Not long ago, I was chatting online with a friend, and something made me laugh, and I realized I wasn't sure how to type that.
I often use heh or hah! or hee! these days (in ascending order of hilarity) to indicate brief and/or relatively mild amusement, but this was real laughing-out-loud. Which suggests an obvious answer, but I tend to associate LOL (and ROFL, and variations on those) with people new to online interaction. (I realize that's an unfair connotation; I have various friends who happily use those terms and who've been online for years, and it doesn't bother me when they use them. But it feels weird to me to use those terms myself.)
I sometimes see people write hehehe, but that doesn't work for laughter for me. It reads to me somewhere between heh heh heh and hee hee hee, both of which have connotations for me of particular kinds of laughter (respectively: a sort of sniggering chuckle, and a kind of titter) that aren't what I was looking for; and somehow the spelling hehehe, however it's meant to be pronounced, bugs me anyway.
Various of my friends sometimes write ahahaha; I like that, and it clearly conveys a particular tone to me, so I tried typing it, and immediately regretted it. It looks perfectly natural when my friends write it, but perfectly weird when I do. Possibly that's just a matter of practice, but partly it's that I don't feel like I laugh like that.
I suppose there's always mwa-ha-ha and its sibling bwa-ha-ha, but those are really only useful for a specific kind of laughter.
Most of the time, I just go with smileys. One smiley might indicate brief amusement or a smile; two is more amusement or a brief laugh; three or more generally means I was laughing out loud.
But that's not entirely satisfying either—and the friend I was chatting with in this particular instance doesn't like emoticons.
Probably my best bet would've been something like *laughs* (or ::laughs:: or /me laughs or *laugh* or various other variations). Which I somehow didn't think of, but will probably use next time.
But now I'm curious. What do y'all type in online contexts to indicate laughter? What connotations do various forms have for you?