The Internet is an odd thing. On the one hand, it can bring us in contact with people all over the planet instantaneously. Improved communications technologies seem to have the effect of shrinking the world and making us part of one large community. On the other hand, the perceived anonymity on the Web often lets people behave in a shameful manner they never would do if they were standing face to face with you. We've all seen it—the flame wars and the random abusive comments and profanity that forums and blogs often generate. How long does this have to go on, how common does it have to become, before people accept this as the standard way to interact all the time, online and face to face? (I know—many of you are probably thinking this is already the case!)
And it's not just the forums and social networking sites I'm talking about. The vast amount of information on the Internet has lead to other sorts of offenses against better judgment. For instance, we recently found out that one of our articles from WindowsITPro.com had been copied and posted to another Web site. Our author let us know of the problem because one of his readers let him know. We investigated and found that the other Web site was in clear violation of our copyright—not only had they stolen the article, but they'd removed the rightful author's name and put one of their own instead. This was a Web site for a computer consulting company.
When we informed the offenders of the violation and required them to remove our material from their site, they complied. But the reply from the false author said basically, "Sorry, but we didn't know where the article came from." Maybe not, but surely he had to know he hadn't written it.
We discovered this problem by chance, you might say—one of our readers happened to spot the article after he'd read it here first. A big thank you goes out to that reader for being so alert and protecting our author. But I think this raises an interesting point about anonymity on the Web: I suspect the owners of the offending Web site felt it was OK to use unauthorized material because they thought no one would find out, that the duplicate articles would never be linked in that vast sea of pages we call the Internet. Perhaps they were unfamiliar with the idea of "six degrees of separation"—a notion that's even easier to agree with on the Web.
In the spirit of building a better online community, I wanted to share this clever video, "How To Behave On An Internet Forum," which you can see below. You'll get some good chuckles along with some good strategies to help maintain your sanity online, such as "Don't Feed the Trolls." The moral, of course, is just to be excellent to each other—online and all the time. I found this video, by the way, on Exchange Server MVP Michael B. Smith's blog, which is a great source for information about all things Exchange.
At Windows IT Pro, one of our goals is to build online community with you, our readers. We invite your feedback and comments on our articles and your participation in our forums. We read everything you send us, even if we can't respond to everything. We want to get to know you and your needs so that we can better supply the content that will help you solve your IT challenges.
So now you have the chance to talk back. What do you think about the issue of copyright infringement and content on the Web? Have you ever found the same content appearing on different Web sites and not known which was the real source? Do you have strategies for dealing with the behavioral shortcomings of some online posters? Leave a comment below if you'd like to let us know what you think.