For better or worse, first impressions tend to be lasting ones. But the world does not stand still, so occasionally it may be a good idea to reevaluate things you already think you know.

My earliest impression of “chat” was formed during my days as a single guy in the mid-90’s. A friend had bought a computer system and signed up for America Online. It was there that I first observed a chat room. It was fascinating and amusing, but the “online singles bar” that my friend was participating in became for years my lasting impression of “chat”. When new user entered a room an obligatory A/S/L query would soon follow.

This was not exactly an experience I’d want to share with my Mom, nor something I would have expected my employer to embrace being present on their computer. But now I find myself wrong on both counts.

It was as if I had been raised on some South Pacific island and had first encountered TV by only watching for a short time one channel playing some bad movie. That impression stayed with me until effectively I “turned on a new TV and flipped channels”. And then my point of view began to change.

Close Encounters

When troubleshooting issues with my firewall/virus scanners a few years ago, I could get technical support through various means: an email, the 1-800 number, and some instant messaging session. Of course I’d send an email, but waiting for an answer can take a day or so. So while I was waiting, I’d call the phone number and find I had a half hour or 45-minute wait.

As I’m listening to the wonderful hold music, I clicked the other link. Not more than a few moments later I was communicating with a real live human being! No endless voice mail menu to navigate to find eternal-hold, but someone in Tech Support. My issues were handled in a fairly expedient manner. But I can be thick at times, and the usefulness of this media evaporated when my software issues were resolved.

I happen to be a forum junkie, and this led to another close encounter with IRC. Perhaps it was a slow day in the forums, but I’d wandered about and discovered DaniWeb’s chat network. It was interesting and new, but it didn’t really take. Even after I had downloaded mIRC to improve my experience, it still didn’t click for me.

My Epiphany

Recently I had taken to enjoying arguments in the forums. One happened to spill over into the chat arena. The high-speed hijinks was a real adrenaline rush. I started posting links to various items almost as fast as the though went through my mind. A song found in YouTube here, a quick picture with the digital camera uploaded to ImageShack there, and something started to click.

In almost real time I was able to show pictures of what I was doing or what I had done last week. If I was trying to remember a joke, I could quickly find a link and post it. Some old comedy bit on a TV show I watched years ago: voilà! I snapped pictures during my hard drive replacement and OS upgrade. On one occasion I asked how to say, “Whopper with cheese, no pickles” in Spanish, and I used The Thingamagadget to record my attempt and relay that along.

I researched and test various chat clients (such as Pidgin, Trillian, mIRC a second time, and xChat). I learned about starting and operating my own channel on an existing network. I thought this would be a great way to keep in touch with friends and relatives since we are scattered about the country. This grand vision has yet to fully materialize, but I feel I’m keeping up with the program at least.

A Plethora of Uses, But Mostly Fun

Prior to this time I had been relatively oblivious to the SameTime client on my work PC. But it sure makes it easy to send someone a clicky link to a file on the network. Or copy a line of code to ask someone about. Not needing to run upstairs to find out that no one is there is a nice bonus. Sure a phone call might work in that same capacity, but it’s nice to just ask a question instead of sitting through the voice mail navigation to leave a message. And it remains my first choice for tech support with any PC issues that come up for me. And I would surely prefer it to a phone call even for help and support from non-tech places.

Dismissing this valuable tool merely a toy for the younger generation it like giving them the keys to your sports car.

Nice blog entry.. I agree that instant-messaging as a form of legit communication has certainly gained support in the last 5 years or so. It is just so convenient... Also, I've noticed IRC has certainly regained some popularity. I hadn't noticed anything about IRC until Daniweb, but I've noticed many people take advantage of its usefulness, and structured chat setting.