Chat Sites

Chat sites are online venues that allow people on the Internet the ability to communicate using text. There are a wide variety of chat sites, but the central feature is the ability to interact with others often anonymously using handles and “avatars”.

Avatars are the online name chat site users pick that identifies them to others in the chat room, or forum, or app. Chat sites are as old as the Internet itself. Before the image-heavy Internet that eventually became known as the World Wide Web, text-based sites, Telnet, and bulletin boards provided people from around the world to share a space in the cyber world. While avatars and online handles are not always used, especially when chat sites provide a professional service for meetings, chat sites provide a multi-faceted way to interact socially online.

One of the distinctive aspects of chat sites is what is known as Private Messaging. These kinds of communications between chat site users involve the pre-designation of a message as something meant for only one recipient (or a specified few). Such Private Messages (PMs) enable the transfer of more private data, the acceleration of friendships, and allow a more sophisticated exchange of information that does not interrupt the collective public chat.

Chat sites have become so popular over the years that many software companies provide built-in messaging capability into their offerings. Millions of smart phone users use chat site features when utilizing these built-in messenger services. Sometimes instant messaging is platform specific and sometimes it works across platforms (although you may have to download a different app depending on whether you have an iPhone or Samsung).

Online games incorporating players from around the world have chat features. Console gaming that is now ever more linked with gamers in other cities provides ways to communicate with fellow rivals and teammates via text and voice.

Parents are generally advised to be vigilant about the kind of chatting children do, especially if a computer with Internet access is available in the child’s room. Online predators often use chat sites, and other online messenger services, to pose as fellow youngsters only to attempt to lure the children into a trap. These online predators attempt to hack into the child’s account, blackmail them after compromising some facet of their online activity, or some other method with the end result of having a secret relationship with underage users of the Internet. Catching these luring predators has been the focus of more than one episode of TV journalism.

On the other hand, you have to give credit where credit is due. Chat sites and other online options (such as Internet dating websites) can provide options for singles that are too busy to find someone through traditional means. This could be because the person is new to a city and doesn’t know anybody. It could mean the person does not live in a place that has a lot of other singles to choose from (because the number is low, because a desired characteristic is uncommon in that pool of potential partners). Online dating websites provide a top level of single classified ads that can lead to messaging and chatting with a favorite if one upgrades subscription to the website. The messages and online chatting could lead to dates and possible good news after that; conversely, chatting may reveal that the ad was good but this person is not the kind you would want to spend time with. Until committing to meet a potential date, the dating website’s chat feature often allows you to maintain a degree of anonymity (in the case you drop him or her from consideration). This saves a lot of time when considering the commuting to and from “getting to know you” sessions in real life or awkward phone introductions.

Any thoughts about chat sites must also mention typing speed. The more a person uses a chat site, the faster a person’s typing will get. Posts in online chat forums or messenger software are often impassioned. The typing is done quickly, but also common everyday words are repeatedly created so that a lot of the thinking during typing is absorbed by the muscle memory in the fingers.

Social media is just a sophisticated form of a chat site. Sometimes incorporating pictures, memes, videos, or audios, the ubiquitous nature of comments and sharing online has allowed the original text-based chat site to flower into many avenues of expression.

Some car dealerships, even, will have a customer service representative pop up in a chat window when a visitor visits the dealership’s website. The CSR handles the customer’s questions, or offers a hyperlink for more information, or checks something in real time at the actual location. Where formerly such exotic pop-up windows were state-of-the-art in the early days of the World Wide Web, contemporary websites provide these chatting windows as important extras to make websites truly interactive in order to appreciate every customer, whether in person or online.


Internet Communications

After revelations that the US government had the compliance of major telecommunications companies for the surveillance of private citizens in recent years, new end-to-end encryption services are being offered.

But it is interesting to consider how much privacy people are already willing to give up when engaged in Internet communications. Many people wittingly or unwittingly allow strangers to know and see a lot about them through Facebook or through stores keeping track of their buying habits. Once considered intrusive, the permissions smart phone users give to apps to control the vibration of the device or the phone’s GPS is often not given a second thought nowadays.

Some countries such as China and Russia are taking measures to limit the privacy of Internet use as a precaution against subversive anti-government protest as well as organized violence.

The term open source intelligence has become popular in recent years as a way to describe information available openly that provides insight into key issues of note to policymakers. Such Internet communications that fuel open source intelligence work, comprise pictures on sites such as Instagram, chatter on Internet forums and message boards, and Twitter feeds.

Technology is allowing Internet chat sites the ability to morph and evolve. The manipulation of imagery to generate custom-made posters, memes, and logos has made the verb “Photoshop” much less prestigious. These days, everyone is “Photoshopping”, not just image professionals. This has enabled Internet communications to grow in sophistication by becoming multi-faceted, multi-media, and increasingly open as well as increasingly niche.

As personal email became less of a space to park stuff and more of a psychological need that spanned online and offline worlds, the workplace policies for Internet communication also had to evolve. Sometimes any use of the Internet at work would be cause for dismissal. In some other instances, using the Internet search engines was okay, but employees were disabled from visiting certain websites (or could only visit a pre-approved group of websites). These policies were hard to enforce, and generally frowned upon by society when that enforcement did occur. Eventually, the wholesale invasion of Internet communication into the workplace made nearly any constraint on Internet communication very impolite and even threatening to workers. Could a worker eschew all company computers and quickly check email on his phone? In time, this was not best practice but acceptable because life without Wi-Fi slowly became unthinkable.

