Risa Dotson, Mark Wagner, and Brian Gongol
Communication Technologies - December 1, 1999
Jump to a Section: MUDs | Chat Rooms | Instant Messaging
MUDs: Risa Dotson
There are many different ways to take advantage of the online world, and one of the more creative outlets is the use of MUDs. These games have been around since about 1980, and are becoming more and more popular with the increasing use of the Internet. I will be explaining what MUDs are, the different kinds of MUDs, the terms involved, examples, and where this phenomenon originated.I will also look at postings about MUDs, online communication, and the future of MUDs.
What the letters "MUD" stand for is debatable. The "MU" stands for "Multi-User" (4,7,8) or "Multiple-User" (3). The "D" has different meanings, however. It could be "Domains" (7), "Dungeons" (3,7,8), "Dimension" (3,4), or "Dialogue" (3). Whatever the letters stand for, MUDs represent a broad class of online adventure games (7) that players can log into and explore through a computer program(3). These games include at least two participants playing in fantasy worlds created by the actions of the players (7). Communication is done in real time and in a text-only environment (10). Online communication and interactivity is used for players to work their way through the game. The players have characters that walk around, talk to other characters, solve puzzles, explore different areas, and create new rooms and items (3).
There are different kinds of MUDs: Tiny, Teeny, LP, and MOO. The Tiny- and Teeny- family of MUDs are the social ones. These MUDs include players who like to communicate more often than the other MUDders. This communication goes beyond the game players meet each other and share jokes and other things. The LP- family of MUDs include Diku and AberMUD. These MUDs are role-playing adventure games. The players kill monsters, solve puzzles, and gain experience on their quest (3). The MOO, stands for MUD, Object-Oriented (2,4).
There are many terms involved in and outside of the MUDs. After playing a game, players can read or include their own submissions on postings. These are available on USENET newsgroups. There are also many terms within the game that players need to be familiar with in order to have a full understanding of the game. A cyborg is part man, part machine. Cyborgs can be set up throughout the game to do automatic functions, such as greet players when they enter a new room. A dino is someone who has been playing MUDs for a long time and has a lot of experience and old memories of past MUDs. Flaming is when players shout at one another. If one player does something wrong, it can cause a flame war. Net lag occurs when it takes a long amount of time between the player's input and the MUD's reception of that input, sometimes due to the host computer being overloaded. When a character says long commands or repeats them, this is called spamming. It is important when playing a MUD to know who the Gods and Wizards are. A God is the administrator who owns the database. They can do whatever they want to whomever they want. Wizards are one step down from the God they put up with the responsibilities and difficulties of the game. In LP MUDs, the Wizard is the player that won the game (3).
The creators of the MUD are responsible for the upkeep and coding of their MUD. They help other players and fix bugs, usually for free, yet they often do not get the credit they deserve. However, some creators do not observe how their codes are affecting the players and how the game play has changed. When conflicts arise between the creators and players,it causes flame wars and the setting isn't as fun for the players involved (8).
One of the MUD games I found is called Avalon. In this game, a character begins as a newborn. The first few hours are spent in the character's birth city, familiarizing the player with the land. There is a system of levels, or skill ranks, gained by players which include: beginner, poor, apprentice, practitioner, competent, respected, renowned, master, grand-master, legendary, and ultimate. Levels are ascended just by experiencing the world. Points are gained by wandering around and watching as things evolve. In this game, the ultimate aim is to progress to the status of God (1).
Beginners of Avalon are given five hours of free access to see what the game is about. After that, blocks of credits are to be purchased in advance if the player wants to continue in the game. These blocks are available for 20 hours ($25), 40 hours ($42), 60 hours ($58), and 100 hours ($83) (1).
Godlike Technologies is a service available for MUDders, especially the creators of MUDs. This service has many features including nightly tape backups, monitoring alerts to warn you when your MUD goes down, WWW-based MUD status, login statistics, security measures, and telnet and FTP access to name a few. Their Premium Hosting: Development Package is $20 a month, and their Premium Hosting: Standard Package is $40 a month. The Standard Package has more benefits than the Development Package, such as twice as much disk space and RAM available. A complete list of Godlike Technologies services is available at www.godlike.com (5).
