Recently, my mother included the Heycuz newsgroup in the address list in an email. An easy mistake given my email address is similar, firstname.lastname@example.org. The problem was that the email contained a political message, favoring Democrats. The fallout from our right-leaning members was intense and she subsequently left the group, which is especially sad considering that the foundation of the heycuz database was built around the genealogy that my mother had done. My mother was wrong to have posted it, she knew the rules. But, hey, she’s my mom and knowing her personally, I knew that her heart was in the right place. However, this brought up some past issues for me. I have received a number of comments over the years from people who’ve left the group over issues that have nothing to do with genealogy but with the way they were treated. Whether imagined or not, they felt un-welcomed. I would never want someone who came to visit my home, leave feeling like that and, similarly, as the founder and moderator for what I thought was a family group, that hurts.
Because of the way this group started, heycuz consisted mostly of non-computer people. Those who only wanted to share information and talk with distant family. Some hadn’t yet developed a tough skin for handling the occasional not-so-courteous answers or feedback. For some it was their first time using the computer so there were many times I had to explain some things that are second nature to us geeks, like how to attach a photograph to an email. Yet because we were all family, it was only natural that our guidelines were sparse. All that we asked were that we act like we were at a family dinner, keep your elbows off the table and never discuss sex, religion or most importantly, politics. In my family there are both Republicans and Democrats so this rule was almost always abided by. On Heycuz, for the most part, this has worked and I’m not going to change it now.
But, I do want to give some netiquette tips that many have forgotten or were simply never told. You can start by taking all of the “manners” that your mama taught you and apply it to your online communication. That said, here are the most important “rules” to ensure a happier and more successful time online:
1. BE CONSIDERATE. The first, and most important thing to remember is the golden rule. Remember that there’s another person(s) on the receiving end of your post or email. It sounds obvious, but sometimes when you’re looking at an electronic monitor, its easy to forget. Also remember that your “humor” may not be recognized because we cannot write voice in-fluctuations, etc, as well as we can hear them. Being considerate is especially more valid on Heycuz than elsewhere on a seemingly anonymous web because here we are family. Some of us are eccentric, some stoic, some just forgetful, but regardless of that we are all cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews.
2. “IF YOU CAN’T SAY SOMETHING NICE…” One of the shortcomings of schools is that they don’t spend more time teaching people how to argue. How many times have you had to figure out the ratio of a circle in contrast to the number of times you had an argument? I’m just saying, they should re-prioritize the educational requirements proportionately to life’s requirements. If you disagree with someone don’t, ever, make it personal. Not only is it hurtful, but it doesn’t work in swaying others to your side of the argument. I remember once when I was a child, my sis and I were having an argument and she realized she was losing. At the end of her rope, she appealed to my mother with “MOM! APRIL’S STUPID!” The result was that everyone, my mother included, erupted in uproarious laughter.
A side note: A lot of boards and newsgroups tell you to continue the argument off the list. I’m not going to tell you that because people come away with a false sense of anonymity. There is none. Some think that there’s only two people reading a so-called “private” email and so they can say the darndest things. But remember you have no control over what the receiver does with your email and now with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or rather the current abuse of the act, a server can be ordered to hand over all of your correspondence as well. In addition, I have my email backed up from 1987/8 til now. At any time, I can pull up the correspondence from others and blast it across the internet for all to see. I’m telling you right now, give up the idea that there’s any privacy involved in the internet. Any lawyer will tell you, “Never put it and writing.” And, speaking of privacy, I want to politely decline any further correspondence that include the words “for your eyes only” or “not for publication.” What do I do with that? Are you implying I like gossip?
