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What is a Chat Room?
A chat room is any kind of technology that allows for remote synchronous conferencing. It can often mean text-based chatting, centered on some specific topic designated by the chat room host, but it may include visual chat (via cameras or avatars).
While the internet was built to share documents and files, it wasn’t long before our social instinct took over and users began looking for ways to connect to each other. Email provided one-to-one communication, which was extended to groups through the use of mailing lists. Newsgroups and bulletin board systems developed, providing “asynchronous” social communication. Finally, chat room technology provided synchronous (same-time) communication.
In the early days of the commercial internet, chat rooms became a popular mode of communication and social sharing. Services like AOL provided easy-to-use chat room interfaces based on topics or demographics, allowing almost anyone with an internet connection to chat with strangers. Meanwhile, more savvy users chatted in IRC channels, using specialized client software.
Unlike email — which took over the business lives of most modern employees as the dominant form of personal communication — chat rooms and related technology never fully took off outside the realm of technology enthusiasts.
Many of the features and advantages of chat technology exist today in services like Google Hangout and Facebook messaging, but these tend to be organized by social group, not by topic. Semi-synchronous topic-based chat continues on Twitter, with topics delineated by fluid hashtags, rather than specified “rooms.”
To be sure, there are still participating in online chat according to the older models. IRC (for example)still has almost half a million users — but that’s way down from its peak of over a million in 2003, and no where near the number of users of more contemporary social networks like Twitter (236 million users in 2015) and Facebook (over a billion).
Chat Room Software
It is still possible to set up self-hosted chat room. Unfortunately, much of the software is extremely outdated.
Here are a few self-hosted chat applications:
Can I add a chat room my existing website?
Yes. Any of the programs listed above can be added to an existing site, though they will probably take some customization in order to match your look and feel. In addition, you can find chat room plugins for most content management systems, such as WordPress.
Chat Rooms vs Forums
Some forums function as chat rooms, but forums are typically designed as a place for users to get information. Whereas chat rooms are based on the idea of open discussion, with multiple users commenting to each other, forums typically feature very specific topics, with information-based responses.