MUDs were popularized with the Internet emerging in this decade, but they were actually started twenty years ago. Richard Bartle and Roy Trubshaw wrote the first MUD, called MUD1, in 1979-1980 (3). Roy Trubshaw adapted the Dungeons and Dragons game and converted it to the electronic computer format, and Richard Bartle named it a MUD (Multi-User Dungeon) (7).
The first TinyMUD was created in August 1989. In October 1990, Pavel Curtis began an experiment called LambdaMOO (4,7). He used it to observe the interaction of individual players, small groups,and community behavior (4). This Object-Oriented MUD also provides a rich environment for MUD creation, including "a full programming language within the MUD for the creation of new MUD capabilities embodied as objects"(6). LambdaMOO has evolved into a real community over the past few years (7). Now that MUDs have become popular and new ones are continuously becoming available on the Internet, how do the players know which ones to try? As I mentioned earlier, USENET Newsgroups are available at different sites such as Mudconnect.com.
These sites include postings from players for anyone to read or comment on. The players have a variety of comments, both positive and negative, about the experiences they have had with certain MUDs. I looked at comments given on a MUD called 3 Kingdoms. The comments were mostly positive: "3K is, by far, the BEST MUD I've ever played and I've been looking for a good one for a long time!" (13). Comments like this might allow other MUDders to go straight to that particular game, rather than search around like the submitter did. The submitter also mentions the amount of players, "...with over a hundred people on-line at any given time it is never boring" (13). This also gives the reader a hint to the popularity of the MUD. There is a negative comment about 3 Kingdoms, "I often...and I mean OFTEN, have trouble logging in due to excess lag or the server being down (or too busy)" (13). One person commented on the submission, explaining why lag isn't so bad in 3 Kingdoms:
...Over the past two years as the 3 Kingdoms admin have searched for a good service provider for the MUD, connectivity has improved enormously. In fact, over the past year I have seen few references at all to player lag and have suffered little if any of my own. In those few cases the lag has been almost completely from my own connection to the Internet...(12).This gives the reader a better idea of the quality of the MUD being commented on. Another example of positive and negative postings is from the MUD Aadarian Realms. One submitter appreciates the workof the staff, "...they listen to all advice given by players and implement most of them...they are always very helpful and nice" (14). Another player had nothing but bad experiences, "Lag was so horrible that it was one of those cases...you die almost every battle...I was lagging out like every 30 seconds to a minute" (11). This player also advised other players to not waste their time on this MUD because it isn't worth it (11). These are just a few examples of the many postings available on MUDs, allowing players to review various comments about each game. These player reviews probably help the players decide which MUDs they want to experiment with.
The player reviews are not the only form of communication between MUDders. There is constantly communication happening during the games as well. Communicating through MUDs is comparable to communication through CB radios and telephone party lines (4). This form of communication is different than the traditional forms of written and oral communication, and because of this, it is more prone to misunderstandings than the traditional types. MUD communication is hybrid because the players converse as if they were having face-to-face discussions even though the medium is actually written (10). Non-verbal communication is also difficult in MUDs. There are ways of shouting by capitalizing all letters,or showing happiness by a smile: :). Yet these gestures are simple and easily forgotten.
There is a certain way to communicate when playing the MUD. To give commands throughout the game, the player has to know the codes. Examples of these codes can usually be found on the MUD's web page. Some popular codes are "!(person) (text)" which means the text written is directed to the person but heard by everyone in the room. "@gag (person)" stops the player from hearing the person indicated. "Give (object) to (person)" transfers theobject from the player to the person indicated (2). Directions are also given by just the first letter (N for north, SW for south west) (1).
