The Etiquette of Instant Messaging

By | January 24, 2006

I put all my IM contacts on my blog because I think we bloggers should be reachable; and, besides, sometimes interesting people get in touch. But I’m starting to get a bit disillusioned. Most folks don’t introduce themselves — they just start with “hello”, and then, usually “I want help”, or “I am new to this. I want a friend” without giving me any idea whether they’re a scammer, an ordinary person, a friend or a bot.

Most assume that I’m there to help them without having the faintest clue who I am; if they’ve read a blog entry they seem to assume I work for one of the companies I mention on the blog. How hard is it to read the About page? Most are not really very polite, I have to say. When I ask for more details about who they are before engaging in a conversation with someone called “hfak_7832”, they usually go quiet. Whatever happened to IM etiquette? Is it so hard to say, “Hi, I’m Bob from Nebraska, could I trouble you for some help?” or something similar?

So, here are my rules of engagement for any future cold call IMmers:

  • Read my blog a bit before you start pinging me. I don’t work for Nokia. I am not a help center, I’m a journalist.
  • Tell me a little bit about who you are — such as a name — and where you got my IM profile before you start asking for help;
  • Please write in vaguely decent English. It may not be your native language but I need to understand what you’re saying.
  • Be patient if I’m in the middle of something and don’t answer immediately. IM is like that.
  • If you’re using Skype, do not try to call me without chatting first (in fact you can’t but occasionally Skype seems to default all its settings, so sometimes you can even when I think you can’t.) And all the above rules apply.

I love hearing from people, especially people who have actually read some of my stuff, and even PR types are welcome (they’re always the polite ones, interestingly). But please, keep it civil.

2 thoughts on “The Etiquette of Instant Messaging

  1. Christian

    It’s the same with a lot of online chat things – I had that problem all the time with irc – you’d always get boxes popping up with “asl” as a first line. Honestly, the number of intelligent people online these days must be dropping pretty sharply…

    I’m glad to see someone with something complementary to say about PRs as well – reassuring to know from an independent source that we’re not all evil!

  2. shiraz

    nice one. while i applaud you for putting all your IM contacts on your blog, that’s exactly why i haven’t done the same kind of thing on mine… (not that i’d get as many callers as you though!)

    i especially worry about the “hello-my-name-is-zeeshan-look-i’m-South-Asian-too-and-you-look-cute-can-we-be-friends” types, who already come along every once in a while via email (despite the fact that the only picture they ever see could hardly be described as *anything* let alone cute).

    so i did something similar with a “please-read-this-before-you-contact-me” page for email.

    needless to say though, the people who take the time to check what your etiquette preferences might be before contacting you, are usually the ones who don’t need to in the first place…


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