Internet old-timers are not necessarily more polite than newcomers. They do, however, tend to know the rules, sometimes as a result of having been slapped down more than once by even-older-timers. Beginners in online communication often don’t even realise there are any rules at all.

Hardcore open source geeks, for example, that is people who collaborate globally to write software, software you are using right now, but you don’t realise you are using because it just works, do have flame wars—indeed, they invented the term—but they tend to start them for good reasons. The sort of people who scrawl on Comment Is Free are abusive because they can be. Toddlers want to throw their tantrums in front of the largest audience available.

For those who remember when access cost dear (except perhaps Bill Gates), one of the gravest online crimes is wasting bandwidth. For those who climb corporate hierarchies (both public and private), one of the greatest virtues is being seen to be doing things. Inevitably, clueless white-collar managers love sending email messages burdened with flabby Microsoft attachments to hundreds of users. Geeks hate them. They hate them not just because they are an ugly way to use a beautiful thing (the Net), but because they do not work.

In the eyes of the true geek, doing things that you know are not going to work and from which you will learn nothing is an even greater crime than being generally wasteful or simply being a jerk. Many people behave badly when they are behind the wheel of a car; almost as many of us change for the worse when we discuss things via bulletin boards, or blogs, or email. Ironically, some of the best geeks are in fact jerks in real life, but they make useful stuff online. To succeed in open source, being conspicuously active is not enough, you must get things done. In the corporate world, by contrast, those who talk about “delivery” have rarely delivered anything of any value at all in their lives, those who call themselves “executives” rarely execute.

This is a prelude to my suggesting that you follow the links over at Never Trust a Hippy on the subject of clever collaborative technologies and the stupid things people do with them. There’s some sensible, concise advice at the foot of the main article he links to, but before that, as if by way of warning, there’s a link to an unpretty, counter-productive Microsoft Powerpoint slideshow.