The History of History of Online Chat Rooms & Messaging

The very first online chat room dates back to 1973 when Doug Brown and David R. Woolley invented Talkomatic. The chat system was created on the Programmed Logic for Automatic Teach Operations (PLATO) System, a computer assisted instruction system used at the University of Illinois in the United States. PLATA was an important step towards developing several modern tools including forums and message boards, online tests, email, instant messaging, multiplayer games and more. Talkomatic features a number of channels that could each accommodate up to five people. Messages appeared in all users' screens, with each character appearing as they were typed. The chat system was used into the 1980s and a web version was launched in 2014.

Although Talkomatic was the first chat system, the pioneer in online chat rooms available to the public was CompuServe's CB Simulator. Launched in 1980, the system was created by Alexander Trevor in Columbus, Ohio. It was popular with people who used citizens band (CB) radio and offered multi-user chat with 40 channels, just like the number of bands on CB radio. Additional channels were added as the system grew in popularity. Later enhancements include digital pictures and multimedia as well as multiplayer games. Like Talkomatic, the system created supportive communities were users could interact, share and build relationships. Unlike the University of Illinois's system, it was public and not just focused on a student community looking to build connections and seek support from each other.

As the popularity of online chat rooms grew and the internet became saw more mainstream use during the 1990s, other developers launched their own platforms. Two of the most iconic homes of chat rooms were AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), Yahoo! Messenger and MSN Messenger. AOL launched its first chat service in 1992, with Yahoo following suit in 1997. After launching Instant Messenger as a stand-alone chat system, AOL bought CompuServe in 1998 and inherited its chat product. Other pioneering chat services included Prodigy, which was also launched in 1992. Early chat rooms were generally anonymous and small, and systems were largely not as sophisticated as web users are accustomed to today.

With the growth of instant messaging using personal computers as well as mobile devices, the popularity of chat rooms waned. Chat rooms had also become a more mainstream way of communicating, becoming both standardised and monetised. New products like Friendster, Myspace and eventually Twitter and Facebook made communicating and connecting even easier. Systems became plagued with spam and other solicitation, a very different reality from the community feel of early chat systems built in the 1980s. AOL closed its chat rooms on Instant Messenger in 2010, while Yahoo Messenger killed its public chat rooms in 2012. MSN Messenger closed its last service in China in 2014 after Yahoo! starting to close its chat rooms in 2003 in other markets.

Since the demise of chat rooms, attempts have been made to revive the concept with Rooms by Facebook that provide discussion groups. Although similar, modern 'room' concepts have little in common with chat rooms of the past. Other contemporary chat room platforms include apps Yik Yak, Omegle, and Banter. Although the popularity of chat rooms may never reach what is was in the 1990s and early 2000s, they remain an important precursor to today's most popular web-based activities. From blogging to social networks to instant messaging, all of these inventions can be traced back to Talkomatic and CompuServe.