The History of Chat Rooms: How They’ve Evolved Over the Years

I thought I would write some kind of history of chat rooms and some of the major landmarks in the chat history. Chat rooms are still around today. Snapchat is a chat room in a sense, just using an app, so to say they are not popular is totally wrong, it’s just the way we use them and the look and presentation are totally different. 

Chat room History Landmarks.

  1. The first chat room was created in 1978 by a man named Doug Brown.
  2. The chat room was called “Talkomatic” and was used by Brown and his friends to communicate while playing the game “Zork”.
  3. In 1980, another chat room called “PLATO Notes” was created.
  4. This chat room was used by students at the University of Illinois to communicate with each other.
  5. In 1986, the first online chat service called “CompuServe CB Simulator” was created.
  6. This chat service allowed users to chat with each other in real-time.
  7. In 1996, the first web-based chat service called “IRC” was created.
  8. In 1997, the first chat service specifically for teenagers was created, called “AOL Instant Messenger”.
  9. In 1999, the first chat service specifically for adults was created, called “AdultFriendFinder”.
  10. As of 2017, there are an estimated 3.5 million chat rooms in existence.
Comic chat in action

In A galaxy far far away

I could go into lots of technical stuff but I started in chat rooms in the late 80s. There were very few people online in the UK then, and the internet was expensive then, I tried to add stuff that isn’t already on Wikipedia.

However it was a different time you needed a desktop computer, there was no such thing as a mobile or tablet or even a laptop, in fact, it was also dial-up internet (ask your parents), for the most part, fast internet was not even a concept back then. never mind cyberspace it was more like cyber nothing.

I used to be chatting online and someone rung the house phone and you would be instantly disconnected from the internet, hilarious when I think about It now, as well as costing you 5 pence per min to be online.

Webcams did not exist as far as I am aware, some computers did not even have a mic slot, and voice chat was impossible, now the possibilities or endless back then the World wide web was not a phrase spoken ever.

However I had discovered it and It was a good way to meet complete strangers you would not meet in real life, it’s fair to say they have evolved over time, it was an innocent time to meet people and talk about different hobbies topics, actually have a proper discussion in proper English.

It’s fair to say chat room history is long, It would take me too long to go through every room history so I have highlighted some landmarks.

They are a good means of communication and their popularity has decreased over the years, but new technology has revived it, even if their appearance has changed.

Back then communities existed kind of

When I first went online, I was what is all the fuss, you could go to bulletin boards, which were boring, newsgroups (even more boring), browse the net, less boring but very slow, 1 page every few mins if your lucky, then there are chat rooms, and the internet was suddenly more fun.

It’s fair to say forums and newsgroups were forerunners for communication, they were rubbish but it’s easy to see how live speech chat systems were invented slowly, posh words for chat rooms right?

The only chat room available in the late 80s when I started chatting online, was something called Microsoft chat. It was called comic chat, because it had a version of the chat which displayed your conversation in comic icons (it was awful. No one used this feature ). Fortunately, there was a way to disable this and chat normally.  You would install this and click an icon to launch it and then connect to the server to access the list of rooms and select one.

All the chat rooms in those days were anonymous chats. You could not register your name or any information, so someone could not steal it. Messaging was text only, there was no voice or video chat. This was way beyond the technology at that time.

But part of the fun was that you would meet hundreds of new people. A stranger could become a friend in one night. There also weren’t any sex chat rooms in those days either, so you can remove that idea from your mind!

IRC chat rooms (internet relay chat)

Microsoft chat the first version was using something called IRC chat. What people would do is create their own IRC server, and host their own chat rooms there were 1000s of public network servers anyone could connect to. Once connected, it would display all the rooms or channels as they were called in those days.

IRC connection screen 

To connect, you need to download a client program which you could use to connect to the chat. There were many of these clients available. You could even buy some. They all had different features. I just used the Microsoft one.

So, with this one bit of software, you could connect to 1000s of servers and access thousands of different chat rooms all over the world, under just about every subject possible.

It was a lot of fun. Chat rooms back then were not what they are now. It was a big community feeling, and no one was rude, it was bliss. But this was my start in the world of chat rooms.

IRC chat rooms in action, exciting stuff, huh, participants shown on the right.

Once logged in, you clicked on a chat room and it would open and there would be the main chat screen where you could type, or click on someone’s name and private message them.

Those are the only options you had; no sending photos, you couldn’t change your font size, you could go into lots of chat rooms at the same time, and the ability to private chat would open in a new window, which was high-tech in those days.

There were no other chat rooms available at that time that were not completely terrible and very basic, which even back then no one used.

I must have used this chat for around 3 years. There were chat options out there. There was ICQ messenger which was not live chat. You just sent messages in turn to each other, but the chat rooms were about to explode. Once they were seen by the masses, everyone wanted a piece of the action, and I mean everyone.

The chat room boom was the Golden age.

Now, in my research into the history of chatrooms for this page, I tried to find out all the specific dates when chat rooms were released, but sadly this data is no longer clear. However, I do remember what happened in that era as I was there to experience it. 

What happened is, that people started to notice chat rooms were actually a great way to get traffic to their website. Companies started to create their own applications, chat rooms, and instant messaging software. These were the 3 most popular chat platforms at the time:

AOL Chat rooms – This was the first company to realise the power of chat rooms. On that day, it was dial-up internet (ask your parents) and AOL in those days was massive. It was like Microsoft today, but when you used AOL you had to use their browser (crazy I know). You couldn’t close it. You could use another browser but you had to leave it open.

This worked well for them as AOL had chat rooms from their browser. You could click into the, and there were literally 1000s of people there, there were 18.000 at one time and people were logging a million hours per day chatting on there.

