Dear IM people

Dear people who leave yourselves logged in on instant messenger, but don't have your preferences set to mark you idle/away after 5 or 10 minutes of inactivity, so that it always looks like you're there when you're not:

Fucking knock that shit off.

Update: What she said.

Tags: ,

77 Responses:

  1. I hate this trend. I also hate the very similar trend of being logged onto IM 24/7, with an away message and the program set to never show whether they're idle or not. This serves no fucking purpose to your friends, as they have no goddamn clue whether you are there or not ever. And 5 of the people I actually want to talk to on AIM do this on a regular basis.

    • encapsulate says:

      I do this on my corp IM client, where I'm on 24/7 and have no auto-away, and have no plans to stop.

      I never want to be in a position where someone comes after me and asks why I've been idle since 10:23.

      • jwz says:

        I'm glad I never want to talk to you, then.

      • lnghnds says:

        I can understand the utility of people can send you messages and if you're at your computer and so inclined you can answer them right away. If not, you can answer them at your convenience. I think we should get a system like this set up for everyone on a larger scale. But what could we call it...

        ..I know! email!

        • encapsulate says:

          Not ephemeral enough. With IMs I can lament later on that I closed the window without writing down some bit of information.

          • ioerror says:

            I agree with you entirely. I think this could be solved by setting this selectively. I don't care if jwz can track my status, I care if some weird stalker does it. That includes anyone I work with.

            • jwz says:

              Then mark yourself perma-away instead of perma-present. Claiming that you are available when you are not is far lamer than the contrary.

              And I find your "stalker drama" absurd. "Ooh, somebody might know when I'm in front of a computer somewhere! Oh noes!"

      • elliterati says:

        To handle that problem, I refuse to use IM for work. I tell my employers that it's distracting and keeps me from getting any real work done when they ping me all the time. If anyone needs to talk to me that badly, they can pick up a fucking phone.

        • cadmus says:

          You could have it worse. At Mozilla, we're all logged into IRC all of the time and people ask you why you aren't if you avoid it. :-)

      • I get it, but I think that's a poor decision. In the presence of email, it's just silly. If I'm not on the work IRC server, I'm not there, and you should email me. If I don't pick up my phone, you should email me (and my voicemail says so). It's so 1997 to ignore whiny users. Everybody who kept their job through dot-bomb knows that a polite brush-off has much greater utility.

    • kscaldef says:

      Also people who are invisible all the time. I notice this mostly among my coworkers. I'm tempted to adapt a policy of refusing to answer the questions of people who pretend they aren't there.

      • The person I know who is invisible all the time does so because she has a stalker. I grant a pass, at least until whitelisted invisibility is readily available.

  2. encapsulate says:

    They totally aren't here right now to read this.

  3. leopanthera says:


  4. Dear people who ambush me the second I stop being idle and get offended when I don't answer within ten seconds:

    You're *so* off the Christmas list.

  5. chrisg says:

    I'm always logged in, and I don't have it set to mark me as idle/away after so long. Though, when I'm actually not around, I'll set my status to Away/Busy/Whatever manually.

    • jwz says:

      That's great.

      See the part where I said "fucking knock that off"?

      That's for you.

      Or would be, if I ever wanted to talk to you.

      • chrisg says:

        I do know what you mean, though. I have plenty of people that are always just "Online" but aren't anywhere near to being around.

        For myself, if I'm set as Online I'm generally within 5 minutes of responding, because I'm actually around. Just possibly playing a game or in the bathroom or getting something to eat, stuff like that.

        Not that it happens anyway, but I just prefer to not have myself set away/online automatically so people don't send along a message for whatever reason just because I moved my mouse a few pixels across the screen causing me to show up as online and not idle/away.

  6. wow....send a message. If they're there and available, they're respond. If not, they won't.

    Seems simple to me...

    • jwz says:

      I'm going to have UNCLEAR ON THE CONCEPT tattooed on your forehead.

      • Wow.


        You know? If you're ok with carrying all that anger around with you? Well, that's cool.. and.. umm.. have fun.

        But at some point, you've gotta realise - it's just going to kill you. Perhaps more immediately - it's not going to change a single thing about the external situation, and really only makes you feel shitty. So, uhh, it's kindofa lose-lose.

        You probably already know this, of course, and simply don't care... but wow, this issue REALLY gets under your skin. I've never see you reply so often in a single thread, and I've been following your (quite interesting, I must say) lj for a loooong time.

        umm. ok, back to lurking.

    • I cannot even seem to mentally articulate why this logic is so specious, but let me try:

      This is as simple as it gets: Talking to people that are not there is a waste of my time.