In their 2013 movie, members of One Direction were asked what they could not live without for a certain period of time. Not food, not money, but Wi-Fi was the thing that they found it hardest to live without.

Through the Internet and not through telephone cables do we communicate now with people from around the world; and if they don’t pick up, we follow up with a text message. If they still don’t respond, we may check their social media pages. If they haven’t logged on in a while to any of those pages, there is cause for alarm.

Teens that are growing up in a generation of status updates and Twitter followers may have a difficult time comprehending life before Internet communication. It was a slower time with a bigger world. Days required more patience, but seemed to have more depth. Writing required more penmanship and deliberation, but seemed easier to understand. Nowadays the spoken word and the written word are converging: if a text is not making sense, a young person may not re-write his or her message, he or she may just take a picture and send that, instead.

If you were to look at the comments of videos and online articles, there is often a sense of frivolity and ignorance, even pettiness, to them. Maybe this is because writing a comment (i.e. publishing to the world) immediately after getting excited by a video or article is a much less thoughtful act of writing than some communication that was revised in order to make sure the tone of the text was easy to understand. But this is what happens when email is always on. People send emails and texts and make comments when emotional. That can lead to trouble! Once you publish something, you have to live with it.

Internet communication is also at the center of the ridesharing revolution. It’s not just that these app-based ridesharing services make it easier to order a car to go to the airport; it’s that you can communicate with your driver. You can see the car move around on the smart phone app using GPS. You can text the driver where exactly you are, or that you will be out in a few minutes. Or, better yet, Internet communication has enabled the rider the ability to immediately guide the driver if on his or her way to a passenger the driver gets lost in the maze of local streets.


Video Chatting

The world has become so small that anybody can connect with anybody on the planet because long-distance relationships, as well as long-distance commerce, online trading, and the like, are increasingly less exotic and more in the realm of normalcy. Video chatting is ubiquitous because of the standardization of cameras on smart phones and computers.

This evolution of chatting from text-only, turn-based chatting forums that would have text scroll automatically up the computer screen, to face-to-face surround-sound conversation has been only a few years in the making.

In the Star Trek series that spanned the closing decades of the Twentieth Century, video chatting was a hallmark of communications. Captains would get orders from admirals on planets light years away through video conferencing. But such modern expressions of that science fiction idea have moved video conferencing into the realm of the everyday and mundane. You are at a furniture store and need someone to give his or her two cents about which sofa to buy; a man on vacation is waking up and checking in as his daughter and grandkids pulling into a drive-in theater remind him to get their individual souvenirs. Or, perhaps, you are broadcasting live from your phone (or computer) to show your followers what the view from a skyscraper in Dubai is really like. They can chat with you, or send you Likes, or send you Smileys, or Hearts.

The incorporation of questions emailed or tweeted during a live interview is in the grey area of video chatting. Although it is not a 1-to-1 communication, the intersection of video broadcasting (or radio broadcasting, for that matter) and online communication from viewers has changed the way we interact with our celebrities, politicians, and news sources in general.

Chatting in general used to involve “rooms” where online chatters would congregate using “handles” or “avatars”, names that were not their real names. This anonymity gave rise to many a shady experience, and still does, but also to an ever-expanding sense of how common our problems and interests are as human beings. Cyber “space” was coveted back then in the 1990s, but now the space online and the real world is increasingly blurred. Sunglasses that are linked to the Internet make that space blurry. Conversing with your smart phone as it navigates you through a new city also blurs that online/real-world space.

Video chatting now is of such high quality it is hard to imagine how we used to survive previously. Neil Armstrong’s “one small step for man” video message to all of us was in black and white, albeit historic. A few years ago, Canadian Astronaut Chris Hadfield spent months aboard the International Space Station and kept a video blog that provided comedic clips and guitar-playing videos in zero gravity. Hadfield also had live video chats with schoolchildren about all things related to science and space. The quality and frequency of his video chatting while aboard the Space Station made him a celebrity by the time he returned to our planet.

But remember before video and the Internet became fused? When a friend had to tell you what an “emoticon” was? There’s a scene in the 1995 Denzel Washington movie “Virtuosity” that forever memorializes that pre-video chatting era where text, not video, would convey facial expression:

“Colon…parenthesis. Smiley faces. People used to sign off their e-mail with that.”

These days your colon and parenthesis transforms automatically into a picture of a yellow smiley face thanks to the video chatting software. Or you don’t use an emoticon, and just say “goodbye” in the video chat.

While some decry how technology is interfering with the ways we as humans engage with each other, video chatting has not killed our need for real-life human interaction. People still have conversations with neighbors, co-workers, and friends outside of phones and computers. Video chatting brings friends and relatives together that because of distance would have otherwise not spoken to each other for days, weeks, or even years. Libraries have not put bookstores out of business; e-books have not obliterated demand for print books; video chatting is unlikely to make everyone intolerant of answering the front door when the doorbell rings.

The most beautiful thing about video chatting is the amount of information you can communicate when compared with text. Facial expression is priceless. If a picture is worth a thousand words, imagine how much live video is worth! Although the written word has the capacity to be reviewed and edited, the boundaries between written and spoken English are blurring because of how easy everything is becoming; and yet, no matter