Ours is a world of instantaneous communication, where one can easily convey his thoughts and emotions at a touch of a few buttons towards someone else on the other side of the world. Calls are being made that conveys not only sound, but moving images as well. Words are being sent in real-time to friends and family, complemented with voice clips and images, making it far from the impersonal communication it once had the reputation of being. Technology and the Internet have thoroughly revolutionized our daily lives.
Perhaps even more than any other form of online communication, the chat can be considered the epitome of the word “instantaneous”. It is extremely uncomplicated and can be done using only a very basic set of hardware and software. Furthermore, it may be the most “solid”, as it is one that has not changed that much over years of technological revolution – even though the technology behind it surely did.
The word “chat” used to be a shorthand for “Internet relay Chat”, or IRC. Today, chat service is something that refers to any type of text-based communication over the Internet. The very first incarnation of the IRC concept existed back in the 1960s, way before the Internet even came into being, as a simple real-time chat program. The Internet version of this system was developed around the late 1980s, evolving into the type of system that we are all familiar with.
This latter development of the IRC started in the University of Oulu, Finland, where the first chat service client and server was written by Jarkko “WiZ” Oikarinen in summer of 1988. It became a network when Oikarinen and his colleague Jyrki Kuoppala asked the University to free the IRC code, so that it can be used outside of the latter’s premises. Afterwards, Kuoppala installed another server, later becoming irc.cs.hut.fi. Oikarinen also had a few friends from the Helsinki and Tampere Universities set up their own servers when the number of users started to increase.
Other Universities soon followed and the client was gradually improved. The network continued to evolve as Oikarinen’s network linked up with those from the University of Denver and the Oregon State University. By November of 1988, the IRC has spread over the entire Internet.
Parallel to the development of the Internet Relay Chat was the “Talkomatic” a program created in 1973 by Doug Brown and David R. Woolley at the University of Illinois. This chat service distinguishes itself from the IRC by providing a more “private” space, allowing only up to 5 participants in a single channel (the system can host up to six channels). The service that holds the title for being the first dedicated online chat that was widely available to anyone was the “CB Simulator”, developed and released by CompuServe in 1980. Its name was taken from the concept of the then-widely popular Citizen’s Band Radio (abbreviated as CD Radio), a concept that CompuServe used as an analogy to relate to their new concept. It offered an initial 40 “channels”, and more were subsequently added.
However, the explosion of chat service popularity only happened in November 1996, when the ICQ was introduced. A shorthand for “I Seek You”, it is a free instant-messaging utility that can be used by virtually anyone, using a client that resides within the computer itself. The system was acquired in 1998 by AOL, another online pioneer, which had launched its own chat service a year earlier. Ultimately, this became the model for almost all other chat services, including the once that dominate the online scene today.