In a world where your kids can download The Starr Report for social studies class, the notion of Internet etiquette may seem quaint. But even in cyberspace, manners mean a lot. There are established conventions for communicating in chat rooms, on bulletin boards, and via e-mail, and following them can keep you from getting flamed to a crisp. Stick to these 10 key rules of the road and you won’t have to wear an asbestos suit.

1. AVOID ACRONYMS. Net acronyms like PMJI (pardon my jumping in) used to be a way of saying ”I’m too cool for words.” Now they say ”I’m too geeky for words.” IMHO.*

2. AVOID EMOTICONS. Cutesy little symbols like :-) (”I’m kidding”) used to indicate Net experience. Nowadays the only people who use emoticons are the ones who dot their i’s with tiny hearts. Besides, how many people know that :-Q means ”a cigarette is dangling from my mouth as I type this”?

3. DON’T TYPE IN UPPERCASE. It looks like you’re screaming online. It will make people start screaming at you.

4. SPELING KOUNTS, STOOPID. The Internet has grown up; so should you. If you don’t want people to think you’re still in high school (even if you are), proofread your messages and use proper capitalization.

5. LURK FIRST, POST LATER. Before piping up in Usenet newsgroups or any bulletin-board system, hang back (”lurking” in cyberspeak) and read other messages to make sure you’re in the right area. Also look for the group’s FAQ (frequently asked questions) file. A FAQ will explain that shouting ”HOWARD STERN ROOOOLES!” in the newsgroup is not funny. (You’ll get a better reception at

6. BEWARE THE FORWARD FEATURE. Remember that any e-mail you send can be forwarded to anyone else. So assume your every electronic missive will be seen by your significant other — or your boss. It can happen; take it from me.

7. CROSS POSTING IS VERBOTEN. If you can’t decide which newsgroup you really want to send that message to, your recipients will decide by tossing it in the delete bin. This goes for CC’ing everyone and their dogs when sending e-mail. It looks like you’re either desperate for attention or trying to cover your ass.

8. WHEN REPLYING, KEEP THE ORIGINAL SUBJECT HEADING. It makes it easier to follow a bulletin-board discussion — even if you think that your headings are wittier.

9. DON’T INCLUDE SOMEONE’S ENTIRE MESSAGE WHEN REPLYING. It wastes bandwidth and it’s just more stuff people have to scroll through. Besides, if the sender can’t remember the original message, it couldn’t have been that important in the first place.

10. Finally, take a cue from the President’s predicament. If you mess up on rules 1 through 9, APOLOGIZE IMMEDIATELY. Don’t wait until the newsgroup tries to impeach you.

*in my humble opinion.