month I stood on my soapbox and whined about how miserable using
email is getting. A lot of folks replied to tell me how much they agree—email
that is starting to be avoided! It's so frustrating...especially when you
are expecting an important reply. You're forced to wade through
tons of junk to see if that important email has arrived. And where do
you find it? It was probably one of the few that actually got
sucked up by your spam filter and completely missed your inbox. Too bad it
didn't catch those 700 other viagara spams, eh? But then, those spammers
are tricky, right? I know I can now spell V!AG^RA with literally every
character on the keyboard! (For those of you lucky enough not to
understand what I mean...spammers tend to not spell the offending
word correctly to try to bypass your spam filter in which you spelled
it correctly.) The result is that I now have about 25 rules just to
handle viagara spam!<sigh>
I also have added rules to help me catch important emails like stuff from
Greg or email about TechTrax. The big problem there is that when you add a
new rule to Outlook to catch that new spam keyword, it supersedes your previous
important rules and you still end up finding important email in the
junk pile! Even with rules, I still find myself continually having
to tell Outlook that Greg is not a spammer. While
at the recent MVP summit, I begged Outlook folks to improve the rules handling
dialog so dealing with all these rules is not such a hassle. But improvements
are probably far down the road.
Okay, so what's the alternative? We can't totally give up our email—since
we're now all email junkies!
Last month I also gave you some details on one alternative I tried—a
digital email signature. It's helpful, but not yet the answer. Special
thanks to Teresa Lazarek-Ball and Kathy Jacob for additional feedback and
testing with my signature file with their email. I'm still experimenting
with this process and will have further details on this stuff in the future.
Thankfully, many big companies
are helping the spam fight by doing research to track down the biggest
offenders, both companies and individuals, and they're going after then with
large law suits! I believe Microsoft and AOL are two of the biggest companies
currently filing law suits to track down these offenders. You can read more
about these actions here and here.
But in the meantime, how can you get that important message from mom or the
kids, yet avoid all the noise coming through your inbox these days? Ask any
teenager on this planet and they'll explain what "IM" means.
Advantages of Instant Messenger Software
IM is short for Instant Messenger. It's software that can tell when you are
connected to the Internet and can notify your loved ones that you are
at your computer. Granted, this might not always be a good thing. So
you can, easily, disconnect the software. But when you need to contact
someone in your family to pass them an important piece of news, or just
get a chance during a busy day to chat with them, but you don't feel
like getting tied up on the phone...which just seems so formal to
the geekier amongst us...you can use the free partyline that every
teenager within 5-feet of a computer gravitates to!
There are several versions of free software from which to choose. Below is
a list of what are probably the most popular versions, along with links to
obtain this free software, if you want to get started using this avenue.
Remember struggling through those boring typing classes? I sure do! My daughter
types about 80wpm, at least, and without looking for the most part. This
kid never took a typing class in her life. And she's been typing this fast
since she was about 13! I remember hearing the keys tapping away at lightning
speed. Amazed, I'd go watch her. There she'd be at her PC, busily navigating
through a dozen or more active conversation windows, chatting with her friends.
Hey...it saved on the phone bills!
She's an adult now, so she's more serious about what she does on the computer,
because she's lost the freedom of those teenage years. But she still uses
her AOL Instant Messenger to keep in touch with the important people in her
life. Nice to know she's even added mom and dad to her "buddy list."<smile>
And it's comforting, now that she's moved out of the house, to be able to
look down at my SysTray and see that she's safe at home, online, chatting
away. Nicer, too, when she remembers to open my chat window to say hi...even
when her ulterior motive is to stop by the house to swipe groceries!
I even, recently, showed mom how to use it. At 84, she's getting pretty
good with it. Mom never wants to bother anyone, so the thought of
calling to ask a question or pass along some family information makes her
fear that she might be bothering those of us who are always whining about
being so busy every day. Now she can see when we are at our computers and
drop us a quick, informal note, without feeling like she's interrupting
our busy schedules. Yet she's satisfied because she can quickly jump into
my life to remind me to pick up her medicine on the way home.
