Category Archives: History-of-the-internet

Who Killed Jimmy Chat Room?

What ever happened to …….the live chat roomon the internet?

How charming the anarchic chaos of a live chatroom with a couple of dozen users, in a little javascripted, embedded box or pop up window with green screen DOS resemblence. So enthralling and amusing it was to have either frivilous or serious conversations, opening your heart or blurting out revamped cliches, with complete and utter strangers you would never meet in person or take home with you. I remember how hard it was to break into conversations, how easy it was to make the faux pas of PM’ing a user you thought you might like to chat up on the side (Irish Girl 78 , Hotpants.Chigago) How thorooughly amusing some conversations were, and how you shrieked with laughter when two conversations became entwined with hilarous accidental consequences.

Chatrooms really were at the dawning of creation of the electric internet. Right back at the little bang that was the first ever message sent between academics via the Pentagon instigated ArpNet as a true TCP/IP message, you could say, the embryonic chat was formed by electrons,volts and bits.

You could of course take chatting and even hacking further back than that to the days of morse code along the railway and telegraph company systems in the 19th century, when operators would often send cryptic messages, or sign their commercial message off with a ‘tag’ denoting themselves to other operators, or when people would either ‘tap’ the wire to listen to traffic or send signals, such as the Norwegian resistance did during WWII, or to interrupt , corrupt or down right send fake news along the telegraph wires!

They existed of course in the form of news groups in the early world wide web, when often they would be strings of postings in conversation not truly news. But as mentioned, it wasnt until embedded javascript in the browsers of the mid to late 90s came of age, and bandwidth reached to ISDN capacity and beyond, that chat rooms exploded onto the scene. ICQ and MSN came

to dominate the one-to-one chat format for a decade, and morphose into today’s PM on all the main apps and big branded web sites. Yet the once bleeding edge live chat room for multi users, has withered away and lives it seems only in the odd little backwaters and alley ways of the internet and web today.

They were exciting. Anarchic of course. Self regulatiing by in large, with ‘report user’ buttons or abusive commine complaint possibilities on the more advanced ones, and often trigger happy moderators Also for the internet of the day, they seemed pretty much ubiquitous across all socially definable groups, collective interests, nationalities or professions who had become present on the internet. In those days there were a few bucket mouthers, but they got deleted and so in general the special interest nature of some, and the self policing functionality of other chat rooms, rendered the whole place an extremist free zone.

The cross section of society was not without its biases. It was the innovators, the extroverts, the nerds , the geeks and by in large the educated and often academic who were on chat rooms. So if you had wanted to run opinion polls via chat rooms then, or stealthy ‘sentiment scrape’ analysis linked to key words, then you would have dug up results that were highly unrepresentative of society as a whole. By in large though, the groups were split into two destinct types. The friendly, open group, and the more self restricting, closed atmosphere, where the established geeks didnt like noobs (newbies) taking up bandwidth or screen space.

Now at their peak in about 1998 / 99 pre modern, organised, big brand , corporatist social media of course, I happened to have an Irish girl friend and wandered by some whim onto the virtual pub of some kind of Irish web site. I was known as KIM, which is kind of gender neutral and I could recgnise my own posts immediately as the scroolling , tickertape like madness rolled on during the day.

I just went on for the craic and would engage in reducto absurdum, mild trolling of other conversations, or make inane sweeping statements or just post jokes, and even revert to ‘hello youse all, I’m lonely today’ type invitations to converse. The best times to be on were generally before the USA woke up, when the whole thing would grind to a hault with expat Paddy and Mary wanting to touch base wi’ the home land. By mid afternoon it was only the ‘snug’ and other ante’roomswhich were useable this side of the atlantic.

Looking back, I think maybe I wanted to get more inside the often confusing psyhce of the irish. To kind of get on the wave length without my terrrible body language and odd use of eye contact and intonation getting in the way. The irish have extolled in great irony, the language of their once conquisdadors and imperial masters, to dizzy heights of wonderous expression far beyond the daily use of the english language over the irish sea in its homeland.

