Before just about every social media platform offered a way for us to chat with one or more friends at a time, there were actual chat rooms that were popular in the ‘90s. However, it’s a little-known fact that chat rooms and discussion forums date back long before the 1990s and all the way back to 1979.
Usenet was (and still is) a communication network that was originally created for college students to exchange academic information from their computers. At the time, there was no internet and computers were usually only on college campuses and public libraries, so the creation of this platform was a big deal. Students (and even professors) would exchange ideas and information in forums called newsgroups. These newsgroups were labeled so each user would know what topics were being discussed in each newsgroup. Some newsgroup titles included:
- alt.politics (discussing alternative politics)
- comp.software (discussing computer software)
- sci.physics (discussing physics)
Because Usenet is still active today, we’ll revisit it again later.
1980: CompuServe CB Simulator
While Usenet was created to discuss scholarly topics, CompuServe was created specifically for its users to chat. It also had various forums for different topics, but it also charged hourly rates for its customers to use. It was later taken over by AOL (America OnLine) in 1995.
Right before the world was taken over by AOL, there was ICQ (I “seek you”). This was the first global messaging service that is actually still available for download on iOS and Android devices. This is another platform that was soon acquired by AOL, but before then, it was the only stand-alone instant messaging service that allowed real-time, one-to-one conversations.
After acquiring other chat rooms and messaging services, AOL released its own AOL Instant Messenger or AIM. AIM was easily the most popular messaging service during the ‘90s and had a good 20-year run before it was discontinued in 2017. AOL even had its own chat room in 1993 before developing the instant messaging service. In all, AOL offered chat rooms, email, instant messaging, a text service, and the ability to create an online profile.
1998: Yahoo Messenger
Like AOL, Yahoo offered multiple services such as chat rooms, email, and instant messaging. With Yahoo Messenger, you were able to create a unique screen name, change your availability status, and even create an avatar, or an image customized to represent yourself online. Yahoo Messenger is no longer available, but here are some alternatives to the chat rooms.
2003-Present: Social Media
Over the years, there have been numerous social media sites that also offered chatting/instant messaging services. MySpace (2003) had MySpaceIM which allowed its users to send instant messages through a chatbox. Facebook (2004) has recently introduced Messenger, available as a second app for download in addition to its original app. Even YouTube (2005) allowed its users to comment and chat on the user’s actual YouTube page, instead of on the videos since many early users of YouTube never uploaded videos. Today, many of the world’s most popular social media sites have some form of instant messaging.
Today, there are over 120,000 different newsgroups (or discussion forums) on Usenet covering topics from academics to music, and from politics to religion. You can find just about any topic you’re looking for, and if not, you can create your own newsgroup for that topic. To use Usenet today, you’ll need to purchase a subscription from a service provider to access a world of information that can’t be found anywhere else on the internet. All content downloaded (whether it be text, photos, audios, or videos) is secure and you’re also allowed to post your own, original content into the newsgroups.
It’s cool to see how far social platforms have come since they started popping up in the ‘80s, becoming largely popular in the ‘90s, and evolving into what they are today. It’s also interesting to see which platforms have stood the test of time and are still used by many people today.
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