When communicating with other players, a MUDder should be aware that other players frequently hide their gender. Men will pretend to be women for more virtual sex, and women will pretend to be men to avoid virtual sex (7). TinySex is "the act of performing MUD actions to imitate having sex with another character, usually consentually"(3). An unfriendly trick among players is enticing one player into having TinySex with another. These instances are logged and posted into popular posting sites for other MUDders to laugh at (3).
Some players like to role-play and multi-play, having several characters playing in a MUD at one time (popular in the LP family of MUDs). The best multi-player should not keep the characters completely separate or that player will get accused of not role-playing but using the characters "in a manner that is based upon personal gain and benefit" (9). Since there are many players who use multi-playing to a disadvantage to other characters (teaming up in clans against other players), maybe multi-playing should be removed. This would force these players to meet people and increase communication within the MUD as well as refine the character's personality (9).
There are many ways for MUDs to expand in the future. One possibility being considered is EduMUD. This MUD is an educational way for students to learn by using MUDs. This project has three objectives: to create a MUD technology base supporting multimedia content, to develop tools permitting the development of instructional material to be delivered within the MUD, and to create and deliver math and science courseware for the 8th and 9th grades within the MUD (6).
Over the past twenty years, MUDs have developed into more than just text-based commands. Since the Internet began to spread in this decade, virtual communities have been created by theuse of these games. Many people enjoy playing their favorite MUDs and discovering new ones to explore. There are also several people who have heard of MUDs but have yet to try one. With the increasing popularity of these online games, I'm sure more people will be learning about them in the near future. With the newcomers and the dinos, there is still a communication problem. This problem also occurs in electronic mail and with text online. The Internet and email are relatively new technologies, and the communication that occurs in real-time text is a new form of communication. Like other forms of communication in the past (speaking and writing letters, for example) it will take some time to develop.
Among the postings I cited, net lag seemed to be the prominent disadvantage to MUDs. However, we will see net lag occur less often as the computer technology quickens and allows for more use on one Internet site. There are many positive views of MUDs - global communication, exploration, imagination, and even education. With proper usage, I can see these games developing into an even more popular way to use the Internet.
Chat Rooms: Mark Wagner
It's hard to argue with the idea of a global web village when you stop and take into account the massive success and popularity of Internet-based chat rooms. Go to Yahoo! or any other major search engine and look up the heading for chat rooms. In seconds you'll be inundated with probably the longest list of web sites on the net.
Now a staple of most personal websites, chat rooms give the average web-surfer the chance to discuss topics varying from the latest film starring Ben Affleck to certain aspects of Zionist ideology. (Before this massive boom in chat room popularity, the closest you could get to a specialized topic in most chats were subjects like "Sports" or "Music.")
Chat rooms owe their inception, in no small part, to the original modem-based newsgroups. Found on most serial-connection bulletin boards, these newsgroups allowed a person to post a question or piece of commentary and receive responses on it that would be available for anyone to view.
With the advent of online services, newsgroups were still considered useful but not practical when the amount of people who could be logged on at one time was taken into account. Chat rooms became the obvious next step in the evolution of online communication.
An example of the America Online chat room gateway is located at aol://1722:chat.
The chat room craze began almost immediately. America Online, probably the most popular of the online communities, immediately began experiencing severe problems with lag due to the amount of people who would log on and stay on all day and all night strictly to chat. Rooms such as "College Corner" and "Romance Connection" would have sub-rooms numbering in the fifties due to the 25-person limit per room.
While on the subject of romance, strange stories began to circulate of people meeting their match in a chat room, old friends being reunited and (creepiest of all) of Internet stalkers. It became a concern that chat rooms were quickly becoming a substitute for an actual social life to some people.
The positive business and social aspects that had come about due to this new technology were quickly cast out of the limelight to make room for the darker subject of "chat-addiction." Many doomsayers saw this as more than just a passing phase as chat rooms became more prevalent. Soon, Internet web pages, which had carried just newsgroup technology if nothing else, began to incorporate chat rooms in an effort to expand discussion on the topics represented by that site. This in itself was successful, but it also prompted not-so-savory elements on the web to do the same thing. Online pornography and organized hate sites soon had a much wider forum for the discussion and promotion of their beliefs and practices. What had once been some of America's dirtiest little secrets were now general public knowledge. Hackers, erotic photo traders, anti-government advocates and even white supremacists could be reached just as easily as the room discussing the new Martha Stewart catalog.
