Most of us enjoy a good natter, especially with like-minded individuals discussing topics that are close to our heart. Conversation is a social activity and not something normally associated with sitting in front of a computer screen but you may be surprised to know that the Internet provides a unique way of conversing with people, using text instead of speech, on almost any subject you care to name.   

Internet chat is quite unlike e-mail or posting messages in newsgroups, it is interactive and takes place in real time. In other words as soon as you have typed your message it appears almost immediately on the screens of those you are chatting with; this could be just one other person, or dozens, possibly hundreds of others, anywhere in the world. It opens up all sorts of possibilities. It is an excellent way of meeting and getting to know people from all walks of life, cultures and societies, it can lead to rewarding and long lasting friendships, even marriage.

Chatting on the Internet is not as organised as the World Wide Web or email systems but there is a loose structure based around chat 'rooms' or 'channels', carried by networks of server computers linked to the Internet. A chat room is a sort of virtual clubhouse, bar or café where people sharing a particular interest gather together. Some Internet Service Providers (notably AOL and CompuServe) host their own chat rooms and channels that may only be accessed by subscribers, however most chat rooms are open to anyone with a PC and Internet connection.

The list of chat room topics is almost endless, from doctors discussing the latest developments in medical research to lonely hearts and if you can't find a chat room that deals with your specific interest you can start your own one.

Chat rooms can come and go, some may only be active at specified times or on a particular day. Chat rooms and channels can also be devoted to personalities TV and movie stars and musicians, who will answer questions on-line; details of these can often be found from fan web sites, Internet search engines and ISP home pages.

You won't need any special software to get started, providing you have a reasonably up to date browser like Internet Explorer or Netscape, and it won't cost you anything – apart from your normal on-line expenses. Some chat rooms rely on special chat 'client' software – a bit like an e-mail program -- these are normally distributed as shareware or freeware and are freely available from well-publicised download sites.

There are a few formalities and conventions. In order to enter a chat room you will normally have to provide the host with some personal details (your name, email address location etc.,) after which you can choose an ID or 'handle' and a password. Whilst on line you can remain anonymous or use an alias, in any event be aware that chat rooms are public and it is wise not to give too much away – your home address, telephone number, passwords etc., -- to complete strangers, and children's chat room activities should always be monitored. As with any sector of society there is an unscrupulous minority who may take advantage of any private information you provide. Some client software will allow you and one other person to move away from the room and continue your conversation in private.  

Entering a busy chat room for the first time is a bit like going into an unfamiliar bar filled groups of people talking to one another. It can seem daunting but don't be put off, it's akin to overhearing a series of conversations all at once and it will take a little time to 'tune out' the background noise and follow what's going on. Be warned that at some times during the day quite a few chat rooms appear to be full of American juveniles wittering away about nothing in particular, it's usually better in the evenings, and your on-line costs will be lower too. Some chat rooms are moderated, which means someone is in charge, to keep the conversation flowing in the right direction and they have access to control software to banish abusive individuals.

Once you've found a room or channel that interests you you'll probably want to join in. It's usually a good idea to watch from the sidelines for a few minutes to get a feel of what's going on and familiarise yourself with the shorthand, jargon and 'emoticons'. These are a useful way for people to express themselves in the absence of the body language and expressions we use in normal face to face conversations. They can also help to reduce the length of messages and speed things up. Emoticons are small symbols, smiley or sad faces etc., made up from punctuation marks, thus  :-)  and  :- (  just turn the page on its side if you don't get it. Shorthand abbreviations help add meaning to your messages, we've included some of the commonest ones in Jargon Filter. The rest is mostly common-sense; watch your language, keep it clean, don't forget you are talking to other people and DON'T SHOUT -- writing in uppercase is considered loud and boorish.

If you are interested in finding out more or participating it is worth checking your ISP's home page to see if they host any chat rooms. Alternatively try Yahoo Chat, this can be accessed from the Yahoo search engine home page at simply click on 'chat' and you will be directed to the registration page. This only takes a couple of minutes to fill in and from there you can access several hundred chat rooms covering a vast range of subjects. Other search engines will also direct you the thousands of chat sites and systems on offer, just key in your topic, followed by the word 'chat' into the search field.

Next Week – music on the web



brb -- be right back

btw – by the way

cu – see you

imho – in my humble opinion

lol – laughs out loud

myob – mind your own business

newbie – new user

pvt – private or send a private message

rofl – rolls on the floor laughing

stats – statistics, sex, age, height etc

wtf – what on earth! (or words to that effect…)



The Windows 95/98 Registry is a large file that contains a lot of important information about your PC and the software that it is using. If it becomes corrupted Windows can become unstable and crash. Over time the Registry accumulates a lot of redundant data as programs are installed and deleted and these can cause problems. Windows 98 has a useful utility called Registry Checker, (Start > Programs > Accessories > System Tools > System Information > Tools Menu), which looks for and can fix routine errors. Windows 95 users can download a utility from the Microsoft Web site below called RegClean (it also works on Windows 98). This removes unnecessary and incorrect Registry entries and automatically creates a backup file, so the original configuration can be restored. It's a fairly small (800kb) and should only take a couple of minutes to download on a 56kbs modem.


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