RFC 1855 is a great base netiquette policy for your agency
- By Walter R. Houser
- Mar 18, 1996
Ever get criticized or ""flamed'' for sending an e-mail message that violated
some unknown rule? Ever reply to an e-mail message and discover that a couple thousand
people mistakenly received your personal chatter?
Do you have something interesting to announce to the Internet but don't know how to do
it without getting flamed? Do you wonder for how long your messages can be read after
they've been sent? And who can read them?
Half the people on the Internet became Net users within the past year. These newbies
typically are unschooled in computer and communications technology. Although they don't
need to understand how the Internet works in order to benefit from it, beginners can be
slow to realize the implications of their actions. They need guidance or they'll become
roadkill on the Information Superhighway.
To help the newbies get gracefully on and off the Internet, the Internet Engineering
Task Force recently completed the official Netiquette Guidelines. Otherwise known as
Request for Comments (RFC) 1855, this is your all-purpose reference to good manners in
using Internet e-mail, mail lists, newsgroups and information services.
It's available free from ftp://ds.internic.net/rfc/rfc1855.txt
or in hypertext format at http://www.va.gov/publ/standard/internet/rfc18551.htm.
If you're new to the Internet, you'd be wise to read it promptly and keep a copy
handy for those sticky etiquette questions that you don't want to learn (or teach) the
Most agencies and organizations have their own guidelines and procedures. RFC 1855 is
not intended to replace any of these. Rather, it will help organizations develop or
augment their own guidelines by providing a baseline set of procedures that can supplement
more specific organizational policy.
Agencies that don't already have an Internet directive can use RFC 1855 as a resource
for developing a new policy. Those agencies with Internet policies would be well advised
to include RFC 1855 in their policies. For example, RFC 1855 could be incorporated by
reference with exceptions and differences noted by the agency.
Of course, there are many topics that RFC 1855 doesn't cover that an agency will need
to address. Security, firewalls, connections to the Internet, procedures for Web
publishing, management of anonymous FTP services and use and support of newsgroups are
just some of the subjects that the RFC 1855 only hints at. Simply copying RFC 1855 and
putting your official seal on top won't resolve these and other tough issues facing
agencies on the Internet.
Also, this guide is not an introduction to the Internet; there are many good sources
for that kind of information cited in the bibliography to RFC 1855. Although the IETF
avoided using a lot of technical jargon in writing this guide, there may be concepts and
terms that will be difficult for some to understand. When in doubt, read one of the
bibliography sources or ask your system administrator.
The RFC has three major categories of advice:
For each of these categories, the document covers the use of the relevant Internet
technologies by end users and system administrators. Users get the benefit of fairly
detailed discussions of acceptable and unacceptable behavior.
System administrators and moderators are given appropriately terse suggestions that
support the recommendations for users. It's hoped that a word to the wise administrator is
This guide will help the newcomer understand the Internet culture and enter it
smoothly. It will also provide experienced Internauts with a valuable tool for answering
the innumerable questions generated by the millions of new faces streaming into the
Old-timers and newbies alike owe their gratitude to the guide's author, Sally Hambridge
of Intel Corp. Sally was assisted by the many volunteers (including yours truly) who
participated in the Responsible Use of the Network Working Group that she so ably chaired.
Walter R. Houser is responsible for information resources management and policy at a
major federal agency.