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Online Etiquette: Acceptable Instant Messenger Behavior


I got a cheap laugh out of the instructional How to Behave in an Internet Forum video last week, but soon realized there's never been any real etiquette on this wild Internet.

I've put together a list of tips for acceptable instant messenger behavior that addresses some of my biggest pet peeves. This one goes out to all you iChat, AIM, Yahoo messenger and Gchat regulars.

  • Start with a "Hello" or some sort of greeting: I am on iChat all day long for work and readily available to anyone who IMs me, but I still think you should say "hey!" to someone before you start asking them a question. Call me old fashioned, but it's like starting an email with "Can you please do this for me" instead of a nice greeting.
  • There are more rules, trust me! Just read more!

  • Try not to trail off: It's always awkward when you are engaged in a conversation with someone on iChat and they suddenly stop responding to you. If you're chatting with someone and busy, just let them know with a simple "BRB" or "one sec." It will calm their insecurities that you are ignoring them.
  • Use your away message: Sure, you may have set your chatting preferences to make it look like you are always online to keep your boss happy, but that doesn't mean your friends know it. If you leave the computer or don't want to talk to people, put up an away message. If you use AIM for work be courteous to your co-workers by letting them know when you are in a meeting, grabbing lunch or at the gym. That way you won't return to your desk and have 16 unopened windows.
  • Back at your computer? Change your away message!: When you return from being away change your away message back to available. You don't want your boss thinking you took a six hour lunch break or your boyfriend thinking you spent four hours at the dentist. People might start to worry about you.
  • Be smart about screen name exchanges: Don't give your screen name to someone unless you want them to know it. And IM you. Often.
  • Don't want to be bugged? Go Invisible: Most chatting services allow you to set your online status to invisible. If you do, you will have to initiate contact with friends online but you won't have people bothering you when you're busy.
  • Some things are best said in an email or (gasp!) in person: If you have a lot of important stuff to say (particularly if it's for work or an important project) put it in an email. It's much easier to have all the information in one place for future reference than to go back and forth and try and make sense of a chat chain.
  • Let people know when you're signing off: Okay, so this one isn't as important, but if you have been chatting with someone for a while and are getting offline let them know! A simple "TTYL" (as in, Talk to You Later) will do the trick. You wouldn't just hang up on someone on a phone call, would you?
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