      It would take (POSSIBLY) 1 minute of their time to set up their IM to set them as idle. Or it would take 1 fucking second to take themselves off perma-away. But instead, the burden of validating their presence and their ability to talk-something that you would think would be the REASON they're on IM in the FIRST place, that they're around and want to talk-falls to the person who happens to initiate the conversation-i.e., me. I am against anything that shifts the burden of work to me, especially when it would be so fucking simple to fix.

      What happens if this is a co-worker? What happens if this is a close friend? You expect a response, and don't get one. Maybe you don't realize they set it so they're never idle. I sure as hell would feel rejected or irritated that my inquiry, even something as quotidian as "Hey, how's it going?" didn't deserve a response.

      What if it's something that IS urgent (i.e. coworker you're coding with, friend you want to talk about a personal problem with)? At best, you realize they're not there after a while and attempt an alternate means of contacting them. At worst, you feel REALLY blown off.

      People who are "always there" or "always away" either don't realize or don't care that they're breaking a social contract and thus, acting like assholes to people who actually wanted to interact with them.

      (Sorry, jwz, this particular issue happens to really piss me off.)

      • taiganaut says:

        A social contract, eh? heh.

        I'm perma-away so that I don't have to live under the "social contract" of responding when people message me who I don't want to talk to at that moment.

        • jesus_x says:

          That's the problem with IM, is that people can reach you at any time regardless of what you're doing. Then people say "Well just set yourself away if you don't want to be bothered." Well, who the fuck ever WANTS to be bothered? People got along just fine before cell phones and IM. There are some of us are ok with using the medium but don't want the whole goddamned world to feel entitled to yack at us at any goddamned time. So we have an IM client open so those who know us can try to reach us, and we can just ignore everyone else or everyone when we aren't in the mood. Where did I sign the social contract that says "I am here at your disposal"?

          • ak_47 says:

            Well, there is ignore/invisibility list in any decent modern IM.

          • kiskadee says:

            Actually I'm not sure people did get along just fine. Wasn't so long ago that people who didn't want to be bothered by the phone had to do something crazy like leave it off the hook, or unplug it from the wall. If the phone is your only way to be reached remotely, it ends up ringing an awful lot.

            • elliterati says:

              And that is why we invented voice mail/the answering machine and ringer volume adjustment.

              • yakko says:

                These, along with Caller ID, have made me a very happy man with regards to the phone. I control that device now; it doesn't control me.

                Of course, this is somewhat a case of trading one problem for another. Voicemail can really SUCK depending on the system.

      • You don't have a "social contract" and I don't care if you think I'm breaking it.

        I am always-available because it's none of your business whether I happen to be at my computer at any given time. Some people share that information. I don't. If you think you are entitled to that information, that is an error on your part.

        Type "you around?" and wait 10 seconds for an answer. I respond or I don't. If that's the worst thing that happens to you this afternoon, your life is going damn well. If my failing to respond (in exactly the same way your phone call sometimes gets an answering machine) makes you feel "blown off"? "Rejected"? You have a learning disability that technology is unlikely to solve.

        I've been sending instant messages over computer networks since "instant" meant 110 baud. If anyone ever IM'd me a social contract, I must have been afk.

        • jwz says:

          You seem to think that a reasonable state of affair is:

          • "Here" means "I might be available to talk or I might not be."
          • "Away" means "I might be available to talk or I might not be."

          Sane people think the reasonable state of affairs is:

          • "Here" means "I am available to talk."
          • "Away" means "Either I'm not here, or I want you to leave me alone."

          Furthermore, sane people find your position rude.

          • gryazi says:

            As much as you don't want to hear it, I've got to beg to differ on this also re: the practicality of anyone adhering enough to make it at all reliable.

            If it's IM or any other interrupt-based communication, the sender has the onus of initiating communication. We have a word for 'I am attempting to initiate communication,' variously 'Hello,' 'Hey,' 'Hi,' 'Ping?,' etc.

            Do *any* of us really want to be sitting there constantly paying attention to, and tweaking, our IM status? Further, if you set an IM client to automatically update your presence information, the only time you will be available is when you're detectably doing something else. It is impossible to win at that game. Think about how fucking ridiculous that is.

            The only thing that makes sense is for *being connected itself* indicating possible interest in receiving messages, and status data... well, being as completely useless as it is. Available will always either indicate the polar opposites "I'm available" or "I'm detected at the keyboard doing something important/having a conversation with someone else." Away will always indicate... inactivity, and not much else helpful.

            If you're using IM in some sort of institutional setting, maybe it's possible to force people to adhere to some sort of policy. But in the real world, the above is the natural order of things and one of the many reasons why IM is a fairly stupid idea *unless* you are able to use it only among people who know how to adhere to your personal privacy/interruption policy.

