Public enemy number one

Did someone out there just try to IM me?

I was just using AOL Instant Messenger when a stranger tried to IM me out of the blue. Since they weren’t on my normal buddy list, IM popped up an approval request — i.e. “do you want to accept this chat or not?”

The problem was, I was typing away madly in another window. When the approval box popped up, I was — purely by coincidence — typing an ‘n’, and so I accidentally declined to accept the chat invitation.

Whoever you were, if you’re reading this, try to IM me again! Or, failing that, email me. I didn’t mean to decline your invitation!

Actually, it also occurred to me that this is an unusually bad piece of design on the part of AOL’s IM client. Since ‘n’ is the sixth-most-common letter in the English language, there’s a high degree of likelihood that when the chat-approval box pops up, the user might be typing an ‘n’ — and might thus accidentally decline a chat. (Indeed, there are 89 n’s in this blog posting, and they comprise almost 7 per cent of the entire entry — which means that if you sent me that chat invitation while I was writing this, I had a one in fourteen chance of accidentally declining you.) Worse, the IM client does not, as far as I can tell, keep a log of strangers who are sending you chat invitations. So if you accidentally decline an invitation, as I just did, you have no way of knowing who it was.

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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