Luke Metcalfe and David McDermott's ChatWise with ICQ

ICQ opens up a world of contacts like nothing that's come before it. But no matter how big your contact list gets, you could find yourself getting nowhere or worse still, getting yourself into trouble both with people you want to know and some you don't.

This guide aims to help new users understand the medium from a social point of view so they can make the most of all the interesting people out there in cyberia.

1. You don't have to greet people all the time!
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A crucial difference with typing-based chat is that you don't get all that physical information you do in real life. Body language is supposed to count for the majority of human communication, showing how people feel about each other.

So you might find yourself wanting to say hello to each of your friends every time they pop up on your contact list just to let them to know you recognise their entry and are open to their conversation. This is fine to a point but everyone greeting and saying goodbye to everyone all the time is very time consuming and in the end it becomes more like boring routine than community-building.

Remember, ICQ can bring you into contact with people for more of your day and far more regularly than you might have otherwise. They are only really with you to the extent that you're talking to them about something constructive or interesting. Don't worry about greeting every time. If they've been using it for a while, they won't be offended if you don't greet them first. Just wait until you have something to say, as in the next point.

2. What are you going to say after "hello"?
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The world of cyberspace is quite different to real life but one of the most basic of all rules still applies - one that you've probably never even needed to consider - that if you want to start a conversation, you actually kick it off. Always think of something to say to your new friend! Would you walk up to a stranger in the street, greet them, be greeted back and then ask them why they haven't said anything more? No, you'd ask them something or comment on something.

It's the simplest thing of all but definitely something to keep in mind! There's nothing sillier than getting buzzed in for a chat by a stranger and then being waited on for something relevant and exciting to say.

3. Be tolerant and aware of what the other person is doing!
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Normally messages can't fly back and forth as fast as you both can type. People are often having many other conversations that started before you came along. Even more likely, they were actually up to something on the net that they want to get done, they could be working, or even simply not at their computer right now and sometimes other people are using the computer with your friend's ICQ account still up.

Just take your time. If sitting waiting for responses is getting boring, start doing something else or talk to other people yourself. There's a whole world of friends to choose from out there. Sometimes it's important not to forget all the other options you have for information and entertainment and that others are probably already enjoying theirs.

4. Can't work out what your new friend is on about? Help is at hand!
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Cyberspace opens up a new functional world where you no longer have to ask someone for something once you've found a pen. For example, the best thing to do when you get given a URL (internet address) is activate it straight away (usually by starting your web browser).

The world of text can be confusing though because you're often talking to lots of people at once. So just make a mental note of the last thing you said to a person before you go off and do something else. You can't always tell what you've been talking about from the context. Their reply could be "Yeah that sounds good." or "Nah I don't think so" or "*laugh*". It's uniquely frustrating for someone to laugh at something and you can't laugh with them because you've forgotten your own joke.

'Course, there will always be times when you don't know what's going on. Often the message is sent and saved till you next fire up ICQ so what you get is a fragment of the last conversation you had with that person. Other times you just plain and simply forget. Even so, you still may not need to ask them to explain themselves. A great feature of ICQ is History which logs your previous dialogue. Use it! Right click on the username, then click on History.

5. Don't try to hide from people too much or they'll wise up!
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If you keep using ICQ and want take full benefit of meeting new people, you might start encountering annoying people who don't take "I'm busy" or just "no" for an answer. So it's wise to take advantage of the features to make them think you're away or so they can't see you.

But there are dangers in overusing these functions because the people can figure out that you're avoiding them. This is particularly true if you have mutual ICQ contacts (which is probably most of the time). If you make yourself away and invisible to one person, but not to another, they might mention you and it'll soon be apparent that you're avoiding them. Also, if you make yourself "web aware", that means anyone in the world can find out your true status by checking out your World Wide Web pager or on any contact list that chooses to list your current status.

Why does it matter? Consider the next point!

6. Don't provoke people, especially young eggheads.
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So what if I offend people? They're on the other side of the world. I don't care what they say about me either!

Well, think again. They might be physically on the other side of the world but in the universe you're inhabiting, they might as well be sitting right next to you with a finger on your computer reset button.

The possibilities for "hacking into" your system to get all your most private files are greatly sensationalised but generally with the right program or technical skill, there are dozens of ways anyone can make life pretty uncomfortable for you. You could find your system repeatedly crashes, have people pose as your friends, fill your electronic mailbox with garbage until it dies or even (if you're silly enough to run a program they give you) erase all the information your hard drive.

Keep in mind that the most annoying people in cyberspace (often young teenagers) are also the ones most likely to bring you to grief.

Be nice! If someone's bothering you, ignore them completely or come up with a good excuse. The age-old rules of dealing with harassment apply - don't let them know you're bothered, be firm and avoid them carefully.

For safety's sake, it's worth making sure your Windows 95/NT system is nuke protected in any case. That will reduce the chance of your system crashing on you.

7. Don't believe OR pass on rumours.
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Mirabilis, the makers of ICQ, have said it for ages but I think it's worth saying again. Just about every rumour you will read through ICQ is untrue.

Mirabilis have said repeatedly they won't charge for ICQ without notice and that notice will not come via the Chinese Whispers rumour mill but directly from them. Mirabilis's statement on partnership with America OnLine can be found here.

It's also important to understand that Mirabilis or anyone else cannot possibly record all the messages you pass on. If you and your friend are online, your messages go directly from your computer to his, not through Mirabilis. The path that information travels on is not centralised on the Internet - it will just try to take the shortest route it can. No company owns enough of the net to come anywhere near confidently monitoring what messages are sent between any two given computers. So there is no way for you to gain credits or have your account kept or register any vote by passing on a message.

Warning messages about viruses and other nasties getting out from accepting emails or ICQ messages are normally also illfounded. Generally only Word documents and programs have the ability to do damage.

8. Using ICQ to drum up business with people who may not want your advertising is very silly.
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People HATE unsolicited advertising on the net. They really dislike dropping what they're doing to read a message thinking it's something useful to find it's someone trying to sell them some product they have no interest in. It's worse than TV or newspaper advertising because at least with those mediums, you expect it and your reading those ads brings down the cost of enjoying it. Unsolicited advertisers don't pay any money to ISP's or any other organisation except the one they access the internet through. With the unavoidable costs of sending and receiving data, it actually increases the cost for everyone.

People still do it. And they try to hide their identity in various ways. But with ICQ, messages are addressed directly from their computer to yours. They can find out exactly where you are. You could well end up getting hit in some of the ways mentioned point 6 if you try it.

9. Skip straight to informed, interesting conversation!
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Right click on the username, choose info and then you'll find a lot of information that you would otherwise have to routinely ask people - where they live, their phone number, home page, real name, email, age, sex and general information they want to give.

And of course, from a home page you can find out all sorts of information about a person. So check that out too! It's a useful tool for picking who you will allow to add you to their contact list or who to get into random chat with. If they've been round the net for a while, you might also want to look up what posts they have done to Usenet on DejaNews.

With such amazingly diverse interests represented on the net, you can really find golden friendships and information but by the same token, there's a lot more stuff you just don't appreciate. It's well worth developing the skill of filtering to get down to the things you personally want. Typing to everyone asking their interests is the slowest way possible of meeting people like yourself - there is always the local bar or night club for that sort of thing.

So get out there and take advantage of the new medium. Use your initiative to find people you really want to know and learn to skip past the stuff that slows you down!

Where to now??

The Mirabilis FlowerBe sure to check out Mirabilis's page if you haven't already. It has heaps more ideas for broadening your horizons with ICQ, as well as heaps of lists of users to add to your contact list!

Confused by chat acronyms like BTW and IMHO? A great summary can be found here.

This is just one of many pages at done by the author of this page, Luke Metcalfe. He also has a personal page here which includes a form to help with search engines. There's also a colourful example ICQ user list with photos.

David McDermott, the guy who drew the cartoons, also has his own page including some of his cartoons.

All comments and suggestions are welcome at !

Web design, cartoon colouring and text Copyright Luke Metcalfe () June 1998.
Cartoons Copyright David McDermott June 1998.