Vanished online friends

January 13, 2011
By

(This is the Online column, written for The Southland Times)

The web is great for making connections (being nothing more than a whole bunch of connections itself) but there are also disconnections to think about.

Last week I mentioned that through the wonders of the web, I’d caught up with a friend I hadn’t seen for more than 20 years. This week the news was pretty much the polar opposite.

I was one of about a gazillion people around the world who used the early version of the VP Chat program way back in the mists of time before Facebook was around.

social-networking-movie Yes gentle reader, there was a time before Facebook.

Anyway, the chat program had many different chat rooms available but somehow a group of around 40 regular chatters used to dodge all the sleazy types looking for someone to talk dirty to them and the internet trolls looking to pick fights and we’d take over our own little corner of cyberspace to talk about anything and everything.

We shared stories about our partners, our kids, work and day-to-day life. In fact, we were a regular little community of people from all corners of the world who just got together to shoot the breeze. Just like Facebook now but without the privacy woes and Farmville requests.

When the program fell over somewhere around 10 years ago most of us moved on to use other methods of chat, including Paltalk and MSN Messenger.

VP did eventually end up back online through the efforts of some of the former employees of the company that ran the program but by that stage we’d all gone our separate ways. And while some of us have kept in touch over the ensuing decade, some of us lost touch.

This week I got an email at my  Hotmail address from one of the old crew from all those years ago.

He’d been clearing out some files from an old computer he had tucked away in his attic when he found a text document listing a bunch of passwords, including one for an email address he hadn’t used for nearly 10 years.
That login gave access to an address book packed with contact details for long-lost chat friends from the past, so he sent us all emails.

Some didn’t reply, most likely because the email address are no longer active, but one reply didn’t come for a much sadder reason: our old friend bellaboo had died a couple of years ago at the hands of someone she should have been able to trust.

While she was someone I’d never actually met in the flesh, and I hadn’t chatted to her online for so many years, I was still a bit gobsmacked at the news.

Out of curiosity, I Googled one of her other online usernames and discovered an old Blogger account still active, with posts every week or two right up until just a few days before her death.

And that got me thinking about just what happens in the online world when someone dies in the real world.

A couple of the message boards I use have had regular contributors die during the past year and in those cases, someone passed on the news via the boards.

While the news can shock at least we knew what had happened.

However, after getting the sad news about my old chat friend from years ago I got to wondering about the other people I’d lost touch with online.

Some of them had seemingly fallen off the face of the earth, leaving behind unfinished blogs, unanswered emails and unexpected questions.

There has been much talk online about United States computer guru Bill Zeller, who chose to end his life in a very public way on January 2, posting his suicide note on his Facebook account before hanging himself. As awful as it was, at least his online friends know what has become of him.

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Jillian "George" Allison-Aitken

I live in the deep south of New Zealand, where smelly dairy cows are taking over from sheep in the livestock stakes. My hometown is the small but perfectly formed city of Invercargill, which is also the hometown of the original boy racer, Burt Munro. Find out more about me here.

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