How I did it
This is Yahoo Instant Messenger's member search page. As you can see it has fields for entering Location, Age, Gender and Keywords, as well as Name and Age and other blank fields you can fill in. You can also select to see only members who are currently online.
Often when I am searching this source, I find member profiles which contain information the user has entered. Hobbies, Self Descriptions, Interests and links to homepages and other sites the user is interested in sharing.
By looking through the returns from my searches I am able to pick which members seem most interesting and which ones seem most likely to respond to my message. My initial message is always as plain as this, "Hi' I'm Danny, I'm an American living in America. How are you?". I don't keep statistics but I would estimate that only one out of a hundred people I message this way ever respond. But in that one in one hundred have been some amazing people.
I never lie to people I contact this way. I never portray myself as being anyone other than who I am. I never hide my beliefs or opinions on things from them. I don't create a false persona. As I like to say, "I take myself everywhere I go." And that is no different with the friends I make online. I'm perpetually me. If there is some kind of connection between myself and them, it is a real one and doesnt need any upkeep. Same as in meatspace (real world), a friendship based on honesty is the truest form of friendship. Trust follows quickly and must be respected by both parties.
In addition to using Yahoo Messnger, I also use a site which Charles posted about recently called Orkut. I have been using Orkut for a few years now. Making friends and "enemies" all over the world.For every post I have made at LGF, I have probably made twenty at Orkut. My main focus for the last few years being Iran, Orkut has been an invaluable source for keeping up with what is happening there. I have made friends living in Iran through Orkut, even though the service is banned there, many Iranians find a way to continue to use Orkut. And it is through those Iranians that I have gained the most knowledge about the reality of life on the ground there.
I make this post today because I have slowly stopped being involved with these efforts to understand Middle Eastern / Asian countries and peoples. The fire I once felt for this knowledge has been quenched over time and today I feel like I understand these places as well as I ever will. I'm not saying I have some kind of superior understanding. I'm just saying I've gotten out of it all that I can or want to at this stage. I will continue with a few friendships I have made because I truly love a few of these friends as much as a peron can grow to love someone as a friend online.
So if anyone ever wondered how it is I have found out any of the things I know about the ME/A and its peoples, this is how I did it.