            Loosely coupled communication - phones with answering machines, email with biff, anything that allows the calling party to attempt to handshake, really promotes civility and reasoned responses (at the expense of phone tag for people who can't work that medium properly). IM essentially has all the flaws of videotelephony in convenient text form.

        • The social contract I'm referring to is called "etiquette." Or, supposing you've rejected most conventional etiquette (as many geeks have): specifically, in the case of being permanently available or permanently away, it's a question of not being an douche to people with whom you supposedly have some sort of connection to.

          If you have people with no connection to you on your buddy list, or people that you don't want to talk to on there, or if you're a crotchety dick who just plain doesn't like someone enough to let them know when you're around to talk, then REMOVE that information from them. Block them. Set them on permanent "you can never see when I'm online" or, as ICQ calls it, "invisibility." As far as I know, ALL IM programs have one or both of those functionalities. If and when you want to talk to that person, then unblock them.

          But it's ridiculous to use a method of communication which has established rules (i.e. if you are on INSTANT MESSAGING then it seems pretty self-evident your reply should probably be pretty "instant" [obvious exceptions apply]) and then say "Fuck you, those rules don't apply to me, and I don't care that by my actions, I'm now forcing everyone else to be completely uncertain of whether or not I'm around, available, or whether or not they even matter to me." If you want to act like that to people you are, as I discussed above, connected to, then I'm sure as hell glad our connections end with this comment exchange.

          I also don't give a flying fuck that you've been "IMing" since arpanet or UUCP or whatever you want to give yourself geek cred about. I'm pretty sure the concept of letting other people know whether they're worth your time or not is covered sometime in preschool, possibly after they go over why it's bad to hit, it's good to share, and before they give you the handwashing lessons.

      • tooluser says:

        You lost me back where I have an obligation to save other people time at my cost.

        As many people here have said to some degree or another, but not fully: Advertising my idle status is communication, too, and it's communication not all people care to make. I specifically wish to not make it clear whether I am idle. I want people to not have that information. Will some people want that information? Yup. They want my phone number, my address, my christmas plans, and my feelings about Jesus Christ, too. But they don't get them. Because it's _private_.

        I have a phone. It rings. You don't know whether I'm ignoring everyone, or just you. Maybe my phone is off. Maybe it's in my hand and I'm deciding I don't have time to talk. I don't have an obligation to tell anyone that. Maybe there's only one person I am willing to talk to at the moment, or four, and you're not one of 'em. It happens. I'm still going to keep my phone on, my IM logged in, and not advertise that status, because I don't need my boss or my mom to know "Joshua will not answer your calls right now."

        And before you say I'm 'costing' other people time. . . . Am I 'costing' other people time by keeping my phone further away, or answering later? Or returning a call after listening to a voice mail? Yup, I am. Communication is about two parties.

        I can see it being annoying. I sure can. *I* get annoyed about other people doing it, times. But fundamentally, it's not my right to demand that they save me time.

      • glenra says:

        When I'm on IM, it's so people can talk to me. If I set my status as "away" when I leave I'll often forget to set it as "available" when I come back, thereby preventing people from talking to me. If I set it to automatically tell people when I'm active, I'm (a) leaking info I might not want to share with the world (especially in a business context), and (b) once again, preventing people from talking to me who I might want to let talk to me.

        If you want to talk, do this:
        (1) type "ut?"
        (2) wait for a few seconds. If I'm around and interested in talking, you'll get a response right away. *then* you can talk.

        The benefits to you are: (a) you don't waste time typing at me when I'm not there, (b) if I'm in the restroom or whatever, when I come back a few minutes later I see your "ut?" and respond.

  7. arch_nme says:

    Thank you, jwz.

    I thought I was the only person in the world annoyed by people who do that to their IM programs. Sometimes they don't even answer my instant messages when they get back.

    • ultranurd says:

      What about using certain away messages to indicate that you're at your computer, but not terribly responsive to IM? (In particular, this would be the message that would flip on when you go idle.)

      I suppose just logging out is also an option at that point.

  8. recursive says:

    Argh. Yeah, I can think of at least one person I IM less than I used to because this person deliberately has their clients set as never-idle.

  9. lafinjack says:

    I do this, and here's why:

    1. I always forget to manually set myself as away.

    2. When I do set myself as away, I always forget to set myself as back.

    3. When I tried auto-away, it was pointless because I am frequently up and down from the computer doing things.
    3a. If it said I was available, there's a good chance I had probably just gotten up and was doing dishes, taking the trash out, or playing with my pets or something.
    3b. If it said I was gone, I might be sitting right at the computer - watching a movie or a TV show, usually - but not touching it to click off the away status.

    I don't see what's so wrong with a simple "Hey, you there?" You know, like we used to do with those "phone" thingies.

