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By David Mendosa

Last Update: April 20, 2000

Before I got hooked on Internet chats about diabetes, they seemed like the greatest time-waster since television. But now I know why they are so popular.

On-line chats are not only fun. They can also give you immediate answers to your questions.

It’s called stickiness.

Those are two explanations for the recent explosion of chat rooms. Another explanation is the development of Web-based software that is much easier to use than first-generation programs like Internet Relay Chat.

More and more Web sites are adding chats because they are interactive. And interactive means that we go back again and again to those sites. In the jargon of the trade it's called stickiness.

Chat is different from the main interactive tool that you will find on Web sites, forums. Sometimes called support groups, discussion groups, or message boards, forums are similar to mailing lists sent by e-mail, except that all message remain available for you to read.

On these forums people sometimes refer to messages that are off-topic as chat. It's unfortunate that the word has several meanings. But it has long had the specific meaning of using those programs where you can talk back and forth to others in real time.

Chats can be moderated or unmoderated, scheduled or unscheduled. You can join a public chat room to chat with a group or you can create a private chat room to talk with one or more of your friends. You can chat by typing or by speaking into a microphone attached to your computer.

One of the biggest differences among the types of chat is whether the questions are addressed to one expert or whether everybody participates equally. Several of the new chat rooms about diabetes have the former structure.

When DiabetesWebSite launched its chat room a few days ago, the discussion topic was "Diabetes on the Internet." I had the privilege of hosting the site's first chat. With everybody typing at me all at once I was glad that I am a fast typist. Former ADA President Dr. Mayer B. Davidson hosted DiabetesWebSite's second chat.

Several other sites also feature chats with experts. Diabetes Station, one of the The Insulin-Free World Foundation's sister sites, has the most active chat schedule. WebMD - Diabetes has a scheduled chat with experts about every two weeks.

Children with Diabetes has 12 regular chat rooms and two side rooms. The rooms for parents and for teens are the most active. Both scheduled and unscheduled chats are available. The transcripts of about 20 previous chats are also available on the site.

The MSN Web Communities each have chat rooms as well as message boards. At last count, if you go to Web Communities and search for diabetes, it will return 17 communities that include diabetes. You don't need to subscribe to MSN service to participate in the chats.

The latest advance in chat software is voice chat. It is especially good, of course, for slow typists and people who don't know how to spell. Yahoo! Chat was a leader with this technology. However, I've found that their unfocused chats inevitably drift toward sexual innuendo and worse. Besides, Yahoo! doesn't have any diabetes-specific chats.

Diabetes Community features the first voice chat for people with diabetes. You can use either voice or text chat (or both) to chat with a group in a public room or with one or more of your friends in a private room. Because of its focus on diabetes, this new site, which went live in April, will hopefully avoid Yahoo!'s problems.

Even better, the Diabetes Community site has asked me to moderate an upcoming chat. That should be good, because I can talk even faster than I can type. Talk about fun!

These are the main chat rooms about diabetes. But there are even more, including the older Internet Relay Chat sites. For a continually updated list you can check out my Web page On-line Diabetes Resources: Part 1: Non-Web Sites in the "Chat" section. 

The American Diabetes Association originally published this article on its Web site as one of my “About the Internet” columns.

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