The History of Chat Rooms
Every day, people around the world enjoy the still-growing Internet phenomenon of chat rooms. This revolutionary invention is one that has benefited society in ways that are incomprehensible to those who don't utilize it themselves. These 'rooms' allow you to talk to anyone about anything at any time. But how did chat rooms become what they are today? Creations such as these take time to develop, but it wasn't that long ago that the idea of chat rooms were conceived, primarily due to the popularity of an online game.
If you're a big video game lover, it's very likely that you have heard the term MUD used when discussing old-fashioned games. The acronym is a little strange, but it stands for Multi-User Dungeon. A college student in England named Roy Trubshaw created MUD off the ideas of the popular game Dungeons and Dragons in 1978. MUDs had a combination of role-playing games, hack and slash, player vs. player, Interactive fiction, and the first form of online chat. The MUD slowly started growing out of Trubshaw's friend group, and the popularity became astonishing. The server was only used during specific hours of the day because of the initial games' location on a college website, but when the MUD game was useable, the servers were always full to the maximum capacity. Other Internet users noticed the widespread implementation of this system, and began creating their own MUD servers. Just as Internet gaming fads happen today, they have changed from the 1970's and 80's.
The MUD servers that were once thriving are now often seen as being an 'old-fashioned' gaming system. By 1994, over 400 of these MUD servers existed, but by that time, a new method of online chat had also been created.
The Development of IRC
Out of the basic creation of MUD came the idea to create a chat room with immediate service. Internet relay chat (Also known as IRC) was created by accident in 1988 by yet another college student named Jarkko Oikarinen. The original intention of this system was to extend a page for University of Oulu Finland called BBS. This system was originally established for conversations about computer software programs and world news, but as the idea began growing, so did the conversation topics. Jarkko got his friends at two other universities to use the IRC program, and by mid-1989, the program had over 40 servers worldwide. The program soon spread to new countries, and America was the first country to pick the program out of Finland. IRC became part of the websites for both Oregon State University and the University of Denver.
The chat rooms that were created for University purposes morphed into rooms for general conversation as people became dependant on the companionship and socialization they had access to in these public venues. These 'walls' became a place that you could have open conversations of any sort, and topics of discussion such as online gaming and books reviews were created. Today, there are thousands of IRC networks used daily.
Despite the early creation of Internet relay chat, it was not the first chat room of it's kind to come along. Before the creation of IRC came CompuServe, which was created by Jeffery Wilkins for his father-in-laws insurance company. They wanted to take the basics of the business and computerize it to expand its popularity. Although the insurance company didn't grow as vastly as had originally been hoped, the greatness of this program was realized a year later by H&R Block. This company would later buy the site, and unlike the first owner, H&R Block had the money to fund the program in order to enhance it to it's full potential. The CompuServe system soon became the first major commercial online service provider for the United States.
The CompuServe system itself was not the true 'grandfather' of today's chat rooms. The company's executive, Alexander Trevor, released the CompuServe CB Simulator to the public in 1980. The CompuServe CB simulator was truly modeled after the popular Citizens Band (CB) radios. Just like a CB radio, the CB Simulator has 40 'channels', as well as controls for 'squelch', 'tune', and 'monitor. The 40 'channels' on CB Simulator laid the groundwork and eventually evolved into true Chat Rooms. By 1995, CompuServe had become the biggest online service provider, with over 3 million members.
The CB Simulator is considered today as being the first real-time online chat room, and primarily grew because of an opportunity they saw in younger users. This company (like MUD) also saw the attraction and opportunity in creating gaming with the new idea of Internet chat, and integrated the two together in their creation of PlayNET. PlayNET had an extensive amount of games, such as chess, in which the players could talk to each other while partaking in the game with people around the world. This creation would mark the creation of the first true incarnation of an online chat room. The graphical interface utilized by PlayNET was superior to the competition of its time because it used specialized client software with a nonstandard protocol. However, this specialized software and nonstandard protocol limited the PlayNET market to use by only one computer, the Commodore64.
