A chat about chatting

June 1, 1997
Online networking between hygienists transports you from the solitary confinement of an operatory into the middle of hundreds of your colleagues. Once you`ve said your hellos, you`re off to explore the Wild West.

Online networking between hygienists transports you from the solitary confinement of an operatory into the middle of hundreds of your colleagues. Once you`ve said your hellos, you`re off to explore the Wild West.

Heidi Emmerling, RDH, BS and

Barry Matherly, RDH

Sailra19: Hello Heidi. I`m Barry. I`m a dental hygienist from Michigan. Did you know there are 34 of us online right now?

HeidiERDH: Hi Barry! It`s nice to meet you. I`ve had an e-mail address for a while now, and I`ve learned to surf around doing research for articles and my graduate studies. But I`m relatively new to chatting online. So far, I`ve really enjoyed it. I have met some really interesting people. It is a blast meeting other hygienists, sharing ideas, and talking shop with colleagues from all over the country without having a long-distance phone bill.

Sailra19: Only other hygienists can relate to the joys and frustrations we face every day. The more I visit with other hygienists, the more I learn of the different issues our profession faces. I also learn how much we all have in common.

HeidiERDH: Absolutely! And besides networking with other hygienists, we can also keep current with our professional organization (www.adha.com), and communicate with lawmakers. The president of the United States has an e-mail address ([email protected]) and a web page (http://www.whitehouse.gov) as do senators, governors, and many local politicians. If we do not like the latest modification to our state practice act, we can let them know immediately.

Sailra19: And most, if not all, dental suppliers have e-mail addresses and websites. We can research products and even purchase items online. Even the Toothfairy is connected! (http://www.toothfairy.org)

HeidiERDH: I imagine many other hygienists would be online if they knew how easy it is.

Sailra19: Let`s tell them how. Then they can join us in our online meeting room called Mental Floss.

Once you have your basic computer equipment, you need to choose who should provide you access to the Internet. There are Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and Full Service Providers (FSPs).

ISPs are "bare-bones" providers. They provide unfiltered access to the Internet. Some companies like Juno provide free e-mail only services. The service is paid for with some nominal advertising (1-800-654-5866).

ISPs generally offer one price for unlimited time. No one censors what you can see on the net. There are even hygienists with their own pages published on a shoestring budget. The content you see is produced by people all over the world. There are over 35 million people who are on the Internet. Some people are professional, some people are crooks, some people are just plain folks.

This makes for a very interesting and exciting mix. All the software required is available for free or for almost free. These ISPs try to be competitive. They know that if you receive poor service (like constant busy signals or having the system crash on a regular basis) from one ISP, you can easily go on to the next one.

HeidiERDH: It sounds like you can see just about anything on the Internet, including material you wish you hadn`t seen.

Sailra19: Yes, the drawbacks are directly related to the benefits. Being uncensored and unrefereed by operators, you can find almost anything on the net, from pornography and foul language to hate literature to instructions on how to make a bomb in your kitchen. There are no boundaries to the content except for what you seek. You will not find supervised management which facilitates "family appropriate" material here that you will with FSPs like America Online (AOL).

The same applies to the "chat" utilities of the Internet. They are of a "Wild West" genre. Anything goes. The range is from the truly vile to the intellectually stimulating. It`s all there.

Accessing the Internet through an ISP requires a bit more computer sophistication. Unlike full service providers like AOL, which are simple to install, requiring only one disk, these ISPs have many applications. You need to find, download, and then eventually install them yourself to enhance your Internet experience.

HeidiERDH: If I did not want to go through the trouble of acquiring that `sophistication,` as you put it, what would be the benefits of a full service provider?

Sailra19: The main benefit of FSPs is the vast content. And it`s edited for family access. When you are inside the provider`s service, the content is edited or can be controlled by changing preferences settings in the software. This is easily done by the main adult account holder.

The going rate for FSPs is $19.95 a month, with even less expensive options for just a few hours a month to access e-mail. FSPs have easy-to-use interfaces. The programs that access the providers` network are proprietary and have one common look and feel. They are easily mastered.

Full Internet access is available through the provider`s own network at no additional cost. This gives you the benefits of the ISP, along with the cons of total deregulation. AOL has its own rather featureless browser, but you can use other browsers with AOL, adding to the power of AOL, but making it a bit more difficult for the inexperienced. Prodigy and CompuServe have arrangements with the major browsers (Netscape and Microsoft Explorer) to use with their Internet access.

Except for the chat utilities, FSPs can be bland. The only content you get is professionally edited by either the provider or large companies who want to advertise their goods and services. If you compare the Internet with television, ISPs are like public access channels, while AOL and Microsoft Network (MSN) are like the major television networks. These are slick and well produced, but bland. Although easy to use inside the service, once you venture outside and onto the Internet, you lose the user-friendliness.

Now that you have your provider and are on the net, you are ready to talk or "chat." With big providers, there is an organized, by topic, system of chat rooms. There are rooms for people who like books, pets, sports, whatever.

