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Just look at the earliest, successful forerunner to online chat — a program that academics invented, almost by accident, long before the birth of the World Wide Web.
Talkomatic, the program’s appropriately retro name, was born out of PLATO, a computer-based education program at the University of Illinois, in 1973.
(Seductive enough that most mainstream coverage of chat at the time focused on a phenomenon dubbed “Compu Sex.”) “To say this typewritten “human contact” or “people typing in their thoughts” is the equivalent of genuine friendship or intimacy is something else,” wrote Vic Sussman, struggling to understand the very concept of online community for The Washington Post in 1986.
“It’s certainly the illusion of intimacy — the instant gratification of human contact without responsibility or consequences or actual involvement …
The CB stands for citizens band radio — a relative of ham — and originally operated in similar ways, borrowing from radio’s lingo and channel system.
You never knew quite what, or who, you would find in a Compuserve chat — or, later, a chat on AOL (c. AOL’s chief architect and longest-serving employee, Joe Schober, once described the earliest AOL chatrooms as “little frontier towns”: small and unpolished, perhaps, but pioneering — like a spark in the big Internet void.
If the Internet was an uncharted wilderness, however, the ‘90s were its Gold Rush.
(His screenname was “Clinton Pz.”) By 1997, the year AOL launched Instant Messenger as a stand-alone chat product, the company boasted an estimated 19,000 chatrooms.
Users spent more than a million hours chatting each day.