Tech Life Ain't changing

Instant Messaging Etiquette

On a recent trip to Seattle to hang the boys, I was completely floored when the topic instant messaging etiquette came up and EVERYONE agreed that I was an instant messaging prick. The basic complaint being that, “You never know when the conversation begins or ends with you… You jump in and jump out with zero pleasantries.”

That’s right. I do. Ain’t changing.

First, let me say that I’m a tremendous fan of instant messaging. Been so for years. At 12:05 on a Sunday afternoon, there are 20 people active on my buddy list with another 106 on the inactive list. When I started the new management gig, my introduction email to the team read something like, “Hi, I’m Rands and here’s my AIM account – I’m always on it which means you can always talk to me.”

Second, in the spectrum of communication mediums, instant messaging is unique because, duh, it’s instant. This is good if you happen to urgently want a piece of information from someone, but it’s bad if you’re the person who has the information and does not want to give it. For me, the keyword in that previous statement is “urgent” – instant messaging, during the business day, is for urgent communications. What I’m saying when I send that “Did you look at bug #2173148?” is that “I really need to know about this right now.” If I didn’t think it was urgent, I would have sent an email.

Third, and last, I really respect your time. I’m generally a fairly polite guy which means I was confused when the Seattle crew called me an instant messaging clod. What they didn’t understand (and you now do) is that by not say the equivalent of “hello” and “good bye”, I’m actually trying to save you time. I’m not trying to have a personal interaction and, if I did, I’d pick up the phone and call you.

(ps. I debated throwing my instant messaging ID in here, but that seems like a “bad idea”… if you’d like to instant message, drop me a line and I’ll set you up.)

UPDATE: After staring at my instant messaging habits for the better part of a week, it’s readily apparent that there is a generational gap between my usage of IM and a lot of other folks. As indicated above, my interactions are brief, to the point, and often considered rude.

The gap is this: There is a generation behind me which really finds it A-OK to have a personal inteaction via IM. This is great, it makes the world a smaller place, but it’s not for me. A large majority of the people in my buddy list are folks who, at some point, I’ve had personal contact with. I don’t tend (keyword: tend) to form new relationships via IM/IRC/forums/etc.

This odd because I am child of the BBS days of the 80s where a majority of my social interaction came from online discussions. Hmmm… wonder when that changed.

17 Responses

  1. What I’d like to know is this: do any of the bazillion people on your contact list treat instant messaging like a chatroom?

    The reason I’m asking is that most of the people on my AIM and ICQ lists decide that if I am online, then it is their DUTY under GOD to talk to me so much I can’t do any other fucking thing.

  2. I don’t have this problem maybe because folks learn that I really don’t chitChat in AIM/ICQ. Conversation must be content rich or I bail.

  3. While “Hello” is not necessarily needed, I’d say “Goodbye” or it’s equivalent is actually very valuable. It’s like the closing tag for a conversation. It lets the other party know when they can fully remove that thread of conversation from their mind, rather than wonder if more was needed.

    By explicitly flagging the end of a thread of conversation you compensate for the lack of non-verbal cues present in face-to-face and phone interaction that would signal the exact same “state change”.

    Or not; my expeirence is mine alone and probably does not reflect those of others.

    I havn’t digested it yet, but the paper at (“Aspects of the context of email interaction”) looks like a good read.

  4. Just one brief thought: I agree with Blix that “hello” is not necessary, but by using “goodbye”, you can signal to the other person that you have better things to do and that you no longer wish to talk to them. This usually stops them from repeatedly messaging you with things like, “Dude are you there?” “Hello?”

  5. Ryvar 15 years ago

    I dunno. My IM etiquette is nearly as bad as yours with the following exception: when I am the one initiating the conversation, I try to make it like I’m Kramer entering Jerry Seinfeld’s apartment – each time is frightening and unique.

    Examples would include starting off the conversation with “SHUT THE FUCK UP”, a 3-paragraph monologue attempting to justify kidnapping the Olson twins in order to make a lesbian incest twin porn video, or a diabtribe on how much I hate people who attempt to be unique for the sake of being unique.

    I guess the point is, if I’m going to chew up your time by IMing you, I want you to at least smile as soon as you see my nick at the top of the window because you know the next couple lines will be an amusing kickoff to the conversation even if the rest of it sucks. I’ve no idea where or why I got started doing this, but there you go.

  6. I agree with what Ryvar says, but I’d say nothing starts off an early morning conversation better than the word “COCKS”.


    My lexicon is expanding already.

  8. Grando Theft Auto 15 years ago

    Ryvar, you so crazy

  9. Point of IM etiquette: should you just walk across the hallway to scream the obscenities at your housemate, or is it better to IM him?

  10. Stonewall Jackson 15 years ago


  11. PEPITOMCSUAREZ 15 years ago


  12. Jesse Jackson 15 years ago

    Back in my day, we didn’t have any of your fancy birth control methods, like ‘pulling out’.

  13. Interacting with rands online is, I find, similar to trying to hold the attention of a five year old with extreme attention defecit disorder.. but then again, I’m trying to hold an actual conversation and not engage in what you (rands) yourself have said you prefer: to-the-point miniature memorandums.

  14. Fact of the matter is, I am attention deficient. This is a pleasant by-product of caring about so much crap… I’m a high-leveler, not a detailer.

    I’m in, I’m out, I’m moving on…

  15. Sounds like spigot’s love life HA HA

  16. “This odd because I am child of the BBS days of the 80s”

    Myself, also.

    “where a majority of my social interaction came from online discussions.”

    Not me. Face time led to sack time.

    “Hmmm… wonder when that changed.”

    My guess is bandwidth. I knew that when I had a Hayes 1200 or whatever goddamn smoke-signalling device existed then, I didn’t want to get all windy when live on a BBS paleo-chat. I kept it brief because watching someone type live is incredibly boring…and was even more so on a 13″ GoldStar sub-VGA monitor and a 286.

    So maybe your, uh, “terseness” comes from some deeply buried desire to conserve bandwidth, even if you know a hundred monkeys could chat at once and barely dent a T1.

    Or maybe, like me, you find socializing via characters–and at work–faintly ridiculous and often annoying.


  17. The reason I’m asking is that most of the people on my AIM and ICQ lists decide that if I am online, then it is their DUTY under GOD to talk to me so much I can’t do any other fucking thing.

    Duty under the GOD of DOG?