How to participate in an online discussion group
The Dental Economics year-long series,"The Internet`s Impact on Dentistry," is proudly sponsored by smileworks.com.
Bill Kimball, DDS
Many of you may remember Earl Nightingale`s story about the "acres of diamonds." A farmer in South Africa sold his field so he could go off to search for diamonds. In the end, that very field became one of the richest diamond mines in the world!
The more I use the Internet, the more I realize that most of the answers dentists seek are available - for free- on Internet discussion groups. Last month, I discussed the benefits and advantages of interacting with other dentists using online discussion groups. This month, I will focus on the "how-to" of these e-mail groups, give you some exciting groups to learn from and contribute to, and outline some common discussion group "Netiquette."
E-mail (electronic mail) is one of the oldest and most popular services on the Internet. For technology novices, every Internet e-mail address has three parts - a user name (such as joeb or bob7681), an "at" sign (@), and the user`s mail server, which is called the "domain name" (such as aol.com, pennwell.com, pacbell.net, etc.). Very simply, when you send an e-mail, it passes through cyberspace and eventually lands (usually within a matter of seconds!) in the recipient`s mail server. It holds the e-mail until the recipient dials in (through a modem) and picks up the messages. This is similar to using a post office box rather than home delivery for your "snail mail" (otherwise known as the U.S. Postal Service).
When you join an online discussion group, your address is added to that group`s e-mail list. Members "post" messages that are then sent to the entire group. Anyone in the group can reply to the group list, or just to the individual. This is the basis of a discussion group or message board. Most responses to the questions we post come back within hours or days, depending on the group and the urgency of the message.
When you receive an e-mail message, you can delete it, reply to it, forward it to someone else, or file it. You can also have your computer sort your mail for you. This is especially useful when you belong to a discussion group or two (or eight), each sending dozens of e-mails daily.
Here are some tips to help you organize your e-mail and prevent the unwieldy problem of hundreds of messages flooding one inbox. Microsoft Outlook has the "Rules Wizard" feature (Tools > Rules Wizard) which forwards all discussion group e-mail directly into folders you create. If your mail program is Outlook Express, use Tools > Inbox Assistant; for Netscape, use Edit > Message Filters. Set up these filters to tell your mail program to automatically file any messages from the GenR8Tnext mailing list, for example, in a ONextersO folder. You can open that folder whenever you want to review new messages to the group, and selectively view only those topics of interest to you.
Greg Anderson directs a popular closed discussion group at www.crowncouncil.com (a group of about 1,000 dentists who have attended Walter Hailey?s and Steve Anderson?s Dental Boot Kamp). Greg offered 10 guidelines for participation in his network. These guidelines were designed for a closed group, but are encouraged in any Internet forum:
- Please be respectful of download times required by list members whose Internet access speed may be slower than your own. In other words, don?t send big files or photos to the group.
- Carefully identify the subject of your posting to better communicate your message and to ease future searches of previous postings. Never post a message without a subject.
- Consider whether your posting or reply is of interest to the entire group or a certain individual. If your reply is meant for a single person to read, send it as a private e-mail and not to the entire list. Examples of private e-mail would be, OCongratulations,O OThanks,O or the like.
- Profanity or inappropriate language or comments will not be tolerated. High-spirited debate is encouraged; however, personal attacks are not appropriate and will not be tolerated.
- The membership list exists to advance the practice of dentistry within the group. It is not a platform for advertising commercial interests. While the knowledge and expertise of others will be embraced, blatant self-promotion will not. The list is not a place to promote other commercial ventures and/or other clinical or non-clinical venues.
- The purpose of a signature footer (name, address, etc.) is to inform others who you are and where to locate you. Footers may not be used to inform others of a commercial interest or enterprise that you are promoting.
- The practice of sending non-dental related jokes is discouraged.
- Generally, e-mail should not be used to deliver bad news. It is better to deliver this kind of information personally.
- Don?t challenge an idea in an e-mail message. Criticism delivered in an open forum can be deadly to any relationship. If you have an idea that might improve someone?s lot in life, deliver it in person.
- Don?t get lazy with style, grammar, or spelling. Edit your work.
Some discussion sites worth visiting are: www.genR8Tnext.com; www.dentaltown.com; www.dentistryonline.com; and www.gvblackanddecker.com (This group features the lighter side of dentistry, as well as great patient verbal scripting.)
The Internet is already changing the way we practice and communicate. Join a discussion group or two and keep learning. I believe that the free and immediate exchange of information will be the greatest contribution the Internet will make to our profession.