MSN chat – Microsoft decided they were going to do the same. You could still use IRC chat, but they made entering their chat rooms easy with a simple download via your internet explorer, and then you could log in and join their chat rooms. As I have to say, Microsoft chat was the best chat room ever. They had the best rooms, and they had 1000s of chatters, literally more than you can imagine.

Yahoo Chat rooms – Yahoo also had chat rooms which you could access via your browser or from their messenger. It’s important to understand Yahoo was the biggest search engine and biggest internet company at that time.

What’s more, this was in 28 countries, so their network was massive. The even more interesting thing is they still exist today. You can go to  buzzen chat and they run the very same software that Microsoft had but it looks dated now, but it’s interesting how they survived.

These were the 3 big companies, all of which had messenger programs to go with their chat rooms. At the time, there were millions of people online all over the world, all of which are now closed and Yahoo is nowhere near the force they were while losing a large share to Google and AOL no longer exists.

Microsoft also lost out to Google, which created their own chat products, while Microsoft bought Skype, which was one of the biggest mistakes they could make. Skype was a not very cool interface and had a very small window of success before more or less disappearing in 2022.

The ISPS Internet service providers got involved in chat

Most ISPS had a homepage that was added to your web browser and this meant their pages got lots of traffic, which, of course, linked into their chats, they would provide business news, media, games, forums, and a group chat system, which would cause their visitors to return to their website.

What companies noticed was they could launch their own chat service, and what is what, just about every ISP I can think of back in the day all launched their own chat room. The company I worked for, Freeserve, had a service called Freeserve chat.

I remember this because I was working for Freeserve on technical support and a kid rang and said he had been hacked. His teacher had told him to ring us as we would be able to trace who hacked him. At the time, I had no clue if this could be done, but it’s just a story I remember. I never found out what happened.

It was very popular, and they spent a lot of development time, creating this product too, Freeserve even created their own instant messaging programs, which were similar to Yahoo Messenger and MSN messenger but nowhere near as good

These chat rooms brought thousands of visitors a day and made their revenue as they clicked on their ads and services via chat rooms. This was amazing for the companies running them,  but things started to go wrong.

There were some massive websites like Lycos chat, which still runs today, Yahoo chat rooms, AOL chat rooms. All of these brought in millions of users per month. It was the golden era of chat.

It wasn’t to last though. At its peak, the wheels came off.

Why did chatrooms die? What went wrong?

Lots of things went wrong. I think there are many reasons why chat died. One reason was the cheaper access to the internet, which meant anyone could get online, which turned chatrooms from a community into a free-for-all. They were no longer nice places to be. They were rude and aggressive places at times.

Let me say, as a website owner, it is a lot harder to moderate people, there would often be gangs of people, attacking staff on websites, just generally being unreasonable and entitled, and banning people would often be met with abusive emails or even threats to kill you.

Often I found myself having childish inane conversations with people who didn’t like one of the rules, or were trying to tell me how to run the site properly. This was my site. That was amplified all over the net in all chat rooms.

They stopped being the friendly places I loved and have now descended into mostly sex chat rooms.

Companies also started to notice. First, Microsoft chat rooms decided to close down their chat rooms in 2003 due to fears about children being online and people sharing images. Also, cost was probably an issue.

Not only this, scammers and spammers discovered they could get people from chat rooms to visit their websites by sharing links, or pretending to be people. Online catfishing, as it’s known now, all spiraled out of control.

For example, Freeserve chat’s problem was they could not stop people from creating robot chatters that entered their rooms and spammed people. They just could not stop whatever they tried. Sadly, nothing exists about this chat anymore, not even any screenshots.

With the changes in people’s attitudes and the issues with spam and scammers, companies withdrew their chat rooms slowly. They had turned from a good tool to getting traffic to a place someone had to manage full time, it was no longer cost-effective to keep them.

The last big chat room was Yahoo chat, which closed its doors 10 years ago in 2012, which more or less made people who enjoyed chat stop, as new chat rooms did not have many users, thus less chance of meeting new people.

The rise and fall of chat

Sadly, Google trends don’t go back any further than 2004 but you can see the decline here.

How have chat rooms changed over time? Who survived?

Well, not many of the notable mentions go to Justchat..co.uk also UK chatterbox, which disappeared only to be resurrected with more or less an identical site.  I spoke to Martin who runs just chat and has turned his site into a pay-for-access site, which is interesting.

Lycos chat survived. Even though Lycos doesn’t exist anymore, you can still find it online. This was the first site to ask people to pay for a chat. I don’t know if this still happens on their current site.  If you Google it, it still pops up.

Chat Avenue has gone on to be the biggest chat room, which is surrounded by the controversy surrounding their TV appearance, where police were tracking pedophiles on their site and arresting people in the UK. This site is very bad but has many users, little moderation, and little care for what happens on their site.

This was the reason why Microsoft initially closed their chat rooms for fears of this. I did read an article that people will just go underground once Microsoft chat closed and this has seemingly come true, with chat avenue being the site they have gone underground to.

I think Google should de-index those sites that do not comply with the law. This will cut off their traffic and they will die overnight.  But this is a story for another time.

It’s not gone, it has just evolved.

So that’s. chat is dead. Well no it isn’t. It has just changed. Look at Snap chat, which is basically a chat messenger app, look at Facebook chat, again another chat messenger app, and look at many websites that have a live chat facility. All have been taken from the humble beginning of IRC chat.

They are mostly called social networking or social media websites now.

There have been many casualties over the years,

Oh and there is always, World of chat of course. 

Long live the chat room