How To Instant Message

Instant messaging. All the cool kids are doing it. Actually, just about all the kids in general are doing it. How do you instant message effectively? How do you even begin? If you're new to the world of the 'IM,' here are some tips for getting started.

  1. Find an Instant Messaging program. There are many companies offering instant messaging for free. AOL has recently gone free. Microsoft Messenger is free. Yahoo Messenger is free. There are also other free programs like ICQ. So, if you don't already have an IM program, surf the net, find a program that is compatible with the kind of Internet you have (dial-up, DSL, broadband, etc.) and the kind of computer you have (check the minimum requirements for memory, for instance). And then download the software. Most IM programs will install through a "wizard" where you just click and the program will install quickly for you. Check out the links below for more information on some of these programs
  2. Choose a screen name. Most people are familiar with the term "screen name."  It's the name people will use when trying to contact you, and it's the name that will appear when you send someone a message. Some people have several screen names, which programs like AOL Instant Messaging allow. A screen name usually has some creative link to a person's life. Sometimes, it's just a name with a birthdates after it. For instance, JaneSmith0275. Or maybe the name references a hobby (KiteFlyer101), your job (KinkosClerk3), your position in your family (MomofTen) or maybe it's a reference to a secret dream or ambition (MrsPitt08). Whatever your name, consider that other people you IM will see it. If you use your real name, you will lose anonymity. If you use a fake name, make sure to tell people you plan to IM, so they don't block you.
  3. Set up security features. Many IM program have features which allow users to pick and choose who can IM them. This is an especially good feature to employ if you have minors using IM in your home. That way, stray people out in the Internet universe can't bop right in to your home via the PC and start chatting with your children. Each IM program will have different additional features. Some may let you pick and choose which of your designated contacts can see you when you're online.
  4. Start sending messages. Once you're ready to go, contact a friend according to the specifications of your program and enjoy IM-ing. You will find it really lives up to its name: Contact is really "instant."  While many people use abbreviations when IM-ing (for example "BRB" means "Be right back,"  "LOL" indicates the sender is "Laughing out loud"), you don't need to do so. I IM with several people and we almost always write in "real words." This is probably because none of us has been a teenager in a long time. If you're IM-ing someone a generation or two behind you, you might want to break out the IM shorthand lexicon (a quick reference can be found at ViewZ.Com).

    Whoever you send an IM to, you may also want to use "emoticons.' Emoticons are tiny images - like smiley faces, frowns and screaming faces - which can be included in your messages. Your  IM program may have some attached to it already or it may require you to use the keys on your keyboard like this:  :) . Again, using emoticons is definitely optional.

  5. Try video and audio options. Some IM programs allow senders to communicate with videos or audios. You will have to check your specific program to see what will work for the program you have. IM-ing with someone while you can see them can be fun - unless you're trying to cover a bad hair day. But it's an option you may want to look into. Some additional equipment like a camera or microphone will be necessary for these functions to work most of the time.

IM-ing is an incredibly popular form of online communication. Some say it may replace e-mail as the number one way to convey information online. Get in on instant messaging and start communicating in real time with your friends, family, and colleagues.


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