  10. ciphergoth says:

    I want an IM client which allows me to set up friends groups such that different people see a different status. If I'm at home, IM me all you like, I probably need entertaining. If I'm at work, you'd better be a lover or it better matter.

    • taffer says:

      I've used brute force to implement this by having "home" and "work" accounts.

      My "home" system is superior though, because I can use Adium to log in to all of the IMs my random friends have accounts on.

  11. arkarkark says:

    blame blackberry! I have friends who have them and whenever they connect with their crackberry it always shows them as available, it can stay like that for days, I guess they are available, but they likely won't want to hear the bips of an incoming message at 4AM

  12. i have no life.

    i'm always available.

  13. strspn says:

    The whole concept of "available" is broken when it's done manually (I want to be able to get up and walk away without having to go through a ritual) and it's broken when it's done automatically (just because I touched an input device in the past 120 seconds doesn't mean I'm still around.)

    There needs to be a status based on camera input -- not broadcasting the picture, but just a flag saying whether it's an unmoving background or not.

  14. elliterati says:

    Not to change the subject or anything, but isn't IM the least efficient mode of communication ever? I find it thoroughly useless for anything other than sending short messages or links, which e-mail does just fine anyway, at nearly the same speed. Just about every "conversation" I've had over IM is painful - I've gotten into fights with significant others because of lags in IM, where the same conversation over the phone or e-mail would have been fine...

    E-mail also has the advantage of not instantly disappearing when the conversation is done, essential in the working world. Plus, that whole idle/away thing is a non-issue.

    Yeah, I just can't stand IM.

    • gryazi says:

      You made the point I tried to make in my buried post up there very succinctly.

      So like, totally seconded.

      IM is all the worst parts of realtime communication -- particularly the invasive "status" information (allowing the whole concept of "awkward silences" in a way you don't even get with IRC, especially if typing notification is on) -- with none of the expressiveness or other benefits of actual meatspace conversation.

      For some reason it's not (often) awkward to be distracted or find someone distracted on the phone -- something about the aural input triggers our meatspace empathy circuits -- but the blank silence / overwrought emoticon space of IM is inexplicably infuriating.

      Of course, that makes it attractive among the youth set, since it's a vehicle for mystery and drama -- exciting! -- and because their communications options are limited otherwise. But face it, if you're grown up and using IM off a corporate campus, you're using a communications method that was specifically designed to appeal to 12 year olds and 48 year olds trying to pick up 12 year olds.

  15. boggyb says:

    Not intentionally done this myself, though that doesn't stop MSN and/or Yahoo conspiring amongst themselves to say I'm away when I'm not, and that I'm not away when I am.

    Oh, and every once in a while pretend I'm offline, but only to certain people, and in a way that makes some messages get through.

  16. unwoman says:

    But no one but my husband ever messages me anyway, and he always knows where I am. And I don't want my boss to think I'm not working every time I use the other computer for 10 minutes. (pouty face)

  17. divelog says:

    Doesn't your client report idle time based on keyboard usage? Mine dims out the user if they've been idle for more than 10 minutes. Isn't that good enough?

    • It's a setting that can be enabled/disabled on clients. But in order for it to work, the person on the other end has to enable the setting. Which is what jwz's original complaint was about.

  18. uke says:

    I do this to confound the following possibilities:

    * I am away.

    * I don't want to talk to you.

    * I do want to talk to you but something else is higher-priority right now. (Like, say, Assassin's Creed, or possibly some actual computer programming mental state maintenance.)

    If I allow myself to appear idle, then when I am not idle then people assume I am willing to speak with them, and become offended for no good reason if I do not choose to respond to their messages when I suddenly appear non-idle. If I log off when I am not actually at the computer, then people assume that I am there when I am logged in, which is not the case when I (frequently) disappear from the keyboard for random periods of time.

  19. gryazi says:

    Now that I read this carefully, I realize that the initial post only says:

    Broadcasting presence = true when presence = false is bad.

    The corollary, while taken up in the collective whine down here, was not mentioned and does not necessarily hold.

    So let's all breathe for a second:

    Constant presence is specifically aggravating because it does not suggest 'stop trying,' and, if you wish you could believe IM status flags, actively suggests 'keep trying.'

    Constant awayness is less problematic because at least it's broadcasting the uncertainty (or, if you believe we should all be broadcasting true status, antisocialness) to begin with, sparing the guessing game.

    Fair enough. I'm only crapping this post out because, once I got it, I realized I've never quite encountered that problem with IM, where people eventually close the damn program to get some privacy or stop being bothered, but it's an accepted fact of life with IRC (though the common interfaces to IRC give you a choice of how loudly you want to be annoyed when you do get a response).