How to foster internet friendships
Thu, Jun 10, 2004
Wichita Eagle

The Internet is a great place to meet people. But there are social etiquette and safety concerns to consider, especially if you ever choose to meet an online friend in person.

• When you find a public bulletin board or chat room that interests you, read it for a little while -- this is known as "lurking" -- before jumping in to post and participate. Get the feel of the board and decide whether it's a group you'd feel comfortable getting to know.

• Like any relationship, an Internet friendship requires effort. You can't just log in every few months and expect your friend to welcome you. To make the friendship work, you need to chat, e-mail and keep in contact with the person.

• Never share personal information, such as your address and phone number, or reveal sensitive details about your life in a public forum. You never know who might be reading.

• If you get to know a group of friends and want to be able to speak more freely, consider establishing a private message board. Web sites such as BoardHost.com let groups set up members-only message boards that require a password to access.

• Remember that written correspondence can lead to misunderstandings and hurt feelings. Be careful using sarcasm, for instance, which your reader could interpret as a serious comment. Emoticons -- those sideways symbols that portray smiling or winking faces -- can help, but they don't replace tone of voice and other subtleties.

• Be sure you really know someone before setting up a face-to-face meeting. To play it safe, meet in a public place or take someone you trust along with you. At the very least, let family members or close friends know your plans.