From the Kenosha News on 11-13-05

     Instant messaging is easier than you think

     If you've been using e-mail to get answers to quick questions, you will want to try instant messaging to " chat" with friends and others. The advantage of instant messaging is that you communicate with the person immediately rather than waiting for a reply – like a phone call but you're typing rather than talking. The disadvantage is that you must both be on-line at the same time.

     Instant messaging uses different software than e-mail. That software is free and easily downloaded over the internet. There are at least three different instant messenger programs: AOL, MSN, Yahoo. You can use ANY of these regardless of who your ISP is or who provides your e-mail.

     You will need to decide carefully which IM program you want to use because they are NOT compatible with each other. For example, if you choose AOL instant messenger and get a "screen name" from them, you will not be able to chat with people who use MSN or Yahoo instant messenger. The primary criteria to use when choosing an instant messenger program is what the people you want to chat with are using. Survey your friends and see which program will be most useful for you. You can use more than one.

     To get a screen name and software for AOL instant messenger, go to the aol.com web site and click for the link to AIM (AOL Instant Messenger.) Click on the download button. If you have a Mac or Linux, there are links to download clients for those as well.

     Once you've loaded the software, you will need to create your screen name by clicking on the link to "Create an Online Identity." Your screen name must be unique, to it may take you a few tries to find one that's not already used. You can make it similar to your name or totally unrelated.

     Once you load and launch your software, add buddies to your buddy list. You can categorize them as family, co-workers, or buddies. You can either ask your friends for their screen names or you can find a buddy's screen name using their e-mail address. Instant messenger will show you which of your buddies are currently logged in. Double-click on their name from your buddy list to start chatting with them.

     At Carthage, we've found IM to be a useful tool in the workplace. I often chat with my Computer Services colleagues to ask or answer questions, and I chat with vendor representatives and consultants to help solve problems or get info on new products. It doesn't replace e-mail because the person I need to ask isn't always logged in, and sometimes I want to keep the response.

     If you're concerned about using instant messaging because you think you'd need to learn "chat speak" – all of the internet slang used mostly by teens – don't be! Will shortcut slang like BRB (be right back) and LOL (laugh out loud) are trendy and fun, they're not at all necessary. You can type in plain English and even use correct spelling and capital letters.

     In the coming weeks, I will explain how to use a web cam to do live video and voice chat with family and friends you don't see often.

     By Carol Sabbar from the Kenosha News on 11-13-05