The Beginning of AOL
The CompuServe system's popularity long outlasted IRC's popularity and had an estimated two million subscribers by 1998. However, as we well know, the popularity of individual websites waxes and wanes, and PlayNET soon became just another among the bunch. In the late 1980's another company named Quantum Link (Quantum Computer Services) bought out the PlayNET Company. In 1989, the company's name was changed to the very well known America Online. This new company strayed away from most of the original ideas of PlayNET, and rather focused their energy into creating a productive social network with benefits that CompuServe didn't offer. A major leap taken by AOL was the development of proprietary chat room software; instead of utilizing the terminal program developed by CB Simulator, AOL offered a GUI (graphical user interface) that was geared towards providing a seamless experience for the user.
Additional refinements to the overall chat-room experience developed by AOL included Private Rooms, Conference Rooms, and Auditoriums, each offering an unmonitored and personalized experience for the user. These developments soon made AOL the leader in Internet chat rooms; as of 1999, they boated over 10 million subscribers.
Internet-Wide Chat Rooms
In 1996, developers at an Israeli technology company called Mirabilis released the first Internet-wide instant messaging service, ICQ. ICQ was unique not only because it was available to everyone, but also because it gave those using a Windows operating system the ability to participate in chat and instant messaging. Prior to ICQ, only UNIX users had access to chat. ICQ was a free download, and offered file exchange, email and games along with the chat program. These programming advances made ICQ immensely popular, eventually and prompted America Online to buy Mirabilis for $407 million.
Technology is a constantly advancing product, and the late 1900's were no exception. It was inevitable that sooner or later a more formal system of communication would pop up on the Internet, and that was brought along in the current day form of chat rooms. In early 1991, a language program made to interact with any computer type by the name 'Oak' was created. In 1995, the name was changed to what we now know as Java, and the program boomed with a large array of uses. Chat rooms were created and embedded into web pages through the Java system, and in a mere ten years, over 550,000,000 computers had the program in use.
Instant messaging sites followed soon after the creation of Java, and in 1997, the first instant messaging system was created. AOL gave the benefit of AIM (AOL Instant Messaging) to their subscribers, and the following AIM system created in 2001 was released for everyday users regardless of if they were AOL members. Yahoo additionally created a similar online chat program in 1998. The newest wave of chat rooms was released with Internet Explorer 4, and this special program utilizes a marriage between video conferencing and chat rooms, which created the phenomenon of video chat. Systems such as TeamSpeak work with the formality of Internet relay chat, but with a rapidness of face-to-face conversation. This type of chat room allowed for the users to see and hear each other via video camera and microphone, and to have a real-time chat system that was completely new to the public.
With all these different forms of chat servers, Internet chat began blossoming and branching out into new categories of chat. Whereas formerly most chat was utilized by University students, researchers, and gamers, the new varieties of Internet chat available led to a large population of adults streaming into chat rooms, and when video chat began in 1998, chaos broke out. The mix of adult oriented chat rooms and other common use chat rooms was unstable for users wanting separate web experiences, and thusly, solely adult chat rooms were created for their separate purpose.
Adult Chat Rooms
Adult chat rooms boomed in the beginning of the 21st century when the video chat became more common among Internet users, and thousands of them exist today as a result of their high demand. However, just because the topic became famous through popular use of video chat, it doesn't necessarily mean that that is the only form of chat communication used. After the topic of adult chat rooms became well known on video servers, they additionally shot off their popularity on the original text chat rooms and avatar chat rooms. These rooms led to a whole new chat experience and are generally what chat rooms are known for today.
These adult chat rooms became famous for what is now commonly called 'Cybersex'; it was no longer necessarily a face-to-face experience on a video camera, but it could rather be utilized through a typed conversation, or even a role-playing game specialized for these specific types of conversations. Chat rooms are very widely used today because of these famous adult chat rooms, but these rooms are certainly not the only use of these web sites.
