Ever since the Internet first created a worldwide network, users have been looking for newer and more efficient ways to communicate in real time.
Interacting with strangers in chat environments can sometimes pose the same risks and dangers as interacting with strangers in the “real world”. At the same time, interacting with friends in chat environments can incite the same joy as interacting with them in the “real world”, even though real life interactions are obviously more fulfilling.
Each chat client has its own culture and is appropriate for use in different situations.
Internet Relay Chat, or IRC, is a basic chat room. IRC used to be much more popular in the early 90s, when Internet users started using the world wide web for entertainment and as a social outlet. Users could join “channels” and communicate privately by sending one-on-one messages.
Developed by Israeli company Mirabilis and released in 1996, ICQ was one of the first instant messaging services. According to the official ICQ website, ” ICQ makes it easy to find people with similar interests across the globe, to establish new friendships, to communicate with colleagues, family members and friends no matter when or where they are.”
In 1998, America Online (AOL) acquired Mirabilis and increased the mainstream interest in chatting with its own branded chat client.
Anyone who grew up in the 1990s probably remembers using AOL or AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) to communicate with friends. If you didn’t have a screen name, you were missing all the latest and greatest school gossip and the potential to talk to your crush. Using AIM (screen name: laryssa516) throughout middle school, high school, and even part of college, I learned chat lingo like “lol”, “brb”, and “jk”.
Says Twitter user @bigphilmd, “I still use AIM to chat. Works fine for me.”
Though many people still use it, AIM is slowly fading in popularity. I don’t think that I’ve logged into my AIM account since I was a senior in college. New chat clients have emerged to satisfy the needs of chatters everywhere.
Google Talk is a chat client built into Gmail, but anyone with a Gmail account can download the desktop client (for Windows) too. Google Talk allows users to chat with e-mail contacts that have enabled the feature. The interface is simple; it includes a list of display names with a space for a short status and Google account photo. In addition, Google Talk has capabilities for voice and video chat.
While AIM is more of a social chat client, Google Talk is considered a professional chat client. I have used Google Talk to communicate with my Too Shy to Stop writers, and I’ve heard from friends that this chat client is acceptable for use at workplaces as a way for colleagues to communicate with one another.
Facebook chat, a chat client built into Facebook, is the AIM of today. Facebook chat is easy to use because chatters do not need to collect specialized screen names. They need only for their friends to be signed into Facebook chat. Though Facebook chat tends to be unreliable and buggy, it’s a great way to touch base with Facebook friends.
Many businesses, especially online retailers, are incorporating live chat features on their websites. Customers can easily connect with a customer service representative and ask an unlimited amount of questions. In many cases, live chat is the preferred way to connect with customer service; customers can bypass annoying touch-tone phone menus and communicate more efficiently.
Twitter hashtags also allow for a chat room type environment. A hashtag is a word or phrase proceeded by the “#” symbol. Twitter users add this to tweets as a way to categorize them universally. For example, “#hescutebut” is currently a trending hashtag. If I wanted to participate in the universal conversation, I could tweet “#hescutebut his feet smell like rotten eggs.” If I search for this hashtag, I could find an entire conversation.
If this wasn’t enough information, you should know that some super chat clients allow you to access many chat clients at once. Twitter user @jayslacks writes, “I like Adium. I use it best by talking to people on different set-ups. G-chat, AIM, Facebook, etc…”.
What’s your favorite? And how do you use it best?
(Pictured above: “Torcamp is experimenting collectively with new channels of real-time (chat) collaboration while simultaneously trying to conduct business and plan future events and advocacy with city politics etc. Here I am in 3 skype conversations, 2 gtalk, a few msn, gmail and a campfire conversation with 40 people. *the exact same 40 people*. So far this experiment is somewhere a brilliant insight into the new collaboration — or a complete disaster. staying tuned.”)
(Photo by Tom Purves)