10 Internet Etiquette Tips From the 1990s

Comstock/iStock via Getty Images
Comstock/iStock via Getty Images

In the mid-1990s, the World Wide Web offered its users a new way to communicate. It also paved the way for a whole new era of social faux pas. Internet etiquette, or "netiquette" as it came to be known, dictated that decent manners still had a place in the digital sphere. While many of the early web tips published in books, articles, and memos still apply today, some are best left in the age of dial-up.

1. Keep email signatures short.

Needlessly long email signatures were even more obnoxious in 1995 than they are today. That's because in the early days of the internet, every line of text took up precious processing time that was equivalent to money out of the pocket of the person reading it. "Remember that many people pay for connectivity by the minute, and the longer your message is, the more they pay," Sally Hambridge of Intel Corporation wrote in Request for Comments (RFC): 1855, a netiquette memo published in 1995. For web users compelled to include a signature, she suggested shaving their information down to "no longer than four lines."

2. Don't expect immediate responses.

The internet made it possible to have a long-distance written correspondence with someone in practically real time. But even though emails could be sent in an instant, that didn't stop some people from taking their sweet time to respond. For a story published in the San Francisco Chronicle in 1996, one web user told reporter Ramon G. McLeod, "I had my own mother flame me for not answering her quickly enough ... People really expect an answer—and fast."

For someone used to talking on the phone or in person, the online waiting game could be infuriating. But most netiquette guides stated that a delayed response was no reason to be offended, especially if the two parties were living in different time zones.

3. Turn off the caps lock.

Like using their indoor voices in the real world, polite citizens of the web know to use mixed case in typed communication. But not everyone was quick to catch on to this practice 20 years ago. (According to The New York Times, former president Bill Clinton became an early offender when he sent an email written in all caps to the prime minister of Sweden in 1994.) In his Chronicle article on netiquette, McLeod wrote that live chatting with caps lock on was like "yelling in a restaurant."

4. Lighten the mood with emoticons.

Looking for a way to express playfulness or sarcasm to a web user halfway across the world? Netiquette guides from 1995 recommended using a novel invention called the "emoticon." In The Net: User Guidelines and Netiquette, author Arlene H. Rinaldi wrote, "Without face to face communications your joke may be viewed as criticism. When being humorous, use emoticons to express humor." But Hambridge warned readers to use the sideways smiley face with caution, fearing it might become the "no offense" of the internet age. "Don't assume that the inclusion of a smiley will make the recipient happy with what you say or wipe out an otherwise insulting comment," she wrote.

5. Tag spoilers.

On top of spam and viruses, the internet introduced a whole new type of threat to its users: spoilers. Today's bloggers know to preface spoilers with warnings (for the most part), but before this became common protocol, logging onto a film or TV message board was a risk. Netiquette experts like Chuq Von Rospach helped write spoiler tags into the internet rule book. In his online guide A Primer on How to Work With the Usenet Community, he wrote, "When you post something (like a movie review that discusses a detail of the plot) which might spoil a surprise for other people, please mark your message with a warning so that they can skip the message ... make sure the word 'spoiler' is part of the 'Subject:' line."

6. Don't ask strangers how the internet works.

Using the web in the 1990s meant possibly attracting unwanted attention from newbies begging you to lend your tech expertise. Hambridge did her best to discourage this: "In general, most people who use the internet don't have time to answer general questions about the internet and its workings." Instead of relying on strangers to teach them about the internet, she told readers to refer to one of the many books and manuals written just for that purpose. If web users neglected this important piece of netiquette, they risked getting called out on it. Hambridge wrote, "Asking a Newsgroup where answers are readily available elsewhere generates grumpy 'RTFM' (read the fine manual—although a more vulgar meaning of the word beginning with 'f' is usually implied) messages."

7. Keep flirting to a minimum.

Places to find dates online appeared shortly after the web went public, but that didn't stop people from flirting on unrelated message boards and email chains. Stacy Horn, founder of the web forum Echo, explained to The New York Times in 1995 how some users abused the service's high-priority "yo" tag for this purpose:

"There's a whole etiquette of when to yo, when not to yo. A man new to Echo gets on and yos all the women. That's considered impolite. A frequent thing that men do is, 'Yo, Horn, what are you wearing?' or 'Yo, Horn, do you come here often?' ... I don't know why they think stupid, banal lines are more effective on line than off."

On top of bothering the recipient, inappropriate messages could also come back to haunt the sender if they ever got out. The Chronicle shared this tip: "If you aren't sure about the security of e-mail on either end of such tender correspondence, send a Shakespearean sonnet instead of something more steamy."

8. Don't log in during rush hour.

In 1995, the World Wide Web consisted of around 16 million users—measly by today's standards but enough to clog networks during peak times. To make virtual rush hour more bearable, Hambridge suggested "spreading out the system load on popular sites" by taking a break when everyone seemed to be online at once. By waiting to log on during off hours, web users could enjoy exhilarating download speeds of 56 kilobits per second.

