Fueled in large part by the usercentric Web 2.0 trend, the Internet has evolved considerably as a communications platform, offering people innovative means for keeping in touch and sharing knowledge instantly with others across the globe. Blogs and wikis, which enable folks to broadcast their thoughts to the Web at large and to collaborate on documents, respectively, are the heavyweights of this movement. And though they are wonderful tools for bringing disparate people together and for accumulating knowledge, they can also quickly devolve into the online equivalent of grunting apes. And you don't want to be an unruly ape, do you? Of course not.
[ Slideshow: The Ten Commandments of blog and wiki etiquette ]
As we demonstrated with "The Ten Commandments of cell phone etiquette," new modes of communication require new codes for behavior. Just keep these Ten Commandments of blogs and wikis in mind as you type, and you will rise above the fray -- and help facilitate fruitful, lively discussion.
And if you know of a doozy we missed, feel free to contribute a commandment of your own in the comments box.
1. Thou shall not confuse thy opinion with gospel truth. There is a strong temptation, particularly when discussing contentious issues, to claim unimpeachable authority on the subject at hand. Yes, everybody is entitled to express personal opinions, but by treating your blog or wiki like a panel rather than a pulpit, the dialogue will more likely be divine.
2. Thou shall not invoke personal attacks. One of the magical powers blogs and wikis seem to possess is the capability of turning otherwise sensible people into bickering schoolchildren. Unless the discussion subject is "Say something insulting about somebody who holds a different opinion than you," leave the personal invective out. Rule of thumb: Argue with the post, not the poster.
3. Thou shall stick to the subject at hand. Blogs in particular can get tangential in a hurry. To some, that's part of the charm -- you start with an idea and end up somewhere completely different. That's all well and fine, but let tangents arise organically within the context of the discussion. If you've got something wildly off topic to say, start a new thread or keep it to yourself until it becomes relevant.
4. Thou shall cite thy references. As we all know, people can come up with statistics to prove anything; forty percent of all people know that. So, set yourself apart from the herd by showing where you get your facts. You'll look knowledgeable, honest, and trustworthy -- what's not to like about that?
5. Thou shall punctuate and capitalize. We're not saying you should write every post with one eye on The Chicago Manual of Style, but writing several paragraphs as one gigantic, all-lowercase, run-on sentence is a definite no-no. As is writing in ALL CAPS, WHICH IS LIKE SHOUTING! Punctuation is your friend, so use it.
6. Thou shall own up to thy mistakes. Despite online chest-puffing to the contrary, nobody's perfect. You are going to make mistakes. You are going to be wrong about things. Instead of being defensive and denying it, just admit your blunder and move on. If you have the urge to browbeat somebody about making a mistake, refer to the second commandment.
7. Thou shall not use aliases or sock puppets. If you have to invent a separate identity in order to create the illusion of agreement, then perhaps your point isn't as good as you think it is. Although it's tempting to play games with the pseudo-anonymity the Internet provides, it's far better to stick with one identity.
8. Thou shall not feed the trolls. When people spew insults, pick fights, or take contrarian positions just for the sake of being contrary, ignore them. Insulting online miscreants or engaging them in arguments accomplishes nothing, it just further pollutes the pages with pointless back-and-forth.
9. Thou shall resize thy images. Remember, not everybody has screamingly fast broadband connections like you, and not everybody has the patience to wait for that huge picture of your pet iguana to download. Plus, margin-breaking pictures are just plain annoying.
10. Thou shall respect the old adage: What happens on the wiki stays on the wiki. It's wonderful how blogs and wikis can provide you with new knowledge, insight, and perspective, and you should certainly carry what you learn with you when you leave your computer. But all the bickering, arguing, correcting, and other antics it took to get there? Leave those behind -- no need to bring your wiki-capades home with you.