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W00t has happened to MSN and QQ speak?
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I don't know whether I'm a typical user of MSN. I use my real name and accept anyone who asks to get on my "friends" list.

I cannot afford to be picky because most of my friends use aliases, which I hardly recognize or remember, and I don't want to offend anyone by keeping them out of my circle. I never take the initiative to add someone else to my list unless it's work-related.

I always suspected an army of loners staffed Microsoft. It used to be that you'd have to show yourself online before you could chat to someone on your list. Barely one minute after I opened my door, so to speak, a dozen strangers would be saying "hello". Nice guy that I am, I felt obligated to return the greetings and answer whatever questions were thrown my way. Thus, I lost half a day of my work time.

Now that Microsoft has fixed that bug - they could call it the "We're in a world of harmony" feature - I can at least communicate without making an appearance. But I feel Microsoft should force anyone who uses MSN to go through mandatory etiquette training before activating the instant messaging system.

Here's what happens to me from time to time: While my "banner" reads "Raymond Zhou: seen Lust, Caution and loved it", I may get a string of questions like this: "What's your name?" "Mr. Zhou, have you seen Lust, Caution?" "Do you like it?"

I feel like shooting the question back: "Do you have eyes?" That could be rude. But sometimes, being amiable cannot solve the problem. Occasionally I get people who ask: "Who are you? Why do you add me?" "That's strange. It is you who asked to be added to my list because I've made it a habit not to add anyone unsolicited," I think, in return.

This qualifies for instant removal from my list.

For all the quirks in MSN, it attracts a more mature group than QQ, China's own instant messaging system. QQ is an odd place. People there inhabit a warped version of Disneyland, with their own language, currency, and expressions. A thousand Lolitas could attack me without me realizing it.

A QQ number is hard to obtain. You have to apply over and again. Only those with perseverance are rewarded. I've used it a couple of times for the purpose of online interviews, and deleted the account afterwards. Recently, after I got on one of QQ's video programs, QQ headquarters wanted to reward me with a permanent number.

That put me in a quandary. Do I want to learn QQspeak, a quasi-foreign language? Will over-exposure on that platform make me a better parent when my daughter grows up and joins the QQ crowd? Will I be able to write juvenile literature and make gazillions of yuan by pretending to be cute? If someone from QQ asks me for a date, shall I insist on producing some ID with proof of age?

Maybe too much cross-linguistic hanky panky is happening to Hotmail, which has just made Unicode the standard. Now, whatever Chinese words I e-mail through that platform is automatically turned into gibberish. That certainly harmonizes everything.

(China Daily December 18, 2007)

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