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by Lloyd A. de Vries

Vol. 7 - Online Jargon

Back in the Old Days of communicating by computer — the early to mid 1990s — modem speeds were 300 bits per second. On a good day. If the wind was blowing in the right direction.

And you paid 6¢ a minute for the privilege!

Also, then as now, most of the people online weren't great typists (or "keyboarders," as my kids say).

It was also true then, as now, that those with whom you're communicating can't see your facial expressions or hear your voice. Sarcastic or wry comments might be taken seriously. In cyberspace, no one can hear you joke.

So, a shorthand evolved to make points quickly and with a minimum of keystrokes.

These came up the other day at work, where we use Instant Messenger to make comments across the room. I used an online acronym, and a younger co-worker asked me what it meant.

Gosh, I felt old.

So before they ship me off to the nursing home, let's run down a few of them:

<g>: "Grin." It's usually used in connection with a message, to let someone know you're kidding, or not entirely serious.

<g,d&r>: "Grin, duck and run." You just said something outrageous and you know it.

<g,d&rlh>: "Grin, duck and run like heck." A variation on the theme.

<g,d&rvvf>: "Grin, duck and run very, very fast." You get the idea.

LOL: Laughing Out Loud. You just told a good one, and someone found it funny.

ROFLMAO: "Rolling On Floor Laughing My [posterior region] Off." That was really funny.

YMMV: Literally, "Your Mileage May Vary," or "I realize you may have a different opinion."

IMHO: "In My Humble Opinion." We could probably just write "I think" but that wouldn't be as much fun.

LSMFT: "Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco." This really has nothing to do with the online world, but I thought I'd throw it in just to show that such shorthands aren't new.

Then there are the graphics from before computers were really capable of graphics, when they were just glorified typewriters:
:) or :-) is a "smiley," to denote humor. You look at these sideways.

;) or ;-) is a wink.

:( or :-( denotes unhappiness.

Above, I was careful to refer to "online" and not just "Internet." What's the difference? IMHO — Sorry, in my humble opinion, "online" is being connected to other computers. The Internet is one medium for doing so.

However, if you're on America Online and visiting its forums, you can be "online" on AOL and yet not on the Internet. I can send a message across the room at work and not use the Internet, using our LAN — "local-area network."

In the old days, each "online service" — AOL, CompuServe, GEnie, The Source, Prodigy, etc. — was a closed system. You could communicate only with other subscribers of that service. It wasn't until about 1995 or 1996 that subscribers from one service could send e-mail to subscribers of another, via the Internet.

I'm an old-timer at this stuff — nearly a decade, or the blink of the eye philatelically, but my experience goes back before the Internet, or at least before use of the Internet became so widespread.

Another word I hear being misused on the Internet is "chat." On most online services, Internet or not, a "chat" is a typed real-time conversation: You type a message, you press or click a button and within moments, your message appears before a number of other subscribers or members or participants, who are likely to type a response, and press or click a button of their own.

I've also seen these referred to as "conferences." Within moments of transmittal, the message is gone, replaced by newer conversation.

Another type of communication is the "message board," once known as the bulletin board, where participants post messages that stick around for awhile. Eventually, someone comes by (hopefully), reads the messages (hopefully) and posts a response (hopefully).

However, eBay has blurred the lines by referring to its message boards as "chatrooms."

I've always liked message boards better than chats, because I don't have to wait for someone else to show up or find the "T" key or fix a mistake. I post what I have to say, and come back in an hour or two or maybe a day or two, and read the responses.

However, America Online subscribers seem more interested in chats than boards. This goes back to the pre-Internet days, and even now, AOL subscribers or alumni (and most people at least start on AOL) think it's chat or nothing online.

Most contracts for online hosts or forum managers or "content providers" or whatever we're called this week require chats. The services maintain that chats build "community" and make participants identify more with that particular service. It may be true.

But there's another reason for the emphasis on chats: In the old days, online subscribers paid by the minute. Their subscriptions might include a certain number of hours per month or day, but after that, it was a nickel or a dime or more per minute. An hour-long chat might cost the subscriber $3.00 (five cents times 60 minutes). Get a dozen people in the chat, and the online service was making $36.00. Fire up a dozen chat rooms with a dozen people each, and that's $432 per hour.

While most services are now offering unlimited-access plans, there's a new reason for trying to get you to stay online for more than a few minutes: Every time the page's banner ad changes is considered a "pageview," and Web sites and online services both are trying to get paid by advertisers per pageview. Sit in a chat for 60 minutes, and you might generate 60 pageviews.

Twelve participants in a one-hour chat are 720 pageviews. Twelve chats... well, you get the idea.

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