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.
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.
Yahoo Messenger axed its public chat rooms in 2012, explaining only that they weren’t a “core Yahoo!
product.” And when MSN Messenger shuts down Friday in China, the last place where the service still operated, it will mark the conclusive end of the mainstream chatroom era.
(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 …
PLATO had been designed for classroom use; according to its creators’ original plans, “communication between people would play [only] an incidental role.” But as more people signed on to the community, its participants began to notice something striking: In the freewheeling, pseudonymous realm of PLATO, people began to form highly personal, social connections that had nothing to do with academics. “People met and got acquainted in Talkomatic, and carried on romances via “term-talk” and Personal Notes,” one of its creators, David Woolley, wrote in his 1994 history of the program. Many people traveled to Urbana to see the lab and meet those of us who worked there …
Over the years, PLATO has affected many lives in profound ways.” Of course, PLATO could only reach so many people.
) 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.
I remember signing into my AIM account as late as 2007, the better to chat with high school friends who had, like me, gone away for school.