You can get a "profile" of a person in the room with whom you are chatting. You click onto the screen name and look up the person`s name, location, occupation, hobby, etc. Sure, they may be fibbing, but it`s a place to start. Another thing you can do is type "dental hygienist" in the member directory and you can get a list of all the screen names of members who have dental hygienist in their profile.

Chatting is one of the things that built these services. They have dedicated a lot of time to making it easy and fun. You can adjust your user preferences to ignore any unwanted communication.

HeidiERDH: From who?

Sailra19: Females online, for example, tend to get a lot of attention. If you want to avoid this, it helps to use a gender-less screen name and conceal your gender and marital status when creating your profile.

Guys will often type in "female" or "single female" to try to find some online company. If you don`t have those words in your profile, your screen name will not come up in their search. If someone does harass you, the management will intercede for you. They have strict rules about this.

A disadvantage of chat is, unless you have set up a private chat room or are exchanging "instant messages" (IMs) with one person, you have no expectation of privacy. If you are in a public area and you use profanity or sexual terms, the management of the system is flagged and you get a warning note.

Another disadvantage with chatting on a FSP is, unless you are connected with Internet Relay Chat (IRC), the limited number of people with whom you can chat. The only people chatting on CompuServe are CompuServe members. The same for AOL, MSN, and Prodigy.

HeidiERDH: Can you tell me a little more about IRCs?

Sailra19: ISPs have had IRC available for years. It used to be difficult to use, but because of advances in "home grown" programs like mIRC (http://www.mirc.co.uk/get. html), it is getting easier.

IRC is a vast universe. The three big IRC servers are Efnet, Undernet and Dalnet. Each has thousands of different users from all over the world. Most are based in colleges and universities. There is no taboo topic and almost no management. IRC is the Wild West. This is another place where the vile and the brilliant coexist on the Internet.

You are virtually anonymous. No one needs to know who you are or where you are from. They can`t even get your e-mail address if you don`t want them to. But, everyone else is anonymous too. You may think you are chatting with a poet from Florida when, in actuality, it could be a high school student from Oklahoma. You just never know.

IRC was designed for the Department of the Defense and educational establishments to be able to communicate live without using a telephone. It is far bigger than the designers ever imagined. It occasionally gets bogged down under the load (as does everything related to the Internet lately, as AOL can testify). IRC is really powerful, more so than the chat functions of the providers. But it`s also difficult to use well. Now, thanks to client software like mIRC that takes IRC into a Windows environment and allows just about any of the popular Internet access options to access IRC, it`s not an ISP only thing anymore.

Now that you are in this huge sea of information, finding what you want can seem overwhelming. Fortunately, there are search engines. Hundreds of them. A search engine is like a cross between a reference librarian and the Yellow Pages. You can find information on how to create your own web page, where to find the love of your life, the history of jazz, and much more.

HeidiERDH: How is a search engine used?

Sailra19: On top of all browsers there is a button that says "search." That starts the default search engine which was chosen by the makers of that particular browser. There will be a box with a cursor.

Key in your search topic. "Dental," for instance, might bring back over 10,000 "hits." Since this is much more than you probably wanted, refine the search and try "dental hygiene." This will reduce responses even more.

Different search engines display information differently. Some give a rank according to the popularity of a given site. Others rank by how many times your search term appears in the document. Still others are ranked by the key word that was provided by the author.

The Netscape Browser (http://home.netscape.com/) is currently the most popular. It has five search engines at this time that come up randomly when you hit search. Or you can select one from a large menu. AOL runs a search engine called Web Crawler. There are literally hundreds more.

If you have Windows 95, chances are that you have Microsoft Internet Explorer on your computer already. If not, it can be downloaded from http://www.microsoft.com/. If Explorer is your browser, your search button can be programmed to any search engine you wish.

Search engine programs like Web Compass (a commercial product, http://www.qdeck.com) search hundreds of search engines at the same time, compare responses and sort out the duplicates, then provide you with a brief summary of what`s in each one before you download them.

One thing leads to another when surfing. It can be addicting. Try finding one site that applies and just keep clicking. You might go from periodontal disease to Elvis sightings. It`s really fun!

HeidiERDH: Some people are concerned about safety and security on the net.

Sailra19: Keep in mind that there is much less crime on the Internet than in "real life." And even in the worst case, chances are your credit card data (unless you are Bill Gates) isn`t worth the expense for a hacker to get the high-powered computers to crack. The big worry for Internet security is big ticket items like stocks and securities.

There are several things you can do to ensure your surfing remains pleasant and secure. Utilize a secure server. This ensures the computer at the other end takes care of its transactions properly. It was reported that in 1995, over $3 billion worth of transactions occurred over the Internet. It is projected that by the year 2000, $60-$100 billion worth of transactions will take place.

Only send sensitive data to web sites of companies that you are familiar with and that have secure links.

Certain browsers will indicate that you have a secure server. You know if you are secure in Netscape, for example, when you see a little solid blue key in the lower left corner of the screen. Microsoft Explorer shows a picture of a yellow lock. Also, secure servers are always on the lookout for scams and try very hard to guard against it.

AOL, for example, guarantees to reimburse you for whatever your credit card holder does not waive if you experience credit card fraud when conducting business through an AOL certified merchant. Other secure servers have similar coverage.