3. DON’T WASTE OTHER’S TIME: Realize also that others might not want to hear you drone on about the same thing (especially if it has nothing to do with our topic of family history). This coincides with one of my biggest pet peeves, the forward button. Don’t use it. OK, you might use it once or twice, but only use it if you add some information or some comment or any text at all. Otherwise, consider taking the forward button off your menu bar. You can still find it, if you need to, in the “message” part of the menu. If it says “Pass it On,” don’t. My filters already put those emails right where they belong, directly in the trash. I belong to a lot of genealogy boards, so I get thousands of emails a day and it makes me feel like a heel when I get messages titled, “I better get this back.” If I spent my time responding to those I wouldn’t have the time to answer all the legitimate queries I get. In that same vein, never post “dittos.” If you have nothing more to add and you’re not answering a survey, a “me too” is useless.
4. ANSWER YOUR PERSONAL EMAIL: If someone has taken the time to write to you personally, answer them. Even if all you can write is, “I’m busy right now, I’ll try to write more later.” And with that I add be patient for a reply and if you don’t get an answer within a reasonable time period, like say 14 days, then send a gentle reminder. Perhaps, a “did you get this?” and repost your message. Many times, it can take me weeks to write an answer, though I try to keep the time down to a couple of days.
5. ALWAYS SIGN YOUR POST: especially if you’re giving information. In genealogy this is SO important. Facts are irrelevant if they have no source. How many times have you passed up unsourced trees on rootsweb or other sites. Why? Because, if there are no sources given, typically, they are so full of error’s they are useless. If you’re not willing to leave your name, then you’re just a lurker who has nothing to add. Sorry to be so crass, I’m pointing out how others view your posts.
6. QUOTE: Give me some idea of what you’re responding to or talking about. Familiarize yourself with the copy and paste keys on your keyboard. It’s really exciting when I get an email responding to a post that I put up on a board 10 years ago. But, realize my memory’s not that great! I need to know what my question was that you so kindly are responding to. This applies to emails also. Figure out how your email software or email website handles quoting. Sometimes you have to highlight the person’s message, sometimes you have to set your program to do that. If the message was long, remember you can just “quote” the part you’re responding to and delete the rest, but at least quote something. If you are talking about a web page, give the url. I really, really, and I mean, really!, appreciate people letting me know about a broken link or a error on the heycuz.net. However, please understand, that at last count there were 282,000 pages on our website. Help! (To give the url, highlight the text in the url box at the top of your browser go to edit, go to copy. Now, when you go to your email, go back up to edit then to paste.)
7. CHANGE THE SUBJECT LINE. This is especially true on web boards because many times the search engine crawlers only search by subject line. You took the time to respond, now take the time to make sure the right people see your message. On yahoo, which is the server Heycuz is on, it seems to only search by subject or email addresses. So, if a person is looking for a particular subject, and the subject hasn’t been changed, those emails are missed. Changing the subject line is an easy thing to do. When you click reply, pop back up one line and write a short description of what you’re writing.
8. BREATHE! Before you hit the send button, look over your reply. Seriously consider whether you’d want to receive the message you’re sending. Are you clear? Would you talk like that to someone if they were standing in front of you? We get all caught up in the speed of this new internet thingy, or the thrill and excitement that we found a new cousin, that we don’t realize the web doesn’t have to dictate the speed of our reply. Recently, some college did a study they called The Good Samaritan. In it, they discovered that the one thing that dictated how “good” people acted toward each other was related to how much time pressure the person was feeling. Those who were rude or unhelpful felt rushed. So, remember to breathe. You’re not rushed. We can wait for your words of wisdom.
This blog is probably way too long, and gives too much emphasis on the negatives. The last thing I want to do is scare away newcomers to our family tree. Honestly, negative posts on Heycuz are rare. We truly are one big family, and now, doing genealogy, I’ve realized that applies to more people than I could have possibly dreamed. We are all related. To me, family means, embracing the differences in each other and I welcome them. I love them, in fact. I’m astonished by and proud of the level of talent in our little group. My final comment is a request: If I don’t treat you like you’re my family, please do what my father would do, kick me in the rear and tell me to get with the program.