It seems in technology we, collectively, are cursed to reinvent the wheel over and over again. Specifically in the area communicating with one another.
Early on in this whole internet thing there were several different ways to communicate with one another. E-Mail, Newsgroups and chatting. E-mail I hope I don’t need to cover here. Newsgroups, for those who have never touched them, were the precursor to the modern day Web Forum… just infinitely better. However, that’s a topic for another time. The final form was chatting
The original form of chatting was a program on unix(-like) systems called talk. It was relatively simple. It allowed the user to hold a conversation with another user in a split-screen environment. Your text on the top, theirs on the bottom. It supposedly worked across systems but I myself never used it that way.
Talk eventually gave way to a server/client model where individuals would join a “room” and anything they typed in that room would be relayed by the server to everyone else in the room. This was called IRC, Internet Relay Chat. People weren’t limited to just chatting in a single room. They could send private messages to other users, send files to other users privately, join multiple rooms, see when your friends were online and so on. Furthermore the server in this regard was actually multiple servers hooked into a network. The oldest, and still active today, is EFnet. However others exist like Dalnet, Freenode, etc. So the only restriction is that you had to be connected to the same network as the other people you wanted to talk to.
Fast foward 10 years and enter a new program. ICQ. This was the beginning of the whole “Instant Message” craze. Stop me if you’ve heard all this before. ICQ allowed you to see when your friends were online, be able to send them private messages and hold private conversations, send them files and so on. Yeah, it’s IRC without the whole concept of “rooms”, a repackaged UI and a proprietary protocol. But it took off. So much so that eventually other companies (Yahoo!, Microsoft, AOL) decided to jump on the bandwagon and create their own proprietary protocols for their own custom IM software. Some even added the concept where you entered a space with multiple other users and anything you said was relayed to everyone else in that space…er… room. The main problem was that you had to be on the same network as your friends to be able to see them come and go.
But wait! There’s a new craze on the horizon. Twitter! A website where users post little messages about “what you’re doing”. Friends who are monitoring what that user doing can see and twitter back. In other words, friends are in s shared space where everything you type is relayed to one another. The only problem is the conversation is horribly difficult to follow since no one page contains the entire flow of the conversation. Any person’s page only has one side of the conversation. Even worse, if Person A has friends B and C but B and C are not friends as A and B have a twitter conversation C only sees what A is sending out and is completely confused.
IRC was introduced in 1988. ICQ introduced “Instant Messaging” to the world in 1998 which took approximately 10 years for it to fully replicate everything IRC had nearly a decade prior! About 10 years after IM we get Twitter which tries to do what IRC did 20 years prior just extremely poorly. I wonder if in 10 years time we’ll see Twitter (and its myriad copycats) approach the same feature set IRC has and a “new” network chatting technology emerge which, again, tries to replicate what IRC gave us so many years ago.