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The art of the 'away message'

Away messages can last longer than Facebook statuses or tweets, so be wary and wise when posting them.
Away messages can last longer than Facebook statuses or tweets, so be wary and wise when posting them.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Away messages have a unique power because they tend to hang around
  • Avoid inside jokes and aim for amusing links
  • Complaining in a status is a quick way to irritate friends

Editor's note: Brenna Ehrlich and Andrea Bartz have been the sarcastic brains behind the blog and book "Stuff Hipsters Hate." Got a question about etiquette in the digital world? Contact them at netiquette@cnn.com.

(CNN) -- Think back to your college days, those beer-soaked years spent wandering the purple-carpeted halls of your dorm, snacking on Easy Mac and looking for someone to entertain you so you wouldn't have to study for your Sociology of Organizations midterm. Outside fellow dorm dwellers' rooms were whiteboards scribbled with whatever the inhabitants felt it necessary to tell the world.

Such statements were the precursor to modern "away messages" -- but unlike the markered variety, digital away messages can't be wiped clean by an eraser in the hands of an irritated passer-by.

Away messages (or statuses, in the case of Google's gchat service) have a unique place in the social media hierarchy: They hang around longer than any given tweet or Facebook update, which are like raindrops in the rivers of friends' news feeds.

They can be up for days, even weeks, if you choose, bleating the same concise message to anyone who's checking in on you.

That means it's all the more imperative that you use your away message space wisely. Not having a status at all is perfectly acceptable, but if you're going to gussy up your front door, so to speak, here are some benchmarks and fails to help you clean up your status, stat.

Bad: "Art store? Next time it'll be a SPORK STORE! <3 <3"

We get it, we get it; you have friends and among those friends you have things that are funny -- but you had to be there. Your medal should be arriving in the mail any day now.

But away messages are not the place for inside jokes. They don't make you seem insidery and popular; rather, they make you seem irritating and noninclusive.

Good: "If you were really into 'Eerie, Indiana' 20 years ago, GCHAT ME IMMEDIATELY."

Putting out feelers on a topic you'd like to discuss posthaste is just efficient. Facebook means waiting around for comments to gather; Twitter demands that you converse in asynchronous 140-character bursts.

But gchat (and similar programs) bring the chatterers to you, so you don't have to ping everyone you know (who's online at the moment), asking if they can help you out. Along the same vein, crowdsourcing requests for, say, a dentist recommendation or opinions on a football game you just witnessed make perfect sense.

Bad: "Uh, awesome that everyone in my aisle at work got a new keyboard other than me. Cooool."

Complaints, especially of the trite or passive aggressive or champagne problem variety, are never fun to read. If you must vent, fine, go ahead and tweet your quibble (especially if you can couch the rant in a joke, which this example, it should be noted, does not do).

But when you make a complaint in your gchat status, your friends see it every time they check in on you for days at a time, and they may begin to believe that you're not a layered human being but an alarmingly bitter person monomaniacally obsessing over a minor injustice.

The upshot: Keep your status positive, or at least neutral, for the sake of those who look at you in their chat lists regularly.

Good: "Don't worry, guys. I've got my thinking cat on."

Why is this a good status? Because the link is amazing, that's why. Similarly effective statuses include: "On repeat today: French Horn Rebellion vs. Database Poster Girl" and most of the listicles on Buzzfeed.

Bad: "This: (and a link)."

People want to know where you're sending them, and whether they should expect a GIF, a serious political op-ed, a NSFW comic strip, etc. Give them just an eensy bit of a clue, because they won't follow you blindly into the dark beyond of a new tab.

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