9. Let grammar mistakes slide.

For web browsers who shuddered at the sight of a misplaced comma or the wrong use of "your," Chuq Von Rospach had some sage advice: Get over it. He wrote in his netiquette manual:

"Every few months a plague descends on Usenet called the spelling flame. It starts out when someone posts an article correcting the spelling or grammar in some article. The immediate result seems to be for everyone on the net to turn into a sixth grade English teacher and pick apart each other's postings for a few weeks. This is not productive and tends to cause people who used to be friends to get angry with each other."

10. Avoid flamewars.

The sacred tradition of arguing with a stranger through a computer screen can be traced back to the internet's beginnings. The San Francisco Chronicle spoke with one early web user whose advice for avoiding "flames" boiled down to "don't feed the trolls":

"A couple months back, Gregori recalls, an obnoxious chatter who used the nickname 'Dummy' was barging into chat groups. He was 'just ragging on everyone, calling everyone stupid and just being generally a pain,' Gregori says. 'He was just ignored, which is the worst thing you can do to a flamer like that.'"

Feel free to apply that strategy to your modern web scuffles.

11 Amazing Facts About Alligators

Cindy Larson/iStock via Getty Images
Cindy Larson/iStock via Getty Images

Alligators are pretty terrifying as they are, but scientists are making discoveries about the reptilian ambush predators that only add to that reputation.

1. Alligators have an extremely powerful bite.

You really, really don’t want to be bitten by an alligator. A 2004 study of wild and captive alligators found that large individuals bite down with 13,172 Newtons—or 2960 pounds—of force, one of the most powerful bites ever recorded for a living animal [PDF].

2. Alligators can consume almost a quarter of their body weight in one meal.

Alligators don’t have a problem with their eyes being bigger than their stomachs. Thanks to a special blood vessel—the second aorta—they’re able to shunt blood away from their lungs and towards their stomachs, stimulating the production of strong stomach acids to break down their meals faster. Juvenile alligators are capable of eating about 23 percent of their body weight in a sitting, which is equivalent to a 180-pound person eating more than 41 pounds of steak au poivre at a meal.

3. Alligators eat their young.

One of the biggest threats to an American alligator? Other alligators. When alligators are born they’re small enough to be light snacks for their older neighbors, and a 2011 study estimated that, in one Florida lake, bigger alligators ate 6 to 7 percent of the juvenile population every year.

4. An alligator's stomach can dissolve bones.

Alligator resting on a log in a swamp
cbeverly/iStock via Getty Images

An alligator stomach is a hostile environment. Their stomach acids have a pH of less than 2—in the range of lemon juice and vinegar—and most soft-bodied prey is totally digested in two to three days. If you wound up in a gator stomach, however, you'd stick around a bit longer. Bone and other hard parts can take 13 to 100 days to disappear completely.

5. Alligators have antibiotic blood.

Alligators are tough—and not just because of the bony armor in their skins. Serum in American alligator blood is incredibly effective at combating bacteria and viruses, meaning that even alligators that lose limbs in mucky swamps often avoid infection.

6. Prehistoric ancestors of today's alligators lived 70 million years ago.

Alligator forerunners and relatives have been around for a very long time. The largest was Deinosuchus, a 40-foot alligatoroid that lurked in coastal habitats all over North America around 70 million years ago. Damaged bones suggest that unwary dinosaurs were a regular part of the “terrible crocodile's” diet. Fortunately, modern American alligators don’t come anywhere close to measuring up.

7. Alligator pairs often stick together.

A decade-long genetic study of Louisiana alligators found that some females paired with the same males multiple times, with one in particular choosing the same mate in 1997, 2002, and 2005. Even some females that mated with multiple partners still showed long-term fidelity to particular males.

8. Alligators love fruit.

Baby alligator riding on an adult's back
BlueBarronPhoto/iStock via Getty Images

Alligators aren’t strict carnivores. They also eat fruit when they get the chance, and might be important seed-dispersers. That might not sound so scary at first, but just watch this video of an alligator mashing a watermelon.

9. Despite their short legs, alligators can climb trees.

While on the lookout for alligators, you should remember to occasionally look up. American alligators, as well as several other species of crocodilian, are surprisingly accomplished climbers [PDF]. As long as there’s enough of an incline for them to haul themselves up, gators can climb trees to get to a better basking spot, or get the drop on you, as the case may be.

10. Alligators use tools to lure their prey.

Alligators might be reptilian innovators. Scientists have observed Indian and American species of alligator luring waterbirds by placing sticks and twigs across their snouts while they remain submerged. When the birds go to pick up the twigs for nesting material, the gators chomp. 

11. Alligators have no vocal cords, but they still make sounds.

Alligators are among the most vocal reptiles, despite not having vocal cords. By sucking in and then expelling air from their lungs, they can make different sounds to defend their territory, call to mates or their young, or fight off competitors—such as a guttural hiss or a frankly terrifying bellow.

13 Salty Facts About Mr. Peanut

Mr. Peanut attends the 90th annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City.
Mr. Peanut attends the 90th annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City.
Noam Galai/Getty Images

On January 22, 2020, in a morbid bit of pre-Super Bowl marketing, Planters took to the internet to announce that Mr. Peanut—the dapper little legume who has been peddling Planters peanuts for more than a century—has died at the ripe old age of 104. In order to pay tribute to the literal face of America's peanut industry, we’ve assembled some facts and history about this shell of a man.

