Part of the “In” ternet Crowd: Navigate Crowded Cyberspace with Ease and GracePart of the “In” ternet Crowd: Navigate Crowded Cyberspace with Ease and Grace

Part of the "In"ternet Crowd: Navigate Crowded Cyberspace with Ease and Grace

These days proper etiquette extends beyond table manners to the often crowded cyberworld of chat rooms, e-mail and instant messaging.

Majoring in communications? Of the Internet variety, that is. Many teens spend hours perfecting their skills at instant messaging (IM), e-mail and chat. With the programs available, from Microsoft Outlook Express for e-mail, or AOL Instant Messenger software for IM and chat, gossiping with friends in real-time is only a few cybersteps away.

But be honest. When you get online, are you feeling a bit out of your element? Maybe you're not hip to all the lingo, greetings and e-mail etiquette? These days, if you want to be part of the "In" ternet crowd, you need to be down with the latest net-speak and online decorum. Start typing in all capital letters, for instance, and your online friends are going to tell you to chill out. Capital letters translate to screaming in cyberspace.

Sending out an e-mail full of misspellings is totally annoying for the person receiving it—no matter how much they like you. Before they finish muddling through all the junk, they'll probably end up hitting the delete button. Why lose precious gossip time? It's far easier to run a spell check before hitting "Send."

According to Samantha Miller, a senior writer at People Magazine and the author of the book E-Mail Etiquette: Do's, Dont's and Disaster Tales from People Magazine's Internet Manners Expert, the rules for e-mailing are different than those for instant messaging and chat. Miller says, "You're typing complete sentences in e-mail, and spelling and grammar count here. There aren't many rules to instant messaging, as it's a fast and loose environment."

Angel Hernandez, 17 and a senior at Linden High School, has no patience for term paper-length IM messages. He hops online to connect with his high school friends via quick chat and instant message, and for the occasional e-mail. Angel says, "If a person writes too much at a time when they are instant messaging, and there's a big group talking, people will say to slow down. We have to have a chance to read and respond to what they wrote. But one-word answers are just as bad. There's a balance to it."

Those silly little symbols, such as the happy face :) and many more—what Miller calls "emoticons"—are welcomed in instant messaging. She adds that abbreviations like BTW (translation: by the way) and other common net-slang are also acceptable. If you're chatting away and suddenly all of the abbreviations become a muddle of meanings, Miller urges IMers to ask their online friends politely to translate. Or, you can get a crash course in net-slang, courtesy of Netlingo.com.

In the end, many rules of face-to-face communication also apply to the Internet. For instance, would you walk away from someone without a word in the middle of a conversation? Noelle Brown, a 15-year-old Piscataway High School sophomore, gets irritated with friends who forget to use the "away" message, when they have left the computer for a bit. (If you walk away from your computer, but leave the computer connected to the instant messaging software, anyone that has you on his or her buddy list will get a message that you are available to chat.) "If you're instant messaging them, and they're really away, it is so annoying to send IMs again and again, until you figure out that they're not there," gripes Noelle. Have some manners, would ya?