Things you learn

I’ve kept a personal instant messaging program on my computer ever since I’ve been online, which is since 1996, more or less.

Like all Internet lemmings, I got an ICQ number just because it was cool at the time. I caught the bug early, though, and I was lucky enough to get an ICQ number with six digits, the first digit beginning with the number 1.

Unfortunately, and since this was part of the early days, I got hit by a Trojan that allowed someone to “steal” my ICQ number. At the time, ICQ was the largest messaging service around and couldn’t care less about people stealing ICQ numbers.

According to Lotus Geek, the ICQ terms of service provide that although it is not permissible behavior under the ICQ terms of service to “steal numbers”, once a user runs into a bit of misfortune, he’s all on his own. Also, low ICQ numbers (less than 8 digits) have since become a sort of status symbol among Russian “script kiddies” because of the successful pioneering work fostered by early ICQ policies.

Apparently, ICQ did something else about it but it was too little, too late. Due partly to this crappy customer service, the number of ICQ users dwindled and moved to other networks. I’m not sure if anyone still uses ICQ anymore, considering that everyone of note who once used it is now on another network – be it MSN, Yahoo! or Google. That’s bad news to AOL and good news to the original shareholders of Mirabilis (which owned ICQ) who got $240 million in cash and $400 million overall.

Despite the initial setback that was ICQ, instant messaging took off and now almost everyone and their neighbor has at least one Yahoo! Messenger or MSN Messenger account (depending on your location – MSN Messenger is hot in the United States, and Yahoo! Messenger elsewhere).

I’ve noticed two things with these instant messaging clients.

First is that they allow one to stay “invisible” when they go online. Why this is around isn’t so clear to me, but it’s been around since the early days of instant messaging.

Apparently, and as my friends tell me, it’s so that when you go online, you see other people who don’t need to hide their being online. Now, people hide their being online for a variety of reasons, most of which have to do with being broken hearted. Apparently, appearing online is similar to showing up in one’s accustomed salon, parlor, or lounge. In real life, showing up at the said spot is license for all and sundry to ask you annoying questions about your erstwhile loved one, regardless of whether or not you’re ready to answer these questions. So in virtual life, you appear as invisible so as to enjoy all the comforts of seeing online regulars do their business all the while keeping your status one big secret.

Now this theory that an occasional lurker (as these invisible people are known) is good for the community works on the assumption that not all the people who are online get their heart broken all the time. What these guys didn’t factor in is the time people spend healing and staying away from all the old places. So you end up with empty chatrooms or with status messages that say they’re there but they’re really not, like “I’m on SMS” or similar.

Second, putting on a status message like “I’m on SMS” is like saying “Don’t bother me, I don’t want to waste my load replying, just wait till I get online again.” Now, my entire Friends Online list is made up of people who are almost always on SMS.

I guess being invisible was just too tiring for some people.


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