Saturday, December 15, 2007

What DID Happen To The Chat Rooms?

John C. Dvorak ran a piece the other day in PC Magazine called "Chat Rooms Are Dead! Long Live the Chat Room!" that I've been meaning to mention.

The topic of course is so large as to be almost impossible to cover in a single blog posting, but I shall try.

He starts out with "Chat rooms kind of began with the CompuServe CB simulator around 1979."

"Kind of".

Actually it might be a bit difficult to pin down exactly when something that functions like a "chat room" as we now understand first came into existence. Generally speaking, anything that someone claims was done first on the Internet or the old "online services" (CompuServe, AOL, Prodigy, GEnie, etc. circa late 1980's) invariably turns out to have been done first on amateur radio and many times even on landline telegraph. Anecdotal accounts put "online porn" all the way back to radio fax transmissions possible as early as the 1920's and the first well documented "online romance" goes back prior to 1891.

But, yes, for many of us in the "40+ crowd", our first exposure to something like a chat room was via the CompuServe CB Simulator.

As a matter of fact, I remember getting my first CompuServe membership because I had heard that they had an Atari SIG. SIG was short for Special Interest Group - a term I suspect may have been borrowed from Mensa. It's parallel to what's usually called a "Group" today - a place where you post messages and other people can read them and reply to themas they wish. The Atari SIG sounded like a great place to exchange information about the Atari 800 I had at the time.

However, I also read in the CompuServe manual about this feature called the "CB Simulator" and I thought such a thing would be of limited value. I remember thinking, "Who would be interested in talking to strangers?"

Well, I found the answer to that one REAL fast.

Some of the "strangers" were young ladies close to my age who, despite being on Long Island or in Chicago or Maryland, shared my interests in computers, science fiction, photography, etc. Of course we really didn't HAVE digital cameras back then, so we would "snailmail" snapshots of one another back in forth back in those days and when I came ot find out that some of these "geeky girls" were also incredibly CUTE, I nearly lost my little teenaged mind.

Over the years other services picked up this idea of live keyboard-to-keyboard communication.

Probably the most famous was AOL. Back in the late '80's and early '90's, the AOL chat rooms were the place to be. I even heard tell that there were in-person gatherings of local users of the AOL chat rooms. Of course AOL charged by the hour back then and I was pretty happy with a combination of CompuServe and the local BBS's, so I never got on AOL chat rooms until - what? - about a year ago.

Yep ... back in August, 2006, AOL decided it was going to an advertiser-supported business model like Yahoo!. All the software and services were now free and mostly accessible via a web browser.

However, there was one exception. To get on the AOL Chat Rooms, you had to download the AOL 9.0 software and you had to give them a credit card number. Of course giving AOL a credit card number can be a little scary, but having waited damn near 20 years to check out these chat rooms, I went ahead and risked it.

Currently, if you want to check out the AOL Chat Rooms, you have to download AOL 9.1, and I presume you still have to give them a credit card number. They charge you something like $1 and then they immediately refund it. I guess this is in an attempt to keep minors away.

AOL 9.1 is still pretty intrusive software though. You have to go through a "custom" install to keep it from installing all kinds of toolbars and other nonesense and then Spybot S&D's Teatimer program still reports the thing is trying to install some registry nonesense called "HostManager" and "AOL Fast Start".

However, if you do get everything installed and set up and then go to "People" then "Chat" then "View all chat listings", double click on "Places" and you'll see the "Cincinnati" room, which generally has about 30 people - who rarely say anything to one another. They must be "private messaging" in the background. And, judging by some of these handles - they must be private messaging about some PRETTY interesting things - one of them has a handle that includes "GFE" - lingo associated with the escort service business. This person's profile also has a link to an add offering "a special for all pre-booked appointments starting Monday December 10 until Sunday December 23". Sounds like more than the department stores are running holiday specials ... :)

Dvorak mentions that MSN shut down its chat rooms entirely in October of 2006 - he thinks maybe because there were too many spambots on there. However, if memory serves, the shutdown came after MSN's discovery that one of the major uses for chat rooms was for people trying to arrange sexual encounters with underaged kids. Of course it seems like there are people being busted DAILY for attempting to set up meetings with police officers claiming to be 14-year-old kids so there must be chat sites out there SOMEWHERE that cater to law enforcement professionals who like to claim to be 14-year-old girls.

