The Electronic Text 
Subject No. 100570 

      Week 4:  A history of chat systems.
Chat systems vs instant messaging.
More Frontpage - using tables for layout. 

Electronic discussions: chat systems                                                                                 Here is the lecture

A Short History of Real-time/Chat Systems

            It is commonly thought that multi-user real-time/chat systems had their origins in the standard Unix/VMS ‘talk’ command, which is a one-to-one connection via TCP/IP networked computers, and the ‘write’ command which allows users of a network to write to another user's screen. The ‘talk’, and the newer multi ‘ytalk’ commands are truly synchronous in that they allow users to communicate via a split-screen interface, each letter of a word being able to be seen by all parties, as it is actually typed. In contrast, most chat programs only allow whole phrases to be transmitted at the press of the Enter key. Thus most chat programs allow for some degree of editing and are in fact, asynchronous, viz. they merely simulate synchronicity.

There is some evidence[1] that apart from the Unix/VMS development, there were users of other kinds of machines, who also experimented with chat programs. In the early 1970's, Michael Van Essen wrote a script for Cyber brand mainframes, which allowed all the users on the local system to converse in the manner of modern-day chat programs. Moreover, and unlike modern-day chat programs, users had a great deal of flexibility with respect to the interface and could locate themselves within private groups. Another programmer, Alan Stepakoff reworked the code, and installed it on the California State University central computer in the mid-seventies. Thus one of the first chat communities was born, attracting generations of hackers and experimenters.

CompuServe CB (standing for citizen band) and then the Bitnet Relay further developed the concept allowing many users to communicate on designated ‘channels’. Other chat systems have appeared on various other systems such as Mindvox in New York, the WELL in California and a range of bulletin board systems, both dial-up and Internet-addressable. Chat conferencing was also a feature of early, integrated writing environments such as Daedalus, and decision support systems, which are rapidly gaining acceptance in the corporate sphere.

 Other Internet Chat Systems

Chat havens usually have fairly primitive interfaces due to the lack of a local client. A popular haven is Internet CB, which is a small West coast USA chat system on which 40-50 users gather typically on Friday nights. Application ‘clients’ make the interface more user-friendly and are available by anonymous FTP, at ftp An application server can be found at, (, port 7326.

Some other chat systems include:

·                     Tele-Chat (< 30 users), telnet ( 8888 or 5010

·                     Mono (< 20 users), telnet ( login: mono   password: mono

·                     Leaky House (< 40 users), telnet 4000

·                     Virtual Campus UK (< 15 users), telnet 3232

·                     Davenport Beach, telnet 7777

·                     Foothills UK (< 100 users), telnet 2010

 Unfortunately to most University system administrators, chat systems present a dilemma. Whilst they are acknowledged as being extremely useful, real-time/chat programs appear to waste user time and bandwidth, and encourage trivial socialisation between students who supposedly should be engaged in serious activities such as programming, study and the writing of assignments.

[1]  See for a history of early chat systems.

(first published in Intercom magazine) © Ray Archee

There is a new class of Internet program out there in cyberspace that is fast becoming de rigueur amongst users, young and old - instant messaging/Internet pagers. There are now dozens of these new-fangled programs to choose from, but the big question for the professional communicator is: "Do you really need it?" 

We probably cannot imagine life these days without our word-processor, DTP programs, e-mail, and the Web. The last year has seen a spate of instant messaging programs/pagers which allow apparently new kinds of communication. Real-time chat, delayed-time short messaging, notification and paging of buddy arrivals, reminders, to-do lists, message archives.. the list of functions goes on and on. But these programs come at a price in terms of their learning curve, and the distraction which they provide from your mainstream activities.

As you may have guessed, I have not been a big fan of programs such as ICQ (I Seek You) which copied what real-time chat networks such as IRC (Internet Relay Chat) had been doing for a decade, but which added extra functionality to the mix. When these programs first arrived, I suspected that instant messaging programs were just disguised real-time chats, with prettier interfaces, and an endless array of options which I had trouble finding a use for. Since I was am enthusiastic IRC user, I have avoided instant messaging/pagers for almost a year.

But millions of users of ICQ do not share my opinion. And after several months testing ICQ, I may also change my mind.

There are literally dozens of instant messagers/pagers to be found, usually for free off the Internet: America Online has one, so does Yahoo, InfoSeek, Excite and the Microsoft Network, iChat, ScreenFire, NetPager, Ding, and probably the best one through sheer popularity, ICQ (recently acquired by America Online.)

Most of the instant messagers/pagers work in a similar way: you download and install a client program, boot the program which then attaches itself to a dedicated server. A registration process comes next ensuring that the server can identify you, once you logon to the Internet. Once registered, a client attaches itself to a common server, and you can then wait for friends to arrive, leave answering machine-type messages, place yourself on 'Away', send files and web addresses, and do assorted other things. Critical mass is an issue here, with ICQ reportedly the largest network of millions of users worldwide.

Surprisingly, real-time chat is not a new phenomenon on the Internet - the unix talk command is a default part of the operating system. Bitnet had the Bitnet Relay in the early eighties, which was copied and extended into IRC, first using unix, then Windows. One reason for America Online's popularity in the early days was their implementation of chat rooms and buddy lists. Web chat has existed for many years, and so have interactive, text-based MUDS (multi-user dungeons) and MOOS.

One major problem for most new users of instant messaging is finding fellow friends to message. Usually you need to know their number or nickname. Unfortunately existing real-life friends must be using the same software as you. This means that initially, new users usually enjoy interactive messages with one or two other people. With such a small collaborative group the learning curve and continual distraction may prove too costly for many businesses. After all instant messaging is really about personal, social chit chat.

In the end it probably all depends whether you know enough other people to warrant investing time and energy in learning the program. With so many different systems out there, the instant messaging/paging applications probably need a specific standard protocol so that all the separate vendors' programs can start talking to each other. 

Until then I think I will stick to IRC and boot up ICQ every so often.

The word, "chat" is a banned word at UWS, and many other universities. You may experience problems locating any sites which include the word, "chat" or "talk" in the URL. Here are two exercises which may necessitate using a different network to UWS. Any Internet cafe will allow you to chat online, but not UWS.

Exercise 1: compare your use of MSN Messenger or ICQ with using a Web chat channel, or IRC. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the two modalities? Are they all that different? Write a review, create a file, place on webspace.

Exercise 2: use a chat channel (not ICQ or MSN Messenger) on a chat system. Perhaps download mIRC from, and chat for a more than one time on the same channel. Review the channel, and mIRC. You need to use a non-UWS networked computer to do this. Alternatively, try out a Web chat channel, maybe on yahoo or gmail.

More Frontpage Tutorials

The easiest way to manage layout using HTML is by using tables. Otherwise you cannot create different sized columns like we are used to seeing on the Web and in print media. By creating tables with various columns (not rows) we can control the appearance of images and text across the page.

Click on Table, then Insert, Table, then choose some options to see what functions they perform.

YouTube video tutorial for creating webpages using tables

Another video tutorial from YouTube

A comprehensive set of lessons on lots of Frontpage 2003 functions including Tables, from Indiana Univ.