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PLATO terminal
Image courtesy of cyber1.org

The first chat service was created before the internet, but you can still use it today


The first chat service was created before the internet, but you can still use it today

WATCH:  With Google officially retiring the original Gchat, we look back at the piece of software that started the online messaging craze.

Google recently announced its Talk chat service -- better known as Gchat -- is officially being replaced. Its successor, Google Hangouts, looks similar and will probably carry on the Gchat pseudomoniker, but it offers a lot more features than Talk. And of course it would; Talk was first introduced in 2005 to take on AOL Instant Messenger, which launched in 1997.

Now, chat services from '05 and '97 might sound ancient, but did you know that the first online chat service was actually created in the 1970s?


AOL's chat service, Instant Messenger, was one of the first popular chat programs -- but it was almost two decades from being the first in existence.

Talkomatic was built in 1973 by two University of Illinois students and operated on the school’s education-based PLATO computer terminals.

Chatters at each terminal saw the same screen layout, and each had their own chunk of the screen where they would type their messages. Since there was no internet in the 70s to connect computers from around the world, Talkomatic users were typically chatting with colleagues who were sitting at terminals in the same room as them.

PLATO Talkomatic screen

Talkomatic was basically a terminal program, so it wasn't much to look at.

PLATO terminal

A rebuilt PLATO terminal. 

While chat services today like Hangouts and Facebook Messenger are moving further away from text messages toward things like stickers and video chats, Talkomatic was just text.

What was kind of cool about Talkomatic's text messages: instead of an indicator like iMessage’s three dancing dots that show when someone is typing, Talkomatic messages would appear live as they were being typed, kind of like how live collaboration in Good Docs work today.

Hangouts screen

Today's chat apps have a lot more bells and whistles, like stickers, picture- and video-sharing, doodling and even voice notes.

In 2014, the creators of Talkomatic launched a web version of the service. Staying true to its original form, the new Talkomatic lacks all the same modern chat flares that the original did.

So if you're sick of emojis and picture messages, you can head over to talko.cc to get your vintage chat on right now.

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