In the late '70s and early '80s, several small bulletin board communities incorporated chat and IM into their networks.But the Compu Serve CB simulator is widely regarded as the first real-time chat room.

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In the mid-1980s, a company called Play Net began tinkering with the combination of real-time chat and online games.

Users could play chess or backgammon against an opponent and talk trash at the same time.

Play Net eventually licensed its software to a company called Quantum Link, or Q-Link, which launched a chat room service called People Connection.

Q-Link changed its name to America Online (AOL), which still uses the People Connection name for its chat and community services.

Chat rooms -- like e-mail, instant messaging (IM) and online social networks -- are virtual extensions of real-world human interaction.

Chat rooms are online spaces where users communicate with one another through text-based messages.

It's like a virtual cocktail party, where strangers gather to flirt, argue about politics and sports, ask for advice, talk about shared hobbies and interests, or simply hang out.

Chat rooms have played an important role in the evolution of interpersonal communication over computer networks. Then came USENET, an e-mail based newsgroup started in 1979. Some bulletin board users wanted to interact with the group in real time instead of waiting to reply to an ongoing message thread.

­In the late 1990s, AOL's chat rooms were some of the most popular in the world.