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Users spent more than a million hours chatting each day.

You never knew quite what, or who, you would find in a Compuserve chat — or, later, a chat on AOL (c. AOL’s chief architect and longest-serving employee, Joe Schober, once described the earliest AOL chatrooms as “little frontier towns”: small and unpolished, perhaps, but pioneering — like a spark in the big Internet void.

Over the years, PLATO has affected many lives in profound ways.” Of course, PLATO could only reach so many people.

But in 1980, Compu Serve — one of the earliest commercial Internet services — would release its own take on the chat concept, allowing more than 123,000 to sign on nightly under screennames like “Mike” and “Silver.” (Both names are, incidentally, critical to chat room history: They were, on Valentine’s Day 1983, one of the first couples to marry as a result of online chat.) Even though Compu Serve’s “CB Simulator” was a commercial service, it shared something of the pioneering quirkiness of ye Talkomatic chats of old.

In 1993, shortly after the debut of AOL’s chatroom, the Associated Press reported, hilariously, on the “team of young, high-tech specialists” who were trying to get President Bill Clinton to host a town hall chat.

(His screenname was “Clinton Pz.”) By 1997, the year AOL launched Instant Messenger as a stand-alone chat product, the company boasted an estimated 19,000 chatrooms.

And like other modern attempts to reincarnate the ‘90s chat room (Airtime, anyone?

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