How to Meet Good People on the Internet

istock_000003833507xsmall.jpgThe Internet is our portal to the world. However, because of its openness it also creates a direct link to anyone and everyone who has access, regardless of their character, actions or intent. Meeting and interacting with people from around the world is an amazing technological gift. But how do you find the people you’re interested in, without running afoul of those who might spoil your fun, intentionally or otherwise?

Here are a few simple tips to make finding friends on the Internet safer, easier and more fun for everyone.

  • Check out hobby sites. Whether you craft, hunt, race, play sports or enjoy opera, the Internet is loaded with sites populated by people who share your interests. Ranging from simple email groups to complex and resource-rich membership sites, you can find people who love the things you love and are eager to meet people just like you.
  • Try online networking. Places like MySpace, Facebook and other online networking sites can be a great source of connections. You can sometimes even run across old friends, past acquaintances and ex-colleagues. Keep in mind, however, that the very popularity of these sites means they attract a very mixed bag of people. Be on your guard and don’t give out information you wouldn’t want a boss, family member or enemy to find.
  • Connect in a group. Forums, email lists and other online groups are fun, safe places to get to know people in a public setting. Hanging around online in one of these groups can provide a lot of interesting conversation, and you get to know the other members in a casual, protected setting. Most groups like this also have moderators or member volunteers whose job is to delete spam, deal with trolls (people who purposefully start arguments or behave badly) and douse flamers (people who intentionally say hurtful or argumentative things to “inflame” the conversation), so you can enjoy yourself with fewer hassles.
  • Help others. The best way to make a friend is to help someone else. Everyone has a skill or talent that someone else needs. It’s easy to find people online who can use your expertise, whether it’s how to protect their computer online, learning to cook or identifying a particular bird. If you are part of an online group and have the requisite skills, you can even offer to moderate. It’s a big responsibility, but it gives you great visibility and lets everyone know that you’re a nice person who’s willing to go out of your way to be helpful.
  • Avoid “troll bait.” Troll bait is simply any site that, because of its nature, is likely to attract unpleasant or dangerous people. Sites that feature adult material or conversation, promote dangerous or illegal activities or cater to fringe personalities tend to attract a significantly larger percentage of trolls, flamers, predators and other nasty folks. And many of them are skilled at manipulating others and have other unsavory and possibly dangerous habits. It’s best to just avoid these sites altogether, since the percentage of good to bad participants is rarely worth the effort to sort them out.

Meeting people online can be fun and rewarding. But you have to keep a few simple rules in mind – never give out personal information to anyone you don’t know, don’t assume that everyone is who they say they are and behave yourself in a civilized and polite manner. Protect yourself with common sense, good computer security and a cautious mind. But once you’ve done that, go forth and mingle! The Internet is a wonderful place full of incredible people. And some of them can’t wait to meet you.

Copyright 2008 David Bohl, All rights reserved.

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