Before conducting business over the Internet, make sure the business has a physical address - not just a post office box or someplace with a mailbox service. The business should offer plenty of information about itself. If you have a funny feeling about the place, attempt to get in touch with them via phone just to check that the place actually exists. Ask them to send you an invoice.

Also, reputable businesses are registered with the Better Business Bureau in their city or state. The Better Business Bureau is working on getting an medallion that cannot be duplicated. Businesses will be able to display the symbol on their web pages to assure consumers that the business is indeed legit.

HeidiERDH: In addition, a number of people are concerned about privacy of the documents they send electronically.

Sailra19: Keep in mind that e-mail has about the same amount of privacy as a post-card sent via the US mail. If someone en-route chooses to read it, they may do so. If you have need to send sensitive e-mail, you can use encryption. There is encryption privacy software available. One is called Pretty Good Privacy (PGP). There is a free, stripped-down version through MIT (www.mit.edu). The receiver of your e-mail will also need the software to "de-code" your e-mail.

Another thing you can do about privacy is go to your browser setup and change your e-mail address. This keeps you off the junk mailing lists that you are bound to get on when you visit newsgroups and bulletin boards. Remember, whenever you visit and participate in newsgroups, your e-mail address is recorded.

Deja News can find everything you write. This may seem paranoid, but things happen. For example, employers are not allowed to ask certain questions during a job interview. If an employee joins an online support group for manic depressives, and the employer happens to be surfing around and finds the employee`s e-mail address posted in the group, that employee may be summarily dismissed without the employee having a clue as to the reason.

You also have the ability to surf anonymously. Using hypothetical examples, because these would never happen, suppose Heidi wants to join the Jerry Rubin fan club for inspiration to write an article for The Radical Hygienist (http://members.aol.com/radicalhyg/radical_hygienist), or suppose Barry wants to hit the Playboy channel. There is software available called the Anonymizer (http://www. anonymizer.com/) which allows us to visit sites without people knowing who we are.

HeidiERDH: Is there anything parents can do to restrict children`s access to pornography, for example?

Sailra19: Sleaze and pornography are concerns for people, especially parents. In December 1996, the FBI hit 20 cities for Internet-related problems with child pornography. There have been 200 to 300 cases of people arrested for adults trying to meet kids online. It is there.

But the threat of pornography on the Internet is greatly exaggerated. Keep in mind that, yes, it exists online. But there are also naughty books in the library and strangers with candy lurking near playgrounds. If you want to keep those things off your browser, try a program like Cyber Patrol. This program restricts time spent on the Internet, restricts images from being transmitted, and blocks over 1500 adult sites. There is a sample to download at http://www. microsys.com/cyber/. This program works with AOL and CompuServe.

Another program is Net Nanny. It offers a free demonstration at http://www.netnanny.com/netnanny/ and, if you like it, the cost is about $20. This program deletes certain words and phrases, blocks "mature" sites and works with outgoing information. For example, if someone convinced your child to give them the name, address, or credit card number, this program would prevent that information from being transmitted. It would jumble it or even shut down the system. Surf Watch is another program, no free sample is available, but it can be purchased on-line at http://www.surfwatch.com/ for about $50.

HeidiERDH: It is amazing to realize how easy it is to get set up for surfing, as well as how much control you have over it.

Sailra19: And there are so many more things you can do. But I think hygienists have the basics to get connected, and surf around the net.

HeidiERDH: It is intimidating at first. But if you take it one step at a time, you?ll be doing sophisticated electronic acrobatics in no time. Two months ago, I didn?t even know IRC from VCR.

Sailra19: Now we?ve even set up a meeting room. Hygienists on AOL can click on Oprivate roomO and key in OMental FlossO and join colleagues from all over the country. If no one is there when they sign on, they can hang out for awhile and see who shows up. If anyone needs help or has any questions about communicating on the Internet, they can look for me there or they can e-mail me at [email protected]. I?ve been playing with computers for over 20 years and would be happy to help.

HeidiERDH: Barry, you are definitely a computer wizard extraordinnaire. Aren?t you going to tell the readers about the hack job you did in the 10th grade?

Sailra19: I?m saving that for another article, Heidi. Or maybe I can use that as an enticement for hygienists to join our chat group.

HeidiERDH: Great idea! I?ll join you there soon, Barry!

Sailra19: See ya!

Heidi Emmerling, RDH, BS, is a consulting editor for RDH, a writer, speaker, and clinician from Sparks, Nevada. Her e-mail address is [email protected]. You can find her surfing around AOL with the screen name of HeidiERDH. She welcomes IMs and e-mail. Barry Matherly, RDH, has worked in the dental laboratory industry for 13 years and is a full-time clinician. He is a web page designer and computer/software consultant in Plymouth, Michigan. His e-mail address is [email protected]. His AOL screen name is Sailra19. He welcomes IMs and e-mail. Heidi and Barry are co-publishers of The Radical Hygienist, an online magazine written by and for hygienists. You can find it at http://members.aol.com/radicalhyg/radical _hygienist. Or you can e-mail them at Radicalhyg @aol.com.