Top iChat etiquette tips

Christopher Null
1 October, 2009
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The popularity of instant messaging has grown exponentially in the past decade, but the communication platform’s immediacy presents users with endless opportunities to come off the wrong way. These tips will help you stay in the good graces of your iChat buddies.

Respect limits. Not everyone can interrupt their day for a 30-minute impromptu chat session with you. Try to be mindful of the time you are spending on an instant messaging session—especially during office hours, when excessive instant messaging (IM) dalliance can with collegues and non-colleagues alike can land a person in trouble at work.

Avoid crosstalk. It’s common for chat sessions with a single contact to split into two or more simultaneous conversations, since thoughts arrive faster than fingers can type them. Things get tricky when one side writes “I hate that” and it isn’t clear what they’re referring to—potentially offending the other participant. If a session starts getting unduly complicated, table one discussion and return to it later.

Be cautious contacting strangers. Even if an IM account is made public, send messages to it more cautiously than you would send an e-mail to an e-mail address. Like a phone call out of the blue, instant messaging operates in real time and puts the recipient on the spot. If you do IM a stranger, introduce yourself and explain the point of your contact in your first message. Don’t be offended if the recipient ignores you. If that happens, try sending an e-mail message instead.

Pay attention to status updates. If someone takes the trouble to set his or her iChat status to “away,” respect that status notification and send your message later, unless the situation is so urgent that you need the recipient to see the message the minute they return. Besides being potentially annoying, an instant message window that arrives and is left open on a recipient’s screen while he or she is away can cause embarrassment if someone else walks by and sees the message.

Feel free to have multiple IM sessions at once. It can be awkward to carry on multiple IM sessions with different people at the same time, but if you manage to keep the conversations straight—and you’re competent enough to type in the right window—it’s no more rude than playing several chess games simultaneously.

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