Communications on the Internet goes full circle

It's time to learn (or relearn) how to snip those messages

Back in the dark ages of the Internet, some thirty years ago or more, there was certain etiquette to communications on the net. I’m not talking about shorthand acronyms, security, privacy, or any of the multitude of items that eventually fell under the catch-all term netiquette, but just the way that people sent messages to mailing lists, Usenet forums, or early net BBS systems.

One of the cardinal rules boiled down to this: snip your messages. That meant that if you were quoting other people you cut the quoted message to just the part to which you were responding.  And doing things like quoting an entire message to respond with a one word comment or smiley face was the height of rudeness.  People who repeated quoted streams of messages were often banned from mailing lists or ignored in public forums.  It simply just wasn’t good behavior and had a negative impact on everyone trying to wade through the messages.

But as faster Internet speeds became available, and the number of people using the net increased exponentially, the basics of good posting habits began to fall by the wayside.  People who couldn’t be bothered to snip messages claimed it was no longer necessary because the speed at which text downloaded, even on a 56K modem, meant that we no longer needed to conserve characters.

Old hands tried to preserve the previous style of messaging, pointing out that conversations with carefully snipped messages were much easier to read and, but the rapid influx of the hoi polloi who simply didn’t care about what the old folks wanted, meant that as Internet forums developed, the habit of carefully snipping messages became a lost art and the term “hourglassing” became common place. 

That’s a reference to what long, mutli-quote messages tend to look like with the auto-indentation used by forum and email software.  Us old folks who attempted to keep the tradition alive were derided and shouted into silence (in very long, poorly multi-quoted, public messages) because we didn’t understand the new way to use the Net.

But now the shoe is on the other foot. A number of large, very active web forums I participate in have begun posting new rules and sending messages to their users about their excessive quoting and failure to snip the text in their messages.  It seems that these websites are beginning to see significant mobile traffic, and that after having to wade through message threads filled with long, meaningless quotes and un-snipped commentary they have found that mobile users complain that their sites are unusable.

So in order to make their sites more mobile friendly, these website operators are asking, and in some cases modifying their User Rules in an effort to force their users to moderate their quoting and begin snipping their posts to preserve the value of the discussion threads. 

It should be interesting to see how successful these sites, and the many that are sure to follow, are, in modifying the posting habits of their users.