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The term chat room, or chatroom, is primarily used to describe any form of synchronous conferencing, occasionally even asynchronous conferencing. The term can thus mean any technology ranging from real-time online chat and online interaction with strangers over instant messaging and online forums to fully immersive graphical social environments.
The primary use of a chat room is to share information via text with a group of other users. Generally speaking, the ability to converse with multiple people in the same conversation differentiates chat rooms from instant messaging programs, which are more typically designed for one-to-one communication. The users in a particular chat room are generally connected via a shared interest or other similar connection, and chat rooms exist catering for a wide range of subjects. New technology has enabled the use of file sharing and webcams to be included in some programs. This can be considered a chat room.
The first online chat system was called Talkomatic, created by Doug Brown and David R. Woolley in 1973 on the PLATO System at the University of Illinois. It offered several channels, each of which could accommodate up to five people, with messages appearing on all users' screens character-by-character as they were typed. Talkomatic was very popular among PLATO users into the mid-1980s. In 2014 Brown and Woolley released a web-based version of Talkomatic.
The first dedicated online chat service that was widely available to the public was the CompuServe CB Simulator in 1980, created by CompuServe executive Alexander "Sandy" Trevor in Columbus, Ohio.
Graphical multi-user environments
Visual chat rooms add graphics to the chat experience, in either 2D or 3D (employing virtual reality technology).These are characterized by using a graphic representation of the user, an avatar (virtualing elements such as games (in particular massively multiplayer online games) and educational material most often developed by individual site owners, who in general are simply more advanced users of the systems. The most popular environments also allow users to create or build their own spaces. Some of the most popular 3D chat experiences are IMVU and Second Life.
Some online chat rooms also incorporate audio and video communications, so that users may actually see and hear each other.
Rules of behaviour
Chat rooms usually have stringent rules that they require users to follow in order to maintain integrity and safety for their users. Particularly in rooms for children, rules usually do not allow users to use offensive/rude language, or to promote hate mail, violence and other negative issues. Also chat rooms often do not allow advertising in their rooms or flooding, which is continually filling the screen with repetitive text. Typing with caps lock on is usually considered shouting (suggesting anger) and is discouraged.
Sometimes chat room venues are moderated either by limiting who is allowed to speak (not common), by having comments be approved by moderators (often presented as asking questions of a guest or celebrity), or by having moderation volunteers patrol the venue watching for disruptive or otherwise undesirable behaviour.
Yet, most commonly used chat rooms are not moderated and users may type what they personally choose to send.
- CompuServe Innovator Resigns After 25 Years, The Columbus Dispatch, 11 May 1996, p. 2F
- Wired and Inspired, The Columbus Dispatch (Business page), by Mike Pramik, 12 November 2000
- chat room safety
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