Welcome to the Internet. It's a big place, so let me show you around.
You're approaching Oversharing Pass, where residents routinely post too much information. The Facebook Gorge and Twitter Triangle are particularly nefarious time-sucks. Restraint is advised.
Up ahead is Hyperbole Junction, which is the Worst. Spot. Ever. We recommend that you maintain an even keel and stay to the center; the extreme left and right can be dangerous.
And over there is the infamous Lair of Sociopaths, the home of trolls and loners who mercilessly mock everyone who enters their territory. Watch your step: They may trip you up and you'll fall into the Chasm of Lulz.
Our world isn't all dangerous, of course. You may visit Squee City, where images of cute cats and laughing babies fill the landscape. You'll also meet countless kind strangers, hilarious raconteurs and hard-working fact-checkers. They make it all worthwhile.
Hmm. Maybe it would be easier if you had a guide -- you know, some rules to help you find your way.
What, you didn't know there are rules of the Internet?
Of course there are rules. How do you think we maintain order around here?
A parody of rules
That's a joke.
But there really are some rules of the Internet -- even if they, too, began as kind of a joke.
According to the site KnowYourMeme.com, the Rules began around 2006 as a guide for the Internet collective Anonymous and emerged on the old Encyclopedia Dramatica, a bawdy meme catalog. Soon a version emerged on 4chan, an online bulletin board where most users post anonymously, says Jamie Cohen, director of web/digital media at Hofstra University.
"Chris Poole (4chan's founder) kind of designed it, kind of like a Netiquette rules," he says, describing the unspoken code of conduct that lubricates Internet discourse. (Poole has attributed the rules to Gaia Online, a role-playing community.)
But the rules of the Internet deliberately mocked many of those conventions. The self-reflexive parody fit perfectly with its community's attitude, points out Anthony Rotolo, a professor at Syracuse University's School of Information Studies.
"These jokes are meant to comment on something happening in the world," he says. "Later they get accepted as truisms or become a meme."
The absurdity has been reflected even in the supposed number of rules. Though the best-known first version claimed there were 50 rules, only 18 were listed. Number 1 was initially "Do not talk about Rules 2-33"; no Rules 2-33 were on the list.
The sarcastic attitude was reinforced by the kicker found on Encyclopedia Dramatica. It was a parody of Wikipedia's stub language: "This article is crap. You can help by completely re-writing it."
'Fight Club' and Monty Python
Very quickly, the lists started multiplying and expanding, liberally borrowing from comedy, Web culture and math-science tropes. On one list, a few were designated by complex numbers and mathematical symbols. Some were observations; others were directives.