While most online services could do nothing to prevent the representation of a specific group in a public or private chat room, they could adjust their terms of service to limit the topics of discussion. Online guides patrol all chat rooms, making sure that these set rules are being adhered to at all times and in all forums. An example of the America Online terms of service is located here.
Through use of parental controls, children could be limited in the areas they used, including certain sections of chat rooms. (For example, they could only use the chat lobby or public areas as opposed to private areas.) The Internet provided its own form of parental control with the use of regulatory programs such as Netwatch or Netnanny. Applications such as these prevented entry into sites that might contain objectionable material and/or chat. As those associated with the both the Internet and online service were working to shore up these imperfections in the chat system, new aspects of the chat room system were popping up all around them. One of the most notable was the online adventure genre in which, through purchase of a software package and the paying of a monthly fee, a user could actually assume a new identity in a role-playing format and interact with hundreds of other users in this fashion. Programs such as UltimaOnline and Everquest allow for this form of interaction and have stirred up quite a bit of controversy in doing so. Everquest in particular, being the first 3D adventure game to provide open forum chat, has seemed to have caused just as much trouble as it has enjoyment for those who become involved with it. Stories abound of marriage separations resulting from one or both partner's addiction to the online environment, identity crises resulting from prolonged use of the product and even assault charges from persons who actually sought out those users that beat them in online combat.
Another leap forward in technology will soon provide a chat roomuser the opportunity to not only hear separate distinct voices representing other users of the chat room but to also input his or her own chat using voice alone. This will provide said users to get work done around the home or office and still carry on the conversations that would have otherwise constrained them to the computer.Consider all of this as the new millennium approaches. The estimates of just how many people will celebrate the New Year online are staggering. (Everything from birthdays to virtual weddings are already celebrated online, so this comes as no big surprise.)
Questions to Consider
- Taking all that has occurred in the realm of online chat into account, would you consider this technology either a help or a hindrance to the overall welfare of society?
- Should regulations of Internet Chat be made even more stringent or has the government done enough without infringing on free speech?
- Might it help the stigma of Internet addiction if a person's hours per day online were restricted? (Thereby preventing a person from spending their entire day online.)
- Should all social, political and religious groups (however amorous their view or practices may be) receive equal access to both the Internet and the chat features that it provides?
Person-to-Person Chat: Brian Gongol
One of the most unprecedented social changes brought about by the "Telecommunications Revolution" has been the advent of person-to-person chat technology. Popularized by programs called ICQ and America Online Instant Messenger, person-to-person chat is revolutionizing the way people communicate.
Person-to-person chat is a fairly new phenomenon. America Online (AOL) owns the two leading chat programs: ICQ, started in 1997, serves 38 million users. It was founded by a group of young Israeli men who sought only to put together a "killer app" that would spread like wildfire across the Internet. Clearly, they succeeded. AOL also owns Instant Messenger (AIM), which recently surpassed ICQ in total subscriptions -- more than 42 million members. Both programs have seen rates of expansion of more than one million subscribers each month.
Other prominent person-to-person chat programs include Yahoo! Messenger and MSN Messenger, both of which primarily seek to capture market share from the AOL duopoly. Of course, other proprietary systems like PeopleLink (3 million subscribers), mIRC, and ExciteChat reach fewer numbers of subscribers -- though even these systems claim tens of thousands of users.
