Tip of the Week #18: 5 Rules of Net Etiquette

2 May

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PBwiki’s really simple, and that’s great, but sometimes, it lets us forget that we’re not only PBwiki users interacting in a peanutty-licious microcosm; instead, we’re webmasters and content creators in our own right, in a vast world full of others who may or may not be PBwiki users. The Internet, with us all involved, is a giant community, and in any community, there are certain expected behaviors that allow us to interact in a meaningful manner with our neighbors.

These behaviors form a few guidelines for basic etiquette in website design and content that apply to everything from Joe’s Vacation Journal Wiki to Giganto Corporate Wiki. I’ll just list them first before discussing them in more detail:

  1. DO NOT link to other’s files and images without permission
  2. Using content or designs without permission is BAD
  3. DO link to other webpages to give credit
  4. Big images are BAD
  5. Really long pages for no reason are BAD

DO NOT link to other’s files and images without permission

Somebody in the PBwiki forums asked me the other day how to link to a file on someone else’s webpage using the Point-and-Click Editor. I searched around for a moment, and then I realized that there was no simple way to do it (you can still do it by inserting an image tag directly into the source code). But thinking about it some, it may very well be for the best.

See, regardless of whether the person running the site actually owns the content of the image (for example, fan sites tend to use a lot of images of copyrighted TV shows, games, art, etc.), you’re still taking bandwidth away from them in a way that isn’t helping their site. For example, let’s say your wiki gets visited 1000 times a day, and you have an image up on your wiki that is hosted elsewhere. That image is getting downloaded 1000 times a day, and your users will never visit the original site.

This practice is called many things, including “hot-linking” and “leeching.” It can cause problems for the original site owner: 1) if they have a total bandwidth limit, your usage may cause them to go over that limit faster 2) you may slow down their site. If they get mad at you, they may also retaliate without your knowledge, swapping the image with something less palatable. As a fellow netizen, you should download the image to your hard-drive and upload it to your wiki.

More pragmatically, you don’t want to explain to your visitors why this very nice picture of Beyonce in performance…

Beyonce

…got replaced with an image of a clown…

clown

(Original images from the Wikimedia Commons)

That’s all assuming that the image (or other content) is in the public domain. Even if you put the material on your own wiki, it’s still bad manners to steal content or designs…

Using content or designs without permission is BAD

Just because somebody has a really nice poem, image, design, etc. on his/her site does not mean that you can have it too. In many cases, people spend a lot of time, even money, to do all of these things. In these cases, it’s their property, just like you can’t go steal an awesome flamingo from somebody’s front yard because it suits your fancy.

Lawn flamingo
(Source: Wikimedia Commons)

If you feel like something would really be essential to your site, ask for permission from the owner of the original site. Many times, they’ll be very obliging. If not, I guarantee you’ll get over it. I also suggest using public domain sources, such as the Wikimedia Commons (as you can see above).

Otherwise, you can just link to the page in question, getting the information to your user and undoubtedly making the original site’s owner happy…

DO link to other webpages to give credit

This is pretty self explanatory, although you should also note that it’s nice to do this even if people have given you permission to use their material already.

So anyway, those are all the rules about content and intellectual property. Now for when you have plenty of content…how to best be courteous to your visitors?

Giant images are a no-no

In the new editor, people can resize their images, and new users may think that if an image LOOKS smaller, it’ll load faster. However, it doesn’t work that way. If you load your giant 2 megabyte photo from your digital camera to your wiki and insert it into a page, that whole image has to load every time somebody goes to that page.

You might be on a broadband line, but there are still a couple folks still on 56k modems (the ones that go through your phone lines). You might get 300 kilobytes a second and that image might take you 6 seconds to load. They get 3 kilobytes a second and that image is going to take them 10 minutes to load.

For loading online, you’ll often want to prep your images for efficiency. You can visit my tip series on images for more information: Tip #9 and Tip #10

Long pages are BAD

Sometimes, I see people paste nearly the entire content of their wikis to their FrontPage and I cringe. The internet does not use a linear model. People like to click around and explore things, as if it was a three dimensional world. Therefore, design your site that way.

In terms of etiquette, it’s just nice to give some navigational control. If your information has a few sections, try breaking it up into a few different pages. At the very least, put a Table of Contents at the top of your wiki that lets you click through to the various parts of the page. Use the SideBar to make links to other pages in your wiki. You’ll make your visitors happier. Then you’ll be happier too!

Conclusion

Yeah yeah, this is a little late. I decided not to try to rush them to “catch up”, as there’s also a lot of other PBwiki news on the blog that I don’t want to push down too fast. I’ll just take my time with the tips and let you guys explore your wiki world.

As always, you can email me (dochuyen84@gmail.com) or leave comments below. See you soon!

See the rest of my tips here.

Jason Nguyen

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