1. Mr. Peanut was created by a 14-year-old.

Mr. Peanut wasn’t hatched from a cynical ad firm brainstorming session. His adorable visage was the product of a 14-year-old from Suffolk, Virginia named Antonio Gentile. Gentile entered a contest held by the Planters Chocolate and Nut Company in 1916 to crown a new peanut mascot. The aspiring Don Draper sketched out a doodle of a “Mr. P. Nut” strutting with a cane. After getting freshened up by a graphic designer—including donning his trademark spats and monocle—Gentile’s design was picked up and he was awarded $5.

(Postscript: The Gentile family became friendly with the Obici family, owners of the Planters empire, and Gentile’s nephews once suggested that the Obicis helped put him through medical school; he became a surgeon.)

2. Mr. Peanut has a full name.

According to Planters, Mr. Peanut is something of an informal moniker. The full name given to him by Gentile was Bartholomew Richard Fitzgerald-Smythe.

3. Mr. Peanut once weighed more than 300 pounds.

Although peanuts can be a highly sensible snack, full of healthy fats and protein, they can also be a source of too many calories. Case in point: the 300-pound cast iron Mr. Peanut, a display item made in the 1920s and 1930s. Planters would use the heavyset mascot on top of a fence post at their Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania factory.

4. Mr. Peanut survived the Great Depression.

During the economic downturn of the 1930s, things like “snacks” and “nutrition” suddenly became optional rather than expected. Though many food products struggled to cope with slimmed-down wallets, Planters plastered Mr. Peanut on bags of peanuts that sold for just five cents each. Declaring it a “nickel lunch,” the company was able to use the affordability of peanuts as a selling point.

5. Mr. Peanut went to war.


Getty Images

Specifically, World War II. When the U.S. entered the conflict, Mr. Peanut volunteered for service as a character featured on stamps and propaganda posters.

6. Mr. Peanut is a monocle enthusiast.

Food mascots rarely take sides on hot-button issues, but Mr. Peanut made an exception in 2014 when a fashion movement threatened the return of the monocle. After getting wind of men wearing the single-lens reading accessory, Mr. P issued a press release stating that he took notice of the “hipsters” following in his “stylish footsteps” and implied few could pull it off. The monocle has yet to fully re-emerge.

7. Mr. Peanut's Nutmobile predates the Wienermobile.


Planters

Though the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile usually takes most of the engine-driven PR credit, Planters actually introduced the NUTMobile, a shell-shaped portable advertising car, in 1935—a year prior to the Wienermobile’s introduction. A Planters salesman designed and drove the car, adding a decorative Mr. Peanut passenger behind him. (Mr. Peanut did not operate the vehicle because Mr. Peanut is not real.)

8. Mr. Peanut is in the Smithsonian.

How influential has Mr. Peanut been to the food industry? In 2013, the Smithsonian admitted his cast-iron incarnation into its National Museum of American History. The statue was exhibited as part of a series on marketing for the institution’s American Enterprise series; Antonio Gentile’s family also donated his original sketches for posterity.

9. Fans didn't want Mr. Peanut to change.


Planters

For the company's 100th anniversary in 2006, Planters held an online vote to see whether peanut aficionados wanted to see Mr. Peanut experiment with a sartorial change: Fans could vote for adding cufflinks, a bow tie, or a pocket watch. In the end, the ballot determined they wanted to keep him just the way he is.

10. Mr. Peanut has a fan club.

Mr. Peanut has appeared in so many different licensed products in an effort to expand his popularity—clocks, peanut butter grinders, and coloring books among them—that a collector was having trouble keeping track of them all. In 1978, Judith Walthall founded Peanut Pals, a Mr. Peanut appreciation club that circulates a newsletter and holds conventions. You can join for $20—practically peanuts.

11. Mr. Peanut has remained mostly silent.


mazmedia via YouTube

Mr. Peanut was already a few decades old when television came into prominence, which afforded him an opportunity to jump off packaging and magazine pages. Despite the new medium, Planters decided they liked him best when he didn’t talk—at all. The mascot was silent all the way up until 2010, when Robert Downey Jr. was commissioned to deliver his first lines. Bill Hader took over voicing duties from Downey in 2013.

12. Mr. Peanut found a buddy.

When Planters unveiled an updated Mr. Peanut for contemporary audiences in 2010, he was sporting a grey flannel suit as well as a new sidekick—Benson, a shorter, single-peanut tagalong. A Planters spokesman clarified to The New York Times that the two are “just friends” and live in separate residences.

13. In the 1970s, Mr. Peanut ran for Mayor of Vancouver.

Amid a burgeoning alternative art scene in 1970s Vancouver, a performance artist named Vincent Trasov decided it would be interesting to run for mayor of the city while in the guise of Mr. Peanut. Hailing from the “Peanut Party” and meant to be a commentary of the Nixon-era absurdities of politics, he was endorsed by novelist William S. Burroughs and received 2685 ballots—3.4 percent of the vote.

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