Though they may seem to provide a simple array of functions, programmers try to differentiate in order to pull in market share. AIM wins hands-down in the "ease of use" category. It is more intuitive than any other chat program, with a simple graphical format that allows the user to organize contacts in any number of folders, labeled at will. AOL already dominates the market among Internet Service Providers, and AOL users are a dedicated lot: Members spend an estimated 75% of their online time behind AOL's proprietary walls (including AIM). With that kind of market reach and depth, it is no wonder that AIM has come to a remarkable level of dominance in such a short time. It is important to note, however, that AOL members total just under 20 million; more than half the users of AIM are not AOL subscribers. AOL issued new versions of AIM twice in 1999; version 3.0 includes a news ticker and adds a "buddy icon" feature, which allows the user to identify his or her online "buddies" with on-screen icons.
ICQ is the other branch of AOL's chat strategy. ICQ (a play on the words "I Seek You") is favored by Internet enthusiasts; stridently anti-commercial and pro-access, some ICQ users actually "flamed" (sent hate e-mails) to the program's authors when they sold out to AOL for nearly $290 million. ICQ packs a much broader array of features than AIM; while both offer search functions and different levels of "buddy" organization and blocking, ICQ adds the power to send messages even when the buddy is off-line, to send file attachments of unlimited size, and to use a "shadow" online presence - activating one's own buddy list to see who else is online, while not actually identifying one's own screen name as active. While ICQ and AIM together create a formidable chat leviathan for America Online, PC Magazine notes that "AOL will have to keep a blistering pace in adding features."
Yahoo!, which established itself early as one ofthe dominant Internet search engines, has taken to re-defining itself as an ultimate Web portal. Offering Yahoo! Mail, Finance, News, and now Messenger, Yahoo! is trying to steal market share from AOL. Yahoo! Messenger probably comes the closest to fulfilling prophesies of "personal Internet agents" of any service available. Once one enters a few items into the MyYahoo! front page, Yahoo! Messenger creates a full-service range of services, including e-mail alerts (for Yahoo!Mail), personally-tailored stock quotes (through Yahoo!Finance), a personalized news list and sports scorecard (through Yahoo!News), and of course, Yahoo! Messenger itself, which closely resembles AIM.
Rounding out the "leader board" among the person-to-person chat providers is MSN Messenger, Microsoft's answer to AIM and ICQ. MSN Messenger employs a look and feel similar to AIM, but it has become truly controversial because a much more technical issue. Microsoft's programmers managed to engineer their way around AOL's protocols so that MSN Messenger users could use the Microsoft program with other MSN users and with AIM users. AOL immediately responded by modifying their code in order to defeat this cross-over. The companies have spent months engaged in this kind of programming cat-and-mouse behavior, as Microsoft programmers repeatedly hack their way past AIM's security walls in order to give MSN Messenger cross-host functionality. While it is on one hand an acknowledgment of AIM's market dominance, AOL argues that Microsoft's hacking is essentially a theft of their code and an illegal breach of AOL's network security. While the arguments on either side of the agenda are at times rather disingenuous, both Microsoft and AOL are involved in talks to establish an "Instant Messaging and Presence Protocol" for pan-Internet chat. No definitive protocol is expected to be released before 2001.
As the individual programs seek to differentiatethemselves from one another, they actually begin to increasingly resemble one another - integrating stock quotes, news tickers, and search functions, as well as converging on several standard chat functions. Non-chat programs are getting in on the act, as well. RealNetworks sees AIM as an opportunity to increase "stickiness" with its users and has developed a cross-promotional effort in order to encourage AIM users to share audio and video with their chat partners via RealAudio and RealVideo projects. Because none of the chat tools have yet been truly profitable in and of themselves, "stickiness" is the name of the game.
AOL's remarkable influence over its users' time, illustrated by the amount of time many users spend within the "walls" of its home-grown content, has been one of the major tickets to its success. Because AOL still receives most of its revenues (about 75%) from subscription fees, it has no choice but to keep customer interest high in its own material. This is where "stickiness" - or the ability of a program or function to keep users online with a particular service longer - becomes crucial. Should, for example, the Yahoo! service catch on among AOL users, AOL would become more of a simple Web-access provider than content producer; this would inevitably lead to lost revenues as those subscribers no longer interested in AOL's content would switch to lower-cost ISPs and begin using Yahoo! as their (free) Web portal instead.