They have a whole range of methodologies to converse and relay their internal stream of consciousness to one another and the outside world when it tunes in to listen. A simple ride in a taxi, can be like emersing yourself in the best of yeats or james Joyce. Conversations exist on mulitple levels, a bit like that packaged internet parcel protocol. Words, statements, answers, encouragements, gasps and guffaws are thrown back and forth on often three or more subjects or themes, and yet some how sewn together by in large by each participants’ native brain circuits. All smoothed along with laughter and usually a fruity , articulated accent exscluding some suburbs of Dublin that is, where a flat , beaurocratic Dublish is kind of uttered.

There is a great irony in what fate befell the live chat room because as technology advanced and could have permitted more complex forms of chat, with video or what have you, or speech, or what have you, the chat room fell away. In one way it was replaced by its predecessor, which often you linked out to the pop up window chat from, the notice board or forum. On the other hand anarchy never lasts long and the corporates came along. Then the organic, booming internet brands exploded onto the scene between 2005 and 2010. The ‘net became something we thought would never happen. It got channelised and went mega global corporate.

The other great irony lies here, in the explosion of Social Media and our need to be visible and connected to those we know and want to know. Chat rooms were strictly anonymous. We chose to hide our identity behind a snappy chat handle (name or tag) and if we did use a visible e-mail adress, it too was obfuscated. We wanted in essence to do what mum told us never to do – to speak first and foremost to complete strangers.Today if you put Twitter Trolling aside, we have a destinct need to be known, highly visible and connected to those we know. In fact we spend most of our time communicating with people we have met in person, for the vast majority of us. We want to be kind of broadcast famous to our own tribe, in touch via the worldwide jungle drums beating our private code.

I remember when FaceBook went viral in 2007 and it became a kind of touch-base and collect as many of your friends and acquaintances as possible, a bit like stamp collecting. It was a race to be best connected, have the most friends. For years though, I put a firm limit of 100 friends on FB, and would delete down to that number by cutting out lurkers and folk I never had met actually, or didnt really like that much at all to be honest.

Perhaps of course Chat rooms are alive and well to some people, and have only evolved into Tinder and Facebook Messenger. Tinder is to some extent anonymous, and has that element of risky flirting with the ability to pull the plug at any moment. Indeed i admit I liked to flirt, typographically at least, with the obviously bawdy females of the Irish Virtual Pub in 1998 and 99.

I miss going down the real pub, being middle aged an all and living in a small town where everybody knows each other and knows you aint from round here boy. In fact I used to seek solace as the troubled manfolk of old did in the real pub, by wandering into chatrooms, forlorn and alone, looking for anybody to hear my little sob and give me some answers or direction.

Said Irish girlfriend declared she was off to manage the company’s new translation office for IT software in Romania in 1999. Instantly I paniced as to what fate would become her in a land where rabied dogs roamed and the gypsy mafia kidnapped people. My fears were allayed by a kind english speaking person from of all places Transylvania, who assured me on a live chat room of course, that their city of Cluje, my girlfriends destination, belonged to the Bohemian, Central European tradition and was far more like the safe western cities if not more so. As it happened I got dumped, as to her, career and not having baggage or too much personal e-mail traffic, was more important than our relationship. But at least I knew my ex was going to a safe place.

It is a little odd, sad and very ironic then that our need to be in touch with on the one hand our friends and other established social networks, and on the other people as politically like minded as possible, has superceded our need to explore and find new people and just have a chat. Instead of investigating the brave new world of the internet as we did, open minded and as new borns without an identity, going forth to meet humanity with hope, we now want to stamp our mark as who exactly we are via Facebook likes and Tweets via Twitter, and exclude those who might disagree with us, or even just tease us a little.

Of course the live chat room still is to be found, I haven’t bothered to click on any of the links I dug up on Google though. Half of them are probably live porn pan handlers, the other half corporatist ultra right wing troll boxes no doubt. Maybe I should put this prejudice aside, as once upon a time the internet was a scary place with nasty little viruses on every other link, and you never knew if you were talking to was who or what they made out to be. Anonymity and neutrality in conversation, as you would get down a pub you never had been in before in a strange city, are really what chat rooms were about. Perhaps I should google a little harder for somewhere I might like to drop in on.