Yahoo! Chat has added a CAPTCHA verification, but there ARE an enormous number of spam and pseudo-spam type entities on there. Some of them are automated, but, what scares me is that I think a healthy proportion are actually sweat-shop workers in southeast Asia who spend probably 12 hours a day trying to lure people to pay sex sites.

Yahoo! ALSO figured out there were way too many law enforcement officials hanging out on its "user named" chat room. Yes, at one time you could flat out get on Yahoo! Chat and name a room something like "Looking for Boyz", and, sure enough, some heavily armed 35-year-old with a badge would be more than happy to claim to be a 14-year-old bi-curious youngster and try to arrange a meeting with you in a park in Xenia or some such so he could arrest you.

Yahoo!'s solution to this problem was getting rid of the "user named" chat rooms. Now when you go onto Yahoo! Chat you get a nice "orderly" list of chat rooms, which unfortunately does not including a "Cincinnati" room. It does, however, including a "Jewish" room which can get pretty entertaining at times.

Ironically enough, Yahoo! chat rooms a number of years ago added the ability to actually communication via voice if you have a microphone and speakers, thus making it REALLY like the old CB radio.

Of course, as the decades have dragged on, particularly Yahoo! Chat has gotten easier and easier to use, and, at a certain point it stopped being just the ├╝bergeeks who were hanging out in chat rooms and the unwashed masses started showing up and it just wasn't as much fun any more.

Second Life DOES function as a chat room of sorts - as a matter of fact, I had a WILD conversation with Amanda Baggs there a couple of months ago, but Second Life of course is MUCH more than a conventional chat room. Of course Second Life does still have a little of a learning curve and requires a computer with some pretty decent power, so it does tend to discourage the riff-raff pretty well.

Now, while all these commercial chat services were developing, there was another technology being developed on the Interent called IRC. It is beyond question THE most difficult to set up and use of the common chat applications. It is not just one network but several dozen independent networks. It functions through a "client application", arguably the simplest of which currently available is XChat.

It's hard to get a handle on exactly what is going on with these IRC networks these days. At one time the two biggest were EFNet, and Undernet. Apparently there are some bigger ones now like IRCNet and QuakeNet. I generally look for the #Cincinnati channel and see if thre's much activity. So far I haven't seen much.

Judging though from some highly bizarre stuff that ConspiracyNut has sent me, apparently there is some MAJOR IRC activity going on out there, but, thus far she has not divulged to me where she hangs out there exactly.

But, yes, what Dvorak's guest said is probably correct - for right now, it looks like MySpace is how the youngsters prefer to communicate. Sort of a mixture of the functionality of a blog and a chat room, who can blame them?

What I want to know though is how they keep from going into seizures and losing their hearing on that thing ...



At December 15, 2007 at 3:03 PM, Anonymous conspiracynut said...

"...thus far she has not divulged to me where she hangs out there exactly..."

And i never will. :)

At August 19, 2009 at 10:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mary from Compuserve chats.

Just wondering if anyone from the old "freaks and geeks" room is still around!

facebook: mary golliday

At August 24, 2014 at 4:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Christian from the old geeks and freaks chat on CompuServe. I remember death metal Joe, Diana and raven.. fb. Me to catch up! Christian Blanton from Houston

At August 24, 2014 at 4:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Christian Blandon*

At August 24, 2014 at 4:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where you the chick that dated rob?

At February 7, 2015 at 6:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It was Death Metal Jim, not Joe. Some of the G&F people are still around. Sort of...

At January 25, 2016 at 12:03 AM, Blogger Elizabeth Elf said...

When I look up my old myspace, this is in the search results.

Who else has stumbled upon this article?
Mary 26/f/WV ;-)

At January 25, 2016 at 12:05 AM, Blogger Elizabeth Elf said...

I don't think so, but it's been a decade!


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