Because the person-to-person chat programs are so relatively new (none are more than three or four years old), they are still developing as tools of social interaction. Already, however, protocols have arisen, and it is clear that some transgressions can "mark" a user for life. Person-to-person chat is unlike any other communications medium. It is a hybrid of e-mail, telephone conversation, CB chatter, and gossip web, with touches of cartoon and telegraph thrown in.
First, and most importantly, with whom you chat can be more important than what it is about which you chat. Chatting is much like talking with a neighbor with most programs, if you are online, it is obvious to everyone else online - just as if your car were in the driveway. Should an online "buddy" send a chat invitation or message, it is as if he or she is knocking at your door. Just as it is possible to miss a knock at the door, it is sometimes possible to miss a chat invitation - if, for example, too many other windows are active on the screen, there are too many people sending invitations at once, or if one accidentally remained logged on when he or she has left the room to do something else.
But it can be taken as a social rebuke if it happens too often; there are only so many times that a message could be "accidentally" missed before it becomes clear that something is awry. In order to help people avoid this social difficulty, ICQ offers users the option of changing their online status in order to hide their presence from all other users, or from some users in particular. While ICQ's response is rather sophisticated, AIM does not offer the same feature; however, AIM users can generate a nearly limitless number of screen names (unique user identifications), some of which are held private. With one of these private screen names, one could surreptitiously sign on to AIM, check a copy of his or her regular buddy list to see who has logged on (at least, under their regular screen names), and determine whether to go on under the normal screen name - or, for example, to reveal the private screen name to selected individuals while ignoring others. The issue of avoiding some chat partners has become so complicated that some users actually keep anti-buddy lists - lists of people whom they'd rather avoid altogether. As chat programs become more and more influential upon daily life, it can be expected that this issue will become more complicated, not less.
Certainly, responding or not responding to particular chat partners is certainly not the only thorny social issue raised by chat programs. Some social observers have noted that computers do a peculiarly good job of adding "personal space" to contact between people. For some reason or another, people are oftentimes more comfortable "saying" things online to one another than they are in person. This is seen not only with chat programs, but with e-mail, bulletin boards, and webpages as well. Chat programs, though, are the most immediate of all. What happens in a person-to-person chat takes place in what is very close to real time, and it is already being seen that the immediacy of conversation has changed social dynamics, particularly among adolescents, who are some of the heaviest users of chat messaging.
Because one's screen name is not always public knowledge, but is rather (sometimes) selectively distributed, one does not always know who else with whom one's chat partner is conversing as well. This makes it possible (and I have actually observed this phenomenon in practice) for a mutual friend of two feuding parties to broker agreements and apologies between them by taking part in rapid-fire chat sessions. If friend "A" says that friend "B" lied, friend "C" is perfectly capable of asking friend "B" for his or her take on the matter without friend "A" knowing it. Since so many problems are simply the result of mis-communication, this can have a remarkable impact on social structures and can be the cause of considerable goodwill.
Because online chat is a medium unlike any other, it is natural that it has developed a language of its own. A remarkable number of abbreviations have arisen and are in common use, mostly for their time-saving power. They range from the simple - BTW (by the way), LOL (laughing out loud), JK (just kidding) - to the complicated - ROTFLMAO (rolling on the floor, laughing my a__ off).
Many of the abbreviations can be traced to e-mail. Both technologies center on saving time and effort, and the abbreviations are a natural outgrowth of those goals. It is important to note that, as with all written communication, chat conversations lose the aspect of non-verbal communication. Nuance, tone of voice, and other critical aspects of meaning are lost when set in print. Chat users compensate, however, through the liberal application of clarifying abbreviations (like "JK"), font variance, and smileys. While the point of underscored or italicized text is universally accepted (and has been for decades), most chat programs allow their users to modify font size and color, as well as background colors. When taken as influences on the meaning of the written messages, colors can act as powerful tools of communication. It is also important to note that some messages are best restrained when sent over chat programs.
