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Facebook chose an odd time to launch Rooms, its homage to the classic ’90s chatroom.AOL’s Instant Messenger, perhaps the icon of the anonymous instant-messaging age, quietly killed off its chat rooms in 2010.I remember signing into my AIM account as late as 2007, the better to chat with high school friends who had, like me, gone away for school.

Users spent more than a million hours chatting each day.Just look at the earliest, successful forerunner to online chat — a program that academics invented, almost by accident, long before the birth of the World Wide Web.Talkomatic, the program’s appropriately retro name, was born out of PLATO, a computer-based education program at the University of Illinois, in 1973.(Seductive enough that most mainstream coverage of chat at the time focused on a phenomenon dubbed “Compu Sex.”) “To say this typewritten “human contact” or “people typing in their thoughts” is the equivalent of genuine friendship or intimacy is something else,” wrote Vic Sussman, struggling to understand the very concept of online community for The Washington Post in 1986.“It’s certainly the illusion of intimacy — the instant gratification of human contact without responsibility or consequences or actual involvement …

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