3 Rules of the Internet

Twenty years ago I found eBay and sold some stuff on it.

At the time you could sign up to eBay without a credit card, which meant you could easily create multiple accounts and submit fake bids to increase the final sale amount.

If I could email my 12 year old self I’d say, “that’s clever, but you should really optimize for integrity and not $10 gains.”

What a fool…

Since then I’ve spent a lot of time on the internet. I’ve written articles, hosted podcasts, built websites, freelanced, met girlfriends, met platonic-friends, invested in stuff, and sent about 800,000 emails.

I’m an internet expert!

And you are too, so let’s bond over three rules of the internet; observations I’ve found to be mostly true across the web.

Rule #1: Never Engage With People That Have More Time Than You

Yesterday I got this email from a random Craigslist user…


I’m not here to trash anybody; Stephen the successful skip tracer is probably right. The gig was to locate the career of six specific people and I’d pay $5 per career found. At best it was a 30 minute task and I would pay $30. It’s also possible the person would find only one or two; I had already done a quick search and it wasn’t very promising.

But that’s not the point. LOOK AT HOW MUCH TIME THIS GUY HAS.

And he’s not the only one. If you have ever posted on Craigslist, Youtube, Facebook, blogs, news sites, forums, etc., then you have encountered Time Bandits. Time Bandits are folks who are so time rich that they can afford to steal your time too. Time Bandits will call you names, write in all caps, threaten to sue you and outright lie; all because they hunger for attention.

Fuck Time Bandits.

These are Time Bandits I like

When a Time Bandit targets you, you have two choices: you can engage or not.

A friend of mine sometimes engages. Here’s my best guess at why:

  • It can be very entertaining to do mental gymnastics with internet weirdos;
  • It’s easy fodder for his social media streams;
  • If you stay open minded, sometimes you can learn from these folks – maybe they are giving you the blunt truth that your friends don’t;
  • He has been building a public profile for 12+ years, which is a lot of time to develop a thick skin.

This guy is an exception to the rule.

For everyone else, my advice is to follow Rule #1 of the Internet and never engage with people that have more time than you.

Rule #2: You Are The Average Of The 5 Websites You Spend The Most Time On

If the vast majority of your internet usage is Facebook, Reddit and porn then you are an Internet Schlub. You may be the smartest schlub online, but you are nowhere near reaching your full potential.

Do you know your personality type? There are dozens of personality tests, self assessments, etc. that help identify your spot on the spectrum. The biggest flaw of these tests is your subjective bias. “Yes, I communicate effectively in difficult situations, it’s everyone else that is a terrible communicator.”

But the one test that doesn’t lie is how you spend your time. If you identify as an entrepreneur but spend zero hours per week on projects and 20 hours on Netflix then you aren’t an entrepreneur. If you think you are generally a good person but make rape jokes anywhere, you are a net negative for humanity.

There are exceptions to Rule #2. Someone who spends their entire work day sifting through porn as part of a task force to end child slavery is a hero. If you spend eight minutes looking at exploited children for pleasure, you are the worst kind of Internet Schlub – and a criminal.

Rule #3: Assume People On The Internet Are Well Intentioned But Lazy

There are billions of people online, so it’s not 100% accurate to speak in superlatives: always, never, everyone, etc.

But the following observation is true enough of the time that it’s safe to make your default…

Nobody online wants to spend time on your thing.

The most relevant area for most people is email and messaging. Most websites can be streamlined too, but it’s a bigger topic for a smaller audience.

Pretty much everyone is guilty of writing inefficient emails.

Most of your emails could be no more than four sentences, cut down to their most essential words (fun phrasing can be essential too). Instead, many emails are epics full of unfiltered thoughts and filler pleasantries: “I was just thinking”, “In other words”, “I hope all is well.”

If you can say the same thing in less words then do it. And be ruthless. Hold each word to the standard of, “if I needed to make sure I was completely understood, but I was paying $1000 per word, would I include this?”

These comments are mostly about transactional emails, but also include stuff like messaging on dating platforms. Your prospective life partner doesn’t want to send 20+ messages before meeting. They want very short stories and data points so they can make a decision to have lunch with you or not.

What does “assume people are well intentioned but lazy” mean for you in practice?

  • Write long emails to your mom, but not to the blogger you admire;
  • “Do It For Them”, summarize, include relevant links, make it so all someone has to do is hit reply and say “yes”;
  • Describe what you want accurately to minimize follow up emails and questions. Include relevant details and ask clear questions.
  • Get to the point (and have one).

I guarantee that if you follow Rule #3 in your future messaging then you will see a positive change in how people respond to you. More of the people you email will answer your questions, buy things from you, date you, etc.

Important: As my friend George Orwell writes, “Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.”

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