Along with adult chat rooms came chat that revolved around other age groups such as children and teens. Teen chat rooms became a place for young adults to talk about topics with the chat being solely between others within their age group. These chats consist of discussions about video games, music, books, and other 'hot topics' depending on what was happening at the time. Not only did this become a place for them to talk about popular subjects, but they also began to create study pages and other school-oriented pages. Teenagers began going onto these chat sites to create discussion pages for any variation of group discussion, which expanded the topic range out to religion, politics, art, hobbies and much more. These 'teen-friendly' pages attracted attention from all over the world, and are a main source for the attention chat rooms receive today. Additionally, these teen-oriented chat rooms became a main cause for the attention that Internet gets from young adults.
All these different variations of chat such as text chat, video chat, and role-playing chat among other types of chat room communication have marked new ages in the creation and utilization of the internet, and a large population of the adults of today grew up with the advantage of having access to the internet. This means that there are many elderly people who grew up with Internet being a new creation. Because of this, some adults are computer savvy while others don't know what an icon is. However, computers are no longer a rarity, and the children of today see them as a normality. More and more children grow accustomed to regular use of computers, while older generations are slowly growing attached to this technology, showing the difference of the ages as time goes on. This large difference is demonstrated in the graph below.
Children and Teens in Chat Rooms
This graph of Americans Online by Age exemplifies the idea that a majority of Internet usage is aimed at children. As shown in this graph, not only are kids in their teens more reliant on Internet, but additionally the numbers of children using the Internet are rapidly growing. Increasing by as much as 5% in three years, the percentage of 12-17 year olds using the Internet is an unparalleled phenomenon. Even the numbers of the elderly utilizing the Internet have grown; up from 16.5% up to 26.5%, a much greater number of people 76 and over are becoming accustomed to the idea of the Internet.
The two main targets of the Internet towards all of society today are well known as being instant messaging and search engines. Whether it be on AOL, Facebook, or MSN, the rate of Growth of IM and chat room users is awe inspiring, but with all this progress being made, it becomes easy to forget about potential dangers of these conversation devices.
A discussion on the history of Internet Chat Rooms would be remiss in not mentioning the problem of safety and child predators. Chat room users have the ability to customize their chat page information to be whatever they want it to be, so the possibility exists that users are not who they claim to be. This fact is usually a huge contributor in a parent's decision to allow their children to use chat rooms. Unmonitored chat rooms have the potential to expose children to alarming thoughts and situations that they are far too young for, and bring danger into the picture of something that is meant to be useful, fun, and educational. Comfort can be brought about simply by checking on your child's account and have conversations with them about the dangers of talking to strangers. There is a strong value in teaching your children not to give out personal information until you both know and trust the individual concerned.
Additionally, look for chat site such as ours that monitor conversations to make sure they are appropriate and safe for all users. Safe and appropriate conversations are maintained on monitored chat sites, but if this does not reassure you, look for a constantly monitored chat room specified for children or teenagers, or chat rooms made for a specific topic.
With the popularity of the Internet today it's inevitable that your child will one day partake in the movement. There are so many ways in which the Internet could be used on a daily basis, but what exactly is the main attraction? Different age groups are attracted to different websites, but regardless of age, there has to be one winner. With billions of different websites in existence, it may be a little surprising that chat (Including emails, chat rooms and IM) is the most popular web topic.
The graph below of All-Over Internet Usage shows that the main use of Internet is within the category of messaging, including things such as Chat rooms, IM and E-mail. The graph shows interestingly enough that these forms of communication are used almost equally at work, home, and school, which sends a very important but rarely noticed message. IM, E-mail, and chat rooms aren't used solely for the purpose of talking to friends, but additionally these forms of communication contribute greatly to work and school through their numerous uses. The value of these listed communication methods are underestimated by those who use IM only to talk to friends, so it is important to keep in mind that chat rooms are useful in many different ways, some of which are very beneficial to work productivity and education.
