How to Talk Dirty (and Smart)

Moderating conversations on the net has a lot in common with certain other activities: The more you do it, the better at it you get. Lynn Snowden, AOL’s “Live Girl,” has been doing it since March 1996. Snowden, 40, hosts a weekly chat on hot topics, ranging from bisexuality to infidelity.

Snowden’s chats take place for two hours every Tuesday night. They include 30 minutes of free-form prechat, 60 minutes of moderated conversation, and 30 minutes of free-form postchat. A typical session draws 500 AOL members, but a few (featuring live video cybercasts) have attracted as many as 3,000. Snowden’s site on AOL attracts about a million page views per month.

Snowden has learned several lessons about making online chat work – whether the topic is sex or business. Unfortunately, she was all business when she chatted with Fast Company.

1. Virtual conversations need real manners. “It’s arrogant to demand information from someone else without offering any about yourself,” Snowden says. “And sometimes it’s better not to know who people are.”

2. Test the waters before you dive in. It’s rude to enter a chat room, create your own topic, and derail other conversations. “The polite thing is to read what people are talking about,” Snowden says. “Then you jump in. “

3. Your fingers do the talking. It’s a small point with big implications for how you’re perceived online: Typos make you look stupid. “You’re judged by the quality of your communication. Learn how to spell.”

Coordinates: Lynn Snowden, AOL keyword: Live GirlFCS