Disadvantages of IM Software
There are disadvantages to using IM software. The most obvious is that your
buddies can see when you're on your computer and jump into your life
to chat. It can be frustrating if you're very busy at the computer and
they're just jumping in to see what's up. So those of you using it need
to learn two important things:
- Don't feel bad about telling someone you're busy when you don't have time
- If someone cuts your conversation short, because they're currently too
busy to chat...don't feel offended.
Once everyone has those two important rules set in their minds, using IM messengers
can be very valuable.
Other issues are more serious. You have to be cautious about how freely you
give out your messenger ID and pay attention to those wishing to chat with
you, or more importantly, who want to pass you a file. There are goofballs
out there in the IM world, too. So if someone attempts to contact you via
a chat window and you don't recognize who they are, refuse to chat. Privacy
settings can easily be configured in each of the IM software applications.
Take time to go through all the options and set it up to make sure it
asks you before allowing just anyone to contact you. And be sure to set stronger
restrictions on how files are passed and opened to help you ensure that you're
not passed viruses that can trash your system.
Which IM Software Should I Use?
This question is something you'll have to consider on your own. Each have
their own unique features. The links for each are above...go forth and
investigate. In my world, I use them all. Why? Because I have a lot of
contacts and it seems like everyone uses a different version, so I use
them all to allow me to connect with everyone who is important to me.
Unlike email, you do have to use the same version your friends use
in order to contact them. Being
a Microsoft product, most all the MVPs link up via MSN Messenger. My
daughter and mom use AOL because most of their friends use that
version. At work, we keep in touch throughout the office and with outside
consultants via ICQ. And Greg's company generally uses Yahoo.
Now you may think that having to use so many different versions of similar
software is very confusing. And yes, it could be. But Greg turned me on to
a wonderful IM wrapper software program. Trillian!
Trillian is a single software program, created by Cerulean Studios (http://www.ceruleanstudios.com),
that wraps itself around all the current IM programs so you can selectively
use them all through this one, simple interface. Personally, I love it!
I use the Professional version, Trillian Pro, which you can purchase for a
small annual fee. However, they do have a free version available. Sorry,
I've never used the free version, so I don't know how limiting the features
in that version might be. But the Pro version is pretty cool.
A connection manager allows you to set preferences for all your accounts, as
Once you have the universal connection dialog box opened, shown below, you
can easily choose how you want to use each account. A quick Global Connect
will startup all IM accounts you use.
You can see the various buttons for each account at the bottom. A solid circle
means you're connected to that account, a hollow circle means you're not.
And you can easily pick which accounts you want displayed as active by choosing
that button and connecting or disconnecting.
Although not all preferences are available through Trillian, the basic ones
are. If you really want to customize your IM program at the start, you might
find some settings within the actual software that aren't shown in Trillian.
So go through the settings within the individual IM programs at the start,
then you can maintain basic settings regularly through Trillian.
You can also see the status of all those important people in your life. In
the above image, I can see that my daughter is most likely working on her
computer at the moment, since her circle is solid...she's online. Whereas
some of my MVP friends are either busy, away from their computers right now
When I need to chat with my daughter, I can double click her name to open
a chat session. A quick check to make sure she's there...and I can start
chatting away, as you can see below (minus the blurred information to protect
The conversation scrolls along the top window while you type in additional
information into the lower window. In most cases, while the other person
is typing away, you can see that they are typing a reply by the message at
the bottom (which isn't shown in the image above).
You can set logs to record conversations so you can save them,
if needed. And if you leave your setting online while you're away, incoming
messages will just pile up in chat windows. You may miss the chance to chat
with a friend, but they can pass you their information that you can easily
see in the popup on your desktop when you return.
A nice alternative to email and a good way to make sure you don't miss out
an any important information that might otherwise get sucked up in your junk
folders thanks to all the jerks out there ruining it for the rest of us!