Online Communication with Your Mac

by Claire J Rottenberg (Mar 7, 2008)

One of my favorite uses for my Mac is for online communication. Over the past few years, I've made some new, life-long friends with my Mac and its online interaction options. In this article, I'll describe several of the ways you can use your Mac for online communication, including chat programs, online forums and mailings lists, and social communities.

The most direct and interactive form of online communication is through the use of an online chat program that lets you have live conversations with others. Each user has an online account (for example, a .Mac account or a Yahoo account) and, to communicate with others, you add a person's account name to your chat buddies list. When a buddy is online, you can initiate a conversation and communicate through text messages, with audio, similar to a telephone conversation, or with live video if both of you have video cameras connected to your computers.

Mac OS X 10.5 comes with a capable chat program, iChat, that lets you interact online with others through text, audio or live video. However, to use iChat, you need either a .Mac account or an AOL/AIM account.

Although an AIM account is free, some of your friends, especially PC users, may prefer to use Yahoo, MSN or other chat services for online chatting. If you are in this situation, there are other free chat clients that you can use. One popular chat program, Adium, lets you chat with friends who have accounts with MSN, Yahoo and several other services, as well as with .Mac and AIM users.

An online Mac forum is another avenue for online communication. Visitors to a forum can ask or answer questions and topics are organized by threads, with continuing conversations among participants. Although forums don't usually provide live interaction, it is possible to have ongoing conversations with people who share a common interest or problem. Some online forums also have chat rooms for live online interaction and many allow private messaging, which can result in new friendships as you exchange messages with other users. Popular online Mac forums include Apple Discussion Boards and Mac OS X Hints.

Similar to online forums are mailing lists and Google and Yahoo groups. However, instead of visiting a website to join the discussions, you can receive message threads as emails. Most mailing lists and groups give you a choice of receiving individual messages or a daily digest of messages (i.e., one email message containing all messages for one day). Like forums, mailing lists and groups are focused on one subject (for example, Mac OS X 10.5) and all members can contribute to any active discussion or start a new discussion thread. Mac user groups sometimes use mailing lists or Yahoo groups to allow users to discuss Mac issues on a regular basis.

The newest form of online communication is with social networking sites or social communities, such as Facebook. Social communities let you set up personal pages that include information about your interests, activities and educational background. On some social networks, you can search for friends from work or school who are also registered on the site. Some of the ways you can communicate with others on social networking sites include sharing favorite stories, writing public and private messages and participating in discussion boards or forums. Facebook and Twitter are two of the newer, more popular online social communities.

If you have a .Mac account, you can create a private online social community with a .Mac group. You set up a group from your online .Mac account and send invitations to people you want to include in the group. Every member of the group needs a .Mac account but a trial membership is free and, even after the trial period ends, the account can be used for joining and belonging to .Mac groups. The members of a .Mac group can collaboratively create a web page, share photos and files, and have an active discussion board.

If you haven't been using your Mac for online communication, try one of the options today. Chat online with old friends or make new friends on forums or mailing lists or invite people you know to join you in an online social community. The options are free so you have nothing to lose and you might gain a new perspective on online communication and a few new friends in the process.

Claire J Rottenberg is the author of Easy Guides to Mac OS X software (Safari, Mail, System Preferences, TextEdit) and Course Books on iPhoto '08, iTunes and Mac OS X 10.4. She often spends her spare time chatting online, contributing to online forums and mailing lists, and interacting with others on Facebook and in .Mac groups. More information on her books is available on the CJRTOOLS ebooks website.

Copyright ©2008 Claire J Rottenberg