One important convention among users is that words written in capital letters are to be read as shouting. While they can sometimes be applied as tools of humor among friends ("I TOLD you not to go out with her!"), capital-blocked messages are usually taken as flaming.
While those conventions have earned a strong footing in e-mail and chatting, smileys or emoticons are even more specific to electronic communications. Ever since it was noticed that a colon and right parenth resembled a face sitting on its side, e-mail and chat users have been using so-called "smileys"to add an additional dimension to their communication. The message "I'm having a great day" could in fact be taken many different ways -- remember, e-communications lack the nuance of voice. Thus, if the remark were followed by :-) (a "happy" smiley), it could fairly be taken at face value. Were it followed by :-( (a "sad" smiley) or :-0 (a "surprised" smiley), it might mean something different altogether -- indicating sarcasm, disdain, or any number of other emotions. The sentence could even be followed by :-} (a smiley sticking its tongue out), which usually indicates that the author is teasing the reader.
While most people identify chat programs with their social function, they are being put to an increasing number of utilitarian applications. Organizations have found that by posting their members' screennames, they can encourage them to communicate with one another, even when geographic distances might not otherwise permit. These groups range from an eating disorders group to a fantasy-baseball club. While these organizations and others are using chat for everything from health discussions to socializing within a college fraternity, most applications have been strictly non-profit.
It has only been of late that companies have discovered that the popularity of chat programs could make them excellent tools for business. Some firms plan to market chat as a way to build customer relations. FaceTime integrates AIM into a full e-commerce package that allows the firm to keep a comprehensive profile of its customers and use AIM to answer the same questions that might otherwise go through an (800) call center. AOL appears poised to market the FaceTime connectionas a way to help its front-page vendors build stickiness with AOL subscribers.
Other companies have discovered that ICQ can be used to build the "virtual office." PC/Computing argues that a virtual office might even be more efficient than a normal office, saving time otherwise wasted on regular e-mail, walking from office to office, phone conversations, and the like. While telecommuting is much ballyhooed for its environmental benefits and the power it may give parents to stay at home with young children, it is as yet unclear whether chat can fulfill the regular social needs that are so often satisfied by casual interaction at the office. It is noted by many users that they would not remain as close to distant friends as they do with chat programs, but the ramifications for "virtual" offices -- in which one never encounters co-workers in person -- may be quite different. It is simply too soon to tell.
For all their benefits, chat programs have created a number of troubling social issues. Because one can mask his or her own identity, chat programs can be dangerous tools in the hands of criminal sexual deviants. Furthermore, the ramifications inherent to the loss of privacy one accepts in publicly notifying others when he or she is online are still not fully understood. Moreover, ambitious hackers have already learned how to break into password controls and assume others' identities -- a trick known as "cracking."
It is crucial to remember that the main chat programs have been around for less than half a decade, a period much too short for all the potential pitfalls to be revealed and examined.
In the Internet Age, the power of communications have been taken far beyond what humans have ever known before. While it is simply too early to know everything about what are technologies are doing to us (and what we are doing to ourselves with their help), it is clear that the world is more complicated than it was before. While we have the power to do much good with chat technologies, as with so many others, we simply cannot detatchedly observe ourselves in the process. The potential behind chat technologies could, quite simply, revolutionize human communications.
General References for Person-to-Person Chat
- AOL Instant Messenger
- About AOL Instant Messenger
- AOL-IMFrequently Asked Questions
- AOL-IMFrequently Asked Questions
- ZDNet reviews AOL-IM
- AOL-IMbackground for advertisers
- How to use AOL-IM
- MSN Messenger
- Yahoo! Messenger
- K MessageCenter
- Developers of the K Message Center
- ICQ - Frequently Asked Questions
- ICQ - How to Use
- PeopleLink- What it is
- Freeserve Messaging (UK)
- AOL's Other Buddy List
- Online Chatting Basics
- Using Netscape AOL Instant Messenger
- AOL Enlists Lycos to Fight Microsoft Messenger
- AOL Developing Messenger for Lycos
- AOL Launches Messenger 3.0