Not all types of chat have to be about work though! There are other uses of chat rooms that you might not even think of, such as online dating. Thousands of marriages are created by the use of dating sites, but it doesn't have to cost you a fortune to find your perfect match! Chat rooms that are specified for singles are great for meeting new people that are interested in the same things as you. Dating sites look for traits in their users that imply compatibility to make matches, but in the real world you don't want a clone; a real relationship relies on not only similarities, but also differences in order to stay interesting. Compatibility is not necessarily the same thing as similarity, and the best dating chats take that into account. Dating chat allows for the comfort of text and video messaging with someone before meeting face-to-face.
The dating chat rooms fall under a certain category of chat rooms called topic-focused chat rooms. These rooms are set up by a user, administrator, or moderator to talk about a particular topic. These topics could range from gardening tips to staplers, and can be created by any user. There are two other basic categories of chat rooms, and those are open chats and moderated chats. An open chat is basically a room where users can talk about anything they feel like talking about, and topics often jump from place to place. If you have ever been a part of an elevated English class or a discussion/debate group, you will understand the basic concept of a Socratic seminar. A Socratic seminar is a group discussion in which there may or may not be a specific topic in mind, and what makes the moderated chat special is that the creator of the chain leads the conversation and prompts new questions considering whatever the core topic may be.
These types of chat rooms are often used to discuss things such as books, sports teams, movies, and even video games.
Why Chat Rooms Remain Popular
Why do chat rooms remain popular, even with the advent of platforms like forums? Forums and discussion groups may allow you to talk to multiple people, but there is an inconvenience in having to come back in two hours and seeing that nobody has responded to what you have said. For a more intimate and immediate conversation, chat rooms are by far the system with the most convenience. Not only can you have rapid-fire chat on chat rooms, but you can additionally go into any chat room at random times of your choosing to comment on any page you want to. There is no limit to how many times you can comment or when you can be on the page.
The uses of chat rooms expand every day, and the user experience, relevancy, and information resources available through the use of chat rooms are phenomenal. Today there are chat rooms for every reason imaginable, but the productivity of a few of them is absolutely astonishing. Counseling groups have set up online chat rooms in order to stay in touch and do good for their clients, even when they aren't there to have a face-to-face discussion. Another social use of chat rooms is to conduct family conversations. Everyone knows that you can't be with your relatives all the time, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't be able to talk to each other all together when you feel like it! Pages such as these allow you to have connections with people you don't get to regularly see, and allow all family members to take place in the discussion, rather than just two people interfacing the way you would get through IM or E-mail.
The Future of Chat Rooms
Where do chat rooms go from here? The possibilities are truly as unlimited as the most creative developers imaginations. Like every other advancement in chat room history, future development will be fueled by the needs of the chat room users. Flash-based chat rooms are now being developed, giving the user the capability of creating custom avatars, games, video sharing via YouTube, multi-room operation (having several rooms open in different tabs in the same chat window), and even personal branding. Video chat, including video docking (having several videos showing those with whom you are chatting) will soon become commonplace. We also anticipate the widespread implementation of multilingual chat - typing in your native language, and translations being made on the fly to those you are chatting with in other countries.
Individual users, in addition to administrators, are seeing growth in their capability to tailor their chat room experience to their own needs, including reporting abuse, blocking, banning, and getting violators kicked from chat rooms.
The phenomenon of random chat - being matched in a chat with another chat room user in a blind fashion - is also set to experience further explosive growth. The only thing for certain regarding the future of Internet Chat Rooms? The sky is truly the limit!
Harrison, Hayley. "The History of Chat Rooms | EHow.com." EHow | How to Videos, Articles & More - Trusted Advice for the Curious Life | EHow.com. Web. 29 Apr. 2011.
"Chat Room Types." Disability News, Information and Resources - Disabled World. 2 Feb. 2009. Web. 29 Apr. 2011.
"Multi-User Dungeons (MUD's), Internet." The Internet. 2000. Web. 29 Apr. 2011.