and advise whoever sent you the sob-story-spam to read this page:-

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6. Sending To: more than 1 person

If you send one message to a lot of people by putting all their names/addresses in the To: or Cc: line the result is that everyone in the list can see everyone else's address. Not only might some people not want this (considering their address to be 'ex-directory' and not wishing to be 'replied to' by 50 or more strangers) but there is a much more serious security issue which you should heed, especially if you care about those to whom you're mailing your circular. Most viruses replicate by scanning address books and messages which are stored in in-folders for addresses to which they silently forward themselves from any infected machine. In other words, by putting all those names in the To: line you are exposing everyone to a greater risk of receiving a virus from someone else on the list.

Use BCC! If you insist on mass emailing you should put one address - (probably your own) in the To: line and use the 'blind copy' or 'Bcc:' line for all the rest. That way no-one gets to see the list of recipients (and not only is this safer, but everyone is made to feel a bit more special, since they cannot see how many people have received the message).

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[Updated - 19 June 2007]
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