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In one early “channel,” described by Info World in 1984, users did nothing but speak Old English and roleplay as kings and maidens.In others, a form of radical, soul-baring honesty was fairly common; between the fake names, the small communities, and the hours of online contact, the idea of intimacy became “very seductive,” one user told Info World.
Over the years, PLATO has affected many lives in profound ways.” Of course, PLATO could only reach so many people.Sure, we have Rooms now — but Rooms, despite its branding and anonymous discussion groups, has little in common with the chatrooms of yore.And like other modern attempts to reincarnate the ‘90s chat room (Airtime, anyone?Services like MSN and AOL (which bought Compuserve in 1998) made the chat function available to millions of Americans, packaging it in dial-up subscriptions that users purchased first by the hour, and later by the month.In 1993, shortly after the debut of AOL’s chatroom, the Associated Press reported, hilariously, on the “team of young, high-tech specialists” who were trying to get President Bill Clinton to host a town hall chat.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.
is undergoing a major makeover,” enthused one 1997 trend piece in the Irish Times.
Chatrooms were showing up in business software packages, such as Lotus and Oracle.
) it seems to lack that critical quality that made early AIM, Yahoo Messenger and MSN fun: the edge of quirkiness, transgression and inventiveness.
The feeling that this was a new and semi-lawless space, that unexpected things could happen.
(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.