Everyone has an obnoxious instant messenger friend. If you don't, it's probably you. Our parents didn't come of age in the days of MSN and AOL, so it's unlikely that they were able to pass on the finer points of internet manners.
Well, Mumma Gizmodo is here for you, baby. Now suckle from our teat of wisdom.
Abruptly logging off in the middle of a conversation is kind of a dick move. It's the electronic equivalent of getting up and walking out of a lunch while someone is mid-sentence. IM Land is not as formal as the real world and there's no need for long goodbyes, but a simple, "Crap! Gotta run!" with an optional "Catch you soon!" goes a long way, and it takes all of two seconds. The possible exception to this rule is if the conversation has already kind of petered out on its own say five or ten minutes ago. If you've both moved on already, don't worry about it. When in doubt, say peace out.
This one works both ways. If your buddy has his Busy sign up, don't send him a link to your new favorite Maru The Cat video. This is especially true if your buddy rarely has his Busy sign up and is using it very intentionally. The flip side of this: don't always leave your Busy sign up because your friends know you're not always busy, and they won't respect it. Rightfully so. This is especially true if the Busy message still says, "Can't talk. At CES!" which everyone knows was almost a year ago.
When nature calls, don't leave your buddy hanging, wondering if you've been torn apart by a honey badger. Just say, "be right back" then go take your leak, make a sandwich, or whatever. BRB is the least annoying instant message specific abbreviation there is. It is not only allowable, it is encouraged. In contrast…
Never say LOL. Even if you are literally laughing out loud, which is the only time it would be okay, it's too late. Other people have ruined it through gross misuse and overuse. Seriously? I wasn't even saying anything remotely amusing and I know you're at work, yet you just "laughed out loud" five times in the last two minutes? If that were true, you would be fired, and I would be glad that you don't have a computer anymore.
Oh, what? You don't know that one? OMG, like everyone knows that one! It stands for Only You Understand Your Insanely Long, Stupid Arse Acronyms. Like, duh.
DO YOU FEEL LIKE I'M YELLING AT YOU? YEAH. DON'T DO THIS TO PEOPLE.
In life, you see a person's face, recognise them as a friend, and then speak. With IM, you see your buddy's name and avatar, but it may actually be his girlfriend who just happens to be using his laptop to check her email (or it could be his boss). Always start with something safe. Opening with, "Dude, what happened with you and Tatiana last night in that abandoned ice cream truck? You both looked wasted!" might make someone's world explode.
You can, theoretically, hold five independent IM conversations at the same time, and have none of them be aware of each other. But just because you can, doesn't mean you should. Whether they see it directly or not, you are dividing your awesomeness amongst five people. If you do it equally (which you won't), everybody is only getting 20%. Reduce your numbers. When you can, finish one conversation before you start another. You'll get more out of your semi-human interactions that way, you'll be more likely to remember what was said, and you'll make the world a slightly better place. (Note: the exception to this rule is when you are using IM for work-related stuff with co-workers. Sometimes ya gotta.)
That's not for IM. That's just for life. For the love of all that is holy and pure, please learn the difference. Your killing the English language. (See what I did there?)
Be careful about saying anything in IM that could come back to haunt you. Even if you go "Off the Record" in Gchat, the person you're chatting with may be using a third-party chat client that saves it. Or they could just copy/paste the whole conversation into a Word doc, or screencap it, then print it, email it, or make it into a giant poster for all to see. The point is watch what you say online (especially if even might want to go into politics). Don't be paranoid, but don't be stupid.
Use sparingly. Instead of using an emoticon, spend an extra second or two to think of the right words. Language, people. That's what it's here for. In general, if you choose the right words and are communicating effectively, I'm going to know if your face is happy or sad. You don't need to draw it for me. The major exception to this rule is…
Sarcasm does not come across well in instant messages, or in any written language, for that matter. This has been tested and proven through millions of misunderstandings, much confusion, and many awkward attempts to explain a joke. Sarcasm relies heavily on tone of voice, which doesn't exist in IM Land. Sarcasm also often utilises facial expression, which is absent in IMs as well. That's why you get an emoticon-pass for sarcasm. The smiley can help here, I'll give you that. That said, sarcasm generally should be reserved for close friends who know you, know your sense of humour, and are less likely to punch you in the face.
Got some we missed? Let's hear ‘em in the comments.