I find this the RUDEST thing anyone can ask, and I usually hurt people when they do ask it. Once, back in the day (1996-ish) I was in the Gamepro chatroom, and someone said IT. I proceeded by asking "What are the three most common questions asked by internet pedophiles?".

6 people instantly left the chatroom. Good riddance.

And now some actual content to go along with that antidote!

One of the greatest parts about the internet is the fact you can be nothing-in-particular. When you walk down a street in the real world, you are judged on the spot. For example, I'd be judged to be a short, 17 year-old male, who looks very pale. In chatrooms, this does not instantly happen. We can not be instantly judged, unless IT comes up. If we are not instantly judged by our obvious traits, many sterotypes never occur. For example, I was once in a chatroom where the issue was never brought up until I existed there for almost 1/2 a year. Then when they guessed, I was much older, as I seemed more intelligent. On the flip side of this, one could say if it was initially shown, that I was not so old, I would have appeared to be less intelligent, and treated as such.

So, to recap, why do I feel it's rude? By allowing your judgements to exist before you have a proper conversation with the person is both unfair to yourself and others. Please remember, if you absolutely MUST ask a person there age, sex, location - do so after you've had a nice conservation with them, for on the internet the only thing that really matters is how you present youself, not what you present yourself as.
To bitter_engineer: I'm sorry, but your methods just suck. If you goto into a San Diego chat room you should not try to pick up anyone, perriod. They have special rooms for that. People in area specific chat rooms who are trying to have friendly conservations and relate to other peopls worldly experences don't give a damm about your libido, goto romance chats for that. Your next argument is the mail-oder bride idea, which just shows your american centric viewpoint of a good match is poor at best. Next you say youth cannot provide a challange in online games like scrabble, does Bobby Fisher ring a bell?

I'm glad to see we still live in a world without sterotypes.

You follow with some tips, which I agree with. If you absolutly must know, bring the questions up in between other things. However, your example would offend lots of people, including me - in fact, if I met anyone said "Damn. Sorry to hear that, bye." crap to me on the street, they'd need a doctor asap to fix all the internal bleeding.

Sorry for the rant.
I will offer up a few arguments in defense of a/s/l usage, from my own experience in chat rooms.
  • When I go into, say, a San Diego regional chat room, it is my intention to meet women from San Diego that I might want to get to know further IRL. I am not interested in talking to some 15 year old, or someone logging on from Ohio.
  • I am especially not interested in talking with some mail-order bride wanna-be in the Phillipines or Malaysia.
  • And when I decide to play, say, online scrabble, I'd like to have a stronger opponent than a 12-year-old.
This etiquette appears to work for me:
  • Do not immediately ask the question. Instead, make small talk. "How are you doing?" "What brings you online?" etc. If they are still talking to you, then maybe you can
  • Discreetly break the question into parts, and
  • Always give your own information first.

An Example:

"Hey, want to chat?"
"Cool. How are you doing tonight?"
"Good, just glad the weekend is here."
"Same here. Hey, I'm in Pacific Beach, where are you at?"
"Cool. How old are you? I'm 28."
"Damn. Sorry to hear that, bye."

To my knowledge, no offense has ever been taken by my using this method. Also, if you MUST use a/s/l, then don't ask anything that was already answered. For instance, if the user has an online profile that already says they are female, then just ask for "a/l".

Every single writeup above is typical of the negativity and persecution surrounding this often misunderstood phrase. While its use today is widely condemned to the bastions of cybersex, the expression itself is not without merit.

Although I wasnt around at the birth of IRC, I'm sure that back then, the emphasis was more on having fun and trying out this new system, than on social reliance on it. And while it's probably true that relying on IRC socially is bad, it's a fact that many people today do, at least to a certain extent.

In real life, of course, these three questions would not normally need to be asked. Age and sex are generally distinguishable from a distance, and once you start talking to someone, even blindness is no barrier to getting this information. As for location - one of the most socially acceptable questions is "Where are you from?" - it absolutely no connotations at all. Yet in cyberspace, these questions are frowned upon - at least in their abbreviated form. Everyone who's used IRC for any length of time becomes victim to this way of thinking, and becomes forced to deduce these 3 essential characteristics from ever-more-obscure questions... "What's your name?"..."Are you in school?" etc. And of course, heaven forbid that these obscure questions occur closer than 10 lines apart, and people guess the true meaning of what you're trying to find out.

The asl taboo exists because there are still many people on IRC who view it as something special, a place where age, sex and location do not exist - and they don't exist - at least not to that group of people. But, increasingly, IRC is being usurped by a new type of chatter - one who treats it as much as possible like real life. And although asl is mostly cybersex-orientated on places like Dalnet's #teens, it does have its place as a valid question on smaller servers or less sexually-minded channels.

In the end, we need to ask ourselves what we want IRC to become. On the one hand we have a place where all boundaries are crossed, bodily characteristics don't matter, and 8 year-old boys can have everyday frank discussions with 80-year old grannies. On the other, we have the possibility of a place imitating reality, where people approach one another based on external appearances, social ranking, etc. This is what many anti-asl people are afraid of.

However, neither system is wrong - both have their place within IRC. A/s/l, for the moment, sits awkwardly in the middle, its true fate yet to be decided.

Abbreviation (not acronym!) for "Any soy or lesbians?". Or, in other words, "are you from Everything2?".

Used in IRC Internet chat room forums.

Modern-day usage even uses this phrase to ask for the conversant's E2 username.

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