The key to online success lies in a willingness to figure out problems independently. Don't know where to start? Check out this convenient cheat sheet created by Randall Munroe of the popular webcomic XKCD.
It really is that simple. We also recommend the following tricks.
If you get an error message over and over again, write down that error message's code and Google it. Chances are you'll find a solution to your problem posted by someone who has encountered it before you.
Also use Google for general questions. Don't know how to save a Word document as a PDF? Google "How to save a word document as a PDF." For every common question, there are typically tens (if not hundreds) of answers. Google is pretty good at pushing the best answers to the top of search results.
Use Control / Command "F"
This keyboard shortcut, combined with an ability to Google things, enables you find information with incredible efficiency.
To use it:
- Press the command key (Mac) or the control key (PC)
- Still holding down the command/control key, press the "F" key
- A small text box will appear in your browser's screen into which you can type a specific word or phrase; type something
- If present, the word or phrase you entered into that text box will be highlighted within the page
- If desired, use the arrow buttons next to the text input box to jump from word to word
This keyboard shortcut enables you to scan through and find:
- Just the sentence you were looking for within a long email (e.g. the one that contained the word "duck")
- The portion of a site's troubleshooting page that mentions "fire"
- The passage of an online transcript of a Shakespeare play in which someone is insulted for being "common-kissing"
The more accustomed you become to using this shortcut, the more frustrated you will be when you cannot utilize it in printed material.
Read Terms of Service and Privacy Policies
Thousands of people find themselves suddenly outraged by ads, account changes, punitive actions, and other unpleasant surprises from the online sites and services they use.
Are these documents boring? Typically (though there are exceptions, we assure you). Are they dry? You bet (even their occasional humor is on the dry side). Are they essential? We think so.
If you really can't stand the idea of reading through an entire Terms of Service agreement, stop by Terms of Service; Didn't Read. This resource offers helpful summaries of major sites' Terms of Service, and even offer a convenient browser plugin.
Understand There Is No Free Lunch
In addition to understanding the terms of services and privacy policies of sites you join, remember that nearly every website needs to make a profit (eventually, at least) if it is to survive.
This means that it is very likely that, in return for free access to its services, a website you use may:
- Present you with advertisements
- Use your information (likes, interests, endorsements) as an advertisement
- Charge others (such as recruiters or potential employers) to gain access to you
- Collect and potentially sell your information (which may or may not be anonymized)
- Try to sell you premium services
Verify Your Sources
In addition to taking information online with a grain of salt and utilizing resources such as Snopes to verify the legitimacy of rumors and hearsay, it is important that you think critically about your sources and know how to verify them. For detailed advice on verifying online sources, refer to our standards on source verification. For more information on sound verification processes, read Wikipedia's article on verifiability.
Proper verification generally involves:
- Making sure you find the original source of unique information
- Establishing a direct line of contact with a source, and checking to see whether the source is trustworthy
- Verifying that information (especially photos and videos) has not been altered
- Making it clear when you are referring to information that has not been verified
- Actively disseminating corrections when you realize you have shared information that turns out to be false or inaccurate
Generally speaking, we do not recommend utilizing information from sources you find to be dubious.
Carefully Source and Cite Your Sources
In addition to being careful about identifying and verifying dubious sources, it is important that you utilize and clearly cite sources you know you can trust. For detailed advice on doing so, review our source and citation standards.
Proper sourcing and citation practices include:
- Only referencing experts who have clear expertise and credentials
- Being judicious about which resources you use when looking for information
- Not making assertions when you cannot support them with a trustworthy source
- Clearly linking to the sources that you use
In short, you should only reference well-known, reputable, verified websites and sources. Those who see your references should be given simple means of visiting and evaluating the sources themselves.
Be Willing to Share
One of the most controversial (but powerful) best practices online is a willingness to give information, help, entertainment, and guidance away for free.
We have found that the most successful people online are less concerned with copyright and privacy and more concerned with making an impact. We believe that much of their success results from open their mindedness and willingness to share.
- Ideas are more powerful when they spread
- You will not become known online or make an impact if you hide your work behind paywalls and passwords
- Secret, hidden, and proprietary information has a way of getting out there, whether you want it to or not
- Sharing plays an incredibly important role in internet culture; it is not only expected, but supported, rewarded, and honored
Interested in making it easy for others to use your work? See our guides to applying Creative Commons licenses to images and text. Creative Commons licenses make it easy for others to use your content without directly contacting you while nonetheless enabling you to control how you are attributed and whether people may remix your work and/or use your work for commercial purposes.
Provide Something of Value
True online citizens ask not what the internet can do for them, but what they can do for the internet.
You will likely find that the more value you provide to online platforms, resources, and people, the more you receive in return.
Value you provide may come in the form of:
- Original content
- Viewership / readership
- Free advice given to someone in need
- Thoughtful contribution to online dialogue
- Thoughtful reviews of a product, place, or service
- Thoughtful curation of content around a subject
- Constructive comments or feedback on others' work
- Support of a talented artist or entertainer through purchases or donations
And in return, you may receive:
- More of the content you love
- A new friendship or business opportunity
- Higher standing within an online community
- Free perks, samples, services, or products (or the exposure and removal of a bad product or service)
- A following comprised of those who benefit from your content curation and commentary
- Appreciation from a content creator you follow and help along with marked improvement in his or her work
In short, if you ask yourself: "What value does this contribute to the internet?" before taking action online, you will do very well.
Our goal is to never charge for the educational materials we provide. If you’d like to give back, please share our lessons (and Gigaverse in general) with your friends. Who knows- you might introduce someone to an entirely new career path and change their life!
Only take this lesson’s quiz if you are enrolled in the course and want to prove your skills and earn official credentials. Credentials related to a course are useful if you would like to find work related to this course’s career, as we direct businesses and entrepreneurs to our membership page when they approach us looking for specialists.
Finally, make sure you have reviewed this lesson’s required reading (displayed at the top right of the page) before taking the quiz- you will be tested on information covered in those guides!