Some simple forum netiquette: 1 – Joining a forum

When you’re new on a forum, either you’re an idiot or you want to be at least a bit careful about not getting up other people’s noses. Here are some clues about how to be accepted rather than despised.

Follow the rules

Many forums or bulletin boards have rules or guidelines that they ask the people using them to follow.

It’s important to remember that although a forum may be open to public view and even open to anyone to join in, it’s public as in “public house”, not as in “public right of way”. So the forum owners are perfectly within their rights to impose whatever regime they like. The people who like what the owners are doing, stick around. Those who don’t, generally move on quickly (and if they don’t, they may be chucked off – very often to the relief of the community that’s developed around that particular forum).

The golden rule is: if you don’t like it, you’re free to go somewhere else. Don’t waste your time complaining – they’re not going to change their rules just to suit a newbie. All you’ll do is annoy that particular community and possibly get a reputation for being a troublemaker.

When in Rome…

With all the thousands upon thousands of forums available on the Internet, it’s no surprise that from time to time there are people who move around between them – either because they’re pursuing several different interests at once or because they’re moving on from one to another. It’s only natural.

But if you’re one of these people, please bear in mind that each forum has its own way of doing things. In some cases, it’s determined by the software that powers the forum, whether it’s phpBB, Invision or another application altogether. In others, it’s because the community like it in that particular way. And in yet others, it’s because the forum owner has decided that’s how things must be – for ethical, political, aesthetic or even financial reasons.

Whatever the reason, forums differ. And ultimately the person who pays to maintain them has the right to decide how they’re run.

So if you don’t like the way things work on Forum ABC, please don’t use “Why can’t we do this here? They can on Forum XYZ” as an argument; it won’t cut any ice – unless you pay a subscription, in which case you can always threaten to take your custom elsewhere.

Learn to read

If you’re new to using a forum, then you may find it all a bit confusing at first. That’s understandable; everyone has to start somewhere, and you’ll want to learn how things work – at least well enough so that you can join in. There’s a right way and a wrong way to go about finding out how to do things.

The right way

Read the forum’s FAQ and familiarise yourself with them – they should have most of the information you need, if not all of it. Most bulletin boards come ready-equipped with an FAQ from the software developers; in addition, many Site Administrators provide their own. You may find that there are other helpful resources on your chosen forum too, such as fault report facilities, feedback/contact form, helpful hints and tips. Make use of them.

The wrong way

The wrong way is to bombard the Site Admins or Moderators with questions that are already answered in the forum’s FAQ or other documentation. Forum administrators are usually busy people who are often giving their time for nothing, and the FAQ are there to save them from having to reply to the same question over and over again (hence the name). There are few things more annoying to them than someone sending them a private message or email asking a question that’s answered in the FAQ.

You should only ask the Site Admins or Mods for help if you have genuinely done everything you can to try to solve your problem using the resources already available on the forum (FAQ, fault reports, site status bulletins). Even then, you should consider whether any apparent fault in the working of the board is a temporary blip. It may be worth waiting five or ten minutes before trying again; the fault may have been fixed in the meantime.

This tip holds good whether you’re writing an email or posting on a forum or Usenet board.

Personal service?

The idea of a forum is for a community of people to be able to exchange information or ideas among themselves. That being so, it’s remarkable how many people join up and immediately start sending private messages requesting personal attention for their problems. Yet often the problems they’re posting about are trivial, have already been answered or aren’t likely to be embarrassing for anyone involved.

If you’ve got a question or problem that other people might also have in the future, don’t be shy – post publicly, unless it’s a problem of a personal nature that would cause you or others genuine distress if it became public. That way, everyone can benefit from the shared knowledge and experience.


The 1980s BBC sitcom Ever Decreasing Circles featured a couple called Howard (played by Stanley Lebor) and Hilda (Geraldine Newman) who always wore identical or near-identical clothes and did everything together – a pair of amiable twits. This bit’s dedicated to them.

Ever been on a forum where a couple are sharing a username? Confusing, isn’t it?

You see a posting that looks interesting and respond to it, then think nothing more about it for the time being. Then a couple of weeks later you’re involved in a discussion with the same user (apparently) and make a reference to the previous postings – only for them to blankly deny all knowledge of the previous discussion. Only then does it emerge that two people are using the same identity to post, often at different times and each of them with no idea what the other’s posted. Disconcerting for other users, to say the least; and it can lead to all sorts of totally avoidable arguments.

It’s polite to other forum users to maintain your own username, no matter how loving your relationship with your other half. After all – c’mon, have you really merged so completely that you can’t maintain a distinct personality of your own?


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