So you want to chatSo, you want to chat online. It's a great way to meet people from around the world and possibly make a few good friends along the way. I've been chatting online since 1994 and have seen many chat sites and chat applets come and go. It seems that new sites are always cropping up. I'm not referring to site forums or instant messaging. I'm talking about live chat in a group setting where you can enjoy instant gratification from sharing ideas and good times with like-minded people. There are several good chat sites out there and two of the best are Paltalk and Yahoo. It's my hope that the following steps will help you to chat online effectively. Have fun out there!

Create a unique user name or nickname that says something about who you are. Choose wisely because this is the name that everyone will call you. If you end up choosing a name that is too graphic or disturbing, don't be surprised if your fellow chatters ignore you or even block you.

Create an interesting profile. Most chat sites encourage you to create a profile so other chatters can learn a little about you. Don't skip this step. Some people refuse to chat to a person that doesn't have a profile. You may even be kicked out of a room that requires that you have one. Post a current picture of yourself on your profile - fully clothed, please! If you don't want your face out there on the internet, then post a picture of a pet, your car, or your favorite flower. It doesn't matter what it is, as long as it is something you like. You will find that the picture on your profile can be a real conversation starter. Fill out as much information as you can and always be truthful about what you say.

Find a chat room or area that is suited for your specific wants and needs. You will find a chat room for almost any topic or activity you can think of. If you are just looking for friends who have something in common with you, then head for that section of the chat site. If you want a little romance, then check out rooms specifically created for that purpose. If you want to listen to music being played by other chatters, or share some of your own tunes, then go to a music room. The possibilities are endless.

Don't receive a thumbs downTreat your fellow chatters with respect. When you enter a chat room for the first time, just watch and listen for a while. Three of the worst mistakes you can make are:

  1. Asking, right off the bat, for age, sex and location (ASL) from those chatting in the room. Click on someone's profile to find out those answers or let it all be revealed during the course of the chat session.
  2. Posting the question, "Anybody want to chat?" This question will immediately turn everyone off. Obviously they want to chat. Otherwise they wouldn't be there.
  3. Sending instant messages (IM's), also known as private messages (PM's) to fellow chatters before you've even addressed them in the public arena. Many people don't want to receive unsolicited PM's from complete strangers. In fact, you can be banned from some chat rooms for doing so. Get to know a person a little before you attempt to jump into a one-on-one conversation with them.

Have great audio equipmentCheck your equipment. I'm referring to your audio/visual equipment. Many public chat rooms allow users to take part in voice chat or to play music from their personal library for all to enjoy. Nothing is more annoying than a long-winded chatter broadcasting to the room over their microphone and sounding like they are chatting from the inside of a barrel. Well, one thing is actually more annoying - trying to listen to someone's music when all that's being broadcast is static or screeching. So, make sure your equipment is working properly. If other chatters are bothered by the poor quality of your broadcast, they will probably mute you or even put you on ignore. Many chat sites have a help room that will assist you in testing your microphone, speakers and video camera. Please take advantage of it.

Don't attempt to discuss politics or religion in a chat room that does not cater specifically to those subjects. If you want to voice your opinions about these subjects, take the time to search the chat site to find rooms where you will fit in.

Learn the vernacularLearn the chat vernacular. There are, literally, hundreds of acronyms in use out there for common phrases. For example: wb (welcome back), afk (away from keyboard), ltns (long time no see), hak (hugs and kisses) and the dreaded asl (age, sex and location).

Don't expect many deep, probing discussions to be held in a public chat room. People are there to kick back, relax and have a little fun for a few hours. Most are not there to solve the problems of the world. Keep your conversation light. Eventually you will make friends that will invite you into private conversations that go a little deeper.

Have a Sense of HumorHave a sense of humor and don't take yourself too seriously. Try not to fly off the handle at the least provocation. Think before you speak. Maybe a certain user doesn't mean their post the way it appears to you. Misunderstanding and miscommunication are rampant in chat rooms. Try not to fall victim to it. You will notice that the most popular people in a chat room are those with a good sense of humor, who "go with the flow" and can always be counted upon to deliver a funny line.

Keep in mind that everyone you meet will not actually turn out to be what they purport. It's a sad fact that some people feel the need to fib about themselves or the lives they lead. It pays to be cautious and to take everything you read or see with a grain of salt.

Be patient and friendly and you will have more people clamoring for your attention than you can handle.

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