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".