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Chatrooms and Discussion Groups

It is possible on the internet to join chat rooms and discussion groups and make friends all over the world. This can be marvellous but there are a few dangers in this which are mentioned below.

There are several sorts of on-line chat available:

Instant Chat or Messaging:

This is where you can chat with someone else who is on-line. You type something which they can see. You can then see their replies immediately. There is a range of software to let you take part in these instant chats, such as AOL Messenger, Yahoo Messenger, MSN Messenger and the popular ICQ.

Take care not to give away your telephone number or personal details about yourself in chatrooms as you have no idea whether other people are who they say they are.

Never open files sent to you via IRC unless you know what the file is. Unexpected files can carry viruses.

Internet Relay Chat:

This is where you join a group of people who are on-line. You type something which they can see. You can then see their replies immediately. Internet Relay Chat is known as IRC. There are thousands of chatrooms available. Regulars often arrange to access a particular chatroom at a certain time to chat with other regulars. People normally adopt nicknames when they enter these chatrooms.

You will need software to access IRC. The software will show you a list of all the chatrooms available. You can dip in and out until you find one that you like. The most popular one is mIRC which you can download here.

As with instant messaging, be aware of the security risks. Never give away personal information and never open files sent to you unless you know what the file is.

Newsgroups:

Newsgroups (or "usenet" discussion groups) were one of the earliest parts of the internet. You can access them using a newsreader or email program. Messages are sent and received in the same way as emails, but link together to form "threads" on a particular topic (although they frequently wander onto other topics).

Many internet users are unaware of newsgroups. They are not about news but are really discussion groups. Sometimes groups with an interest in a particular topic may share news about that topic but there is also a great deal of discussion and ongoing conversation in these groups.

These are not as instant as other types of chat. You do not have to be online at the same time as other people. Replies may be given later in the day, or even several days later. Several people may reply to one message, so that the conversation divides into several strands. Conversations (or threads) are spread out over a longer period.

Your newsreader or email program can be set to download the list of available newsgroups. There are over 40,000 newsgroups so you will need to search the list using key words such as fishing, politics, cars, etc. Newsgroups are organised into hierarchies. United Kingdom groups begin with uk. while many unregulated groups start with alt. . Newsgroup names are made up of several elements, as with uk.media.films and uk.media.tv.hollyoaks. You can search the list for groups which may interest you, "subscribe" to them (for free!) and download current messages from those groups. It is better to follow a group for a while to get the feel of it before you start posting messages there yourself.

Many newsgroups can be accessed via Google Groups, which also has archives of past messages. You can read and post messages through the Google Groups site, but if you are going to do it a lot, it is easier to use a newsreader or email program.

Newsgroup messages are downloaded from (and sent to) a news server. Your ISP may have its own news server (see your ISP's help pages). You can also use an independent news server. A popular one, which costs just a few pounds a year to use, is individual.net.

You should make sure your software is not sending messages in HTML as this makes them take longer to download. You should not send advertisements unless a group is designed for that purpose (e.g: uk.jobs). Do not type a message in capital letters - it is thought of as shouting! Never send photographs or other attachments unless it is a group with "binaries" in its name. It is a good idea to read about Netiquette before you start posting to discover what sort of things are customary and acceptable. Find out more.

Discussion Boards and Lists:

There are discussion boards or forums on many individual web sites. You usually need to register to take part.

There are also mailing list discussions which can be read on a web site or conducted in the form of emails, such as Yahoo Groups. These can be similar to newsgroups.

An email list is like a club. When you subscribe to it, you receive emailed messages from other members. These are sent to the whole list, not just to you. If you send a reply to a message it will be sent to the whole list, not just the person whose message you are replying to. If you subscribe to a popular list you may find dozens of emails each time you connect to the internet. (You could choose not to receive messages by email, but access them via the web site instead.) Some newsreaders or email programs can thread the messages from an email list, so that they work like newsgroups.

Like newsgroups, these are not as instant as other types of chat. You do not have to be online at the same time as other people. Replies may be given later in the day, or even several days later. Several people may reply to one message, so that the conversation divides into several strands. Conversations (or threads) are spread out over a longer period.

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