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Dave's Beginners Guide to the Internet

What is Chat?

So now you know all sorts of things about the Internet. But you're probably wondering, wouldn't it be nice to talk back and forth with someone without having to continuously send e-mails? Online conversations in which you are immediately able to send messages back and forth to one another is called chat.

Often you'll hear people say, "I was chatting last night to someone from [this state.]" Other times you'll hear them say "I was chatting to someone from [this country.]" Chances are they weren't talking about the telephone, which can cost a few cents every minute. They were probably talking about online chat. Online chat doesn't cost anything extra, as long as you have an Internet connection.

There are three commonly used types of chat. They are Instant Messaging, ICQ, and IRC.

Instant Messaging

Instant messaging (IM) is one of the most popular forms of chat. Most of the time, instant messaging (IM'ing) is just between two people, although most IM software can handle group chats (with 3 or more people.) When you first start out IM'ing, you have to choose a name that people see you as. This name is commonly referred to as a nick (as in nickname) and is sometimes called a handle.

The most popular form of IM is AOL Instant Messenger. AOL IM allows anyone who downloads their free software to choose a nick (AOL calls their nicks Screen names) and 'chat' with anyone else with AOL IM or the America Online Service itself. Nearly everyone with America Online is reachable by AOL IM. If you see an AOL e-mail address, you can often cut off the to get the IM screen name to contact the person directly.

Example: You get an e-mail from and want to contact them by IM. Cut off the You're left with Bob12345. You can add Bob12345 to your "Buddy List" with AOL IM and send them a message almost anytime they are online.

No two people with AOL IM or AOL can have the same screen name.

AOL IM is free. You can download it here. The software and web site have detailed instructions on how to get started.

Caution: Be careful when reading e-mail. Most email that looks like its from a bank, credit card company, mortgage company, eBay, PayPal, etc, is actually a criminal trying to rip you off or steal your info.

To stay safe, NEVER click links in an e-mail message that takes you to a page that asks for ANY INFORMATION from you. Instead, go directly to the site. For example, if you want to check on your eBay account, open your web brower and type If you'd like to learn more about protecting yourself from this crime, go to Google and search for "phishing."

ICQ ("I seek you")

ICQ is an extremely useful communication program. It allows you to message (chat), send files, send URLs, and more to anyone else with ICQ.

When you download ICQ (which is free) you are assigned an ICQ number. Two or more people using ICQ can have the same nickname, but no two people can have the same ICQ number. If you want to let someone contact you by ICQ, give them both your ICQ# and your nickname, so they won't accidentally contact someone else with the same nickname by mistake.

ICQ is a great tool to keep in touch. You can learn more about using ICQ at

IRC - Internet Relay Chat

Unlike AOL IM and ICQ, IRC (Internet Relay Chat) is not owned by any company. To use IRC, you need an IRC client program. I recommend the shareware program mIRC if you are using Microsoft Windows.

IRC has many networks that are completely separate from one another. Some popular networks include The Undernet, EFnet, and DALnet. If you want to chat with someone on IRC, you need to make sure that both of you are on the same network (you can set it and change it each time your start your IRC program.)

IRC has very few rules. You are allowed to say pretty much anything to want to pretty much anyone you want. For example, if you are on AOL, and someone keeps bothering you, you could report that screen name to the AOL company. There is no high authority on IRC, but there is still an ignore option to use if someone annoys you.

IRC is probably the best way to meet new people. Most people who use IRC are very friendly and helpful.

Once you connect to an IRC network with an IRC client program, there are often thousands of rooms (they are called channels, and all start with a pound sign [#]) on nearly any topic, and tens of thousands of different people to chat with. If you have some free time and you're pretty bored, IRC is an excellent way to have a nice chat.

Note: Although only one person can be using a nickname at a time on an IRC network, there is no central registration. It is conceivable that someone else may be using the same nickname as you when you aren't online just by pure coincidence. Please pick a unique nickname to reduce the chances of being mistaken for someone else.

Other Chat Possibilities

The programs and services mentioned above are just a few of the more popular ways to chat. If there is someone you wish to chat with, contact that person by e-mail first. You can ask them if they use a chat or IM service. It is possible they may be using one that I haven't mentioned above. Lots of web sites also have chats built into them.

Last Chapter: What is Electronic Mail?

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