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BadassBuddyIn the teeming, squalid assemblies known as online communities, savvy cyber-swingers go to great lengths to differentiate themselves from all the other nutcases out there. AOL's Instant Messenger is a handy tool for keeping in touch with far-away loved ones, total strangers and the chick in the next apartment over — all without the nuisance of actual face-to-face contact. Without proximity, business cards or niggling brushes with reality to establish your identity, every little piece of information — from screen name to font style — creates a signature fashion for your own personal online alter ego.

The best way to make your pop-up window stand out is with what's called a "Buddy Icon." Rather than the little yellow smiley-face dude, identify yourself to fellow AIMers with an individualized display icon in your chat window. AOL itself has a whole list of these babies available for use, from artistic wilderness snapshots to cartoon characters to stills of Austin Powers and Britney Spears.


Get hip to BadassBuddy.com and make your fellow AIM junkies crazy with envy. The boys at BadassBuddy (most of whom, judging by their profiles, are way too young to be designing these icons) have sick senses of humor, and they aren't afraid to wield them. The little yellow guy is re-imagined as your favorite band member or movie character (I like Jedi Buddy, complete with light saber). The "Pride Page" showcases an astounding variety, from the rainbow-themed Gay Pride Buddy to Polish Pride and even Marine Pride. You can get a Simpsons Buddy, where the ubiquitous yellow figure morphs into any of the similarly jaundiced cartoon characters, or a Blender Buddy, where the icon gets turned into a little golden milkshake. Animated versions include everything from Unicycling Buddies to Pole-Dancing Buddies. Some Buddies are X-rated, others display a humor that's too juvenile even for a page like this. One of my favorites, Eat Buddy, displays one little Buddy Icon wielding a knife and fork, running after another.

But that's just me.

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