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What are some things I should know about chatting or posting messages?

Chatting or posting on forums can be a great may to make friends or learn new things. However, there are some things to consider before you post:

- People aren't always who they say they are online. Because people essentially have "secret identities" for posting messages, it's important to remember that not everyone is as honest as they seem. Don't give out personal information to anyone you chat with.

- Messages are public, so anyone logged in can see them. Don't post anything you wouldn't want your enemies to see. In addition, think before you post. It's easy to offend people when they can't hear the tone of your speech.

- Use the search function on forums before posting. Veteran forum members often get tired of answering the same questions all the time. Before asking a question, search to see if the question has been asked before. If so, post in the existing thread. Repeat threads can make it hard to sort through topics.

- On forums, give people time to respond. Sometimes no one online at the time knows the answer to your question, but someone will come along eventually. Posting a message wondering why no one is answering you question even an hour later is considered rude. If your topic falls off the main page before you get a response, you can post a response to yourself containing the word "bump". This puts the topic back at the top where it will be seen. A message containing only the word "bump" indicates you are simply "bumping" your topic back up to the top. Avoid doing this too often, though, or you'll annoy others who are browsing topics.

- AVOID TYPING IN ALL CAPS. This is the universal sign for yelling when online. In addition, it's hard to read.

- On forums that offer the option, use the spell checker. It makes for easier reading and others take you more seriously. In addition, punctiation on forums is essential. Unlike chat rooms and IM, treat a forum message like a written letter or e-mail. If people can't understand the question, they can't help.

- Avoid being abusive. Insulting and offending others can get you booted off a forum or chat room. Always remember that other posters are people, too.

- Stay on topic. Don't post messages that are unrelated to the main topic. It can make threads confusing to others. Find a thread with the topic you wish to discuss. Some forums take this much more seriously than others to the point of removing off topic posts.

- There's no such thing as being truly anonymous online. Just because you don't use your real name, doesn't mean people can't find out who you are. There are many ways to track down identities based only on your IP address your computer uses while online. Even if it changes often, there are records of who had what address and when they had it.

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