There are many different ways to start a conversation on the internet: two of them are Instant Messaging (IM) and Internet Relay Chat (IRC). IM is like a phone call: the emphasis is on two-way conversation, while IRC is more like a club meeting, with numerous people discussing a topic of common interest.
Although these first two possibilities are usually text-based, there is a growing interest in Internet Telephony and Video Conferencing, with both audio and video communication.
Here we discuss Gaim, an Instant Messaging client. If you are more interested in:
The first important step is to register with a network.
Your options are illustrated at left, but your friends
have probably made the decision for you! If all of them
are using hotmail, you want to register with MSN. If all
of them are using yahoo, you should register with Yahoo!
If all of them are using AOL, you need to register with AIM.
An outstanding feature of Gaim is that users can log in to multiple accounts on multiple IM networks simultaneously. This means that you can be chatting with friends on AOL Instant Messenger, talking to a friend on Yahoo Messenger, and sitting in an IRC channel all at the same time. To do so, you will of course have to register multiple accounts.
AIM: Go to this website.
MSN (including Hotmail email): Go to http://registernet.passport.com/.
MSN (using your own email address): Go to this website
Yahoo: Go to http://edit.yahoo.com/config/eval_register.
Jabber: See the question How do I register a new Jabber account?
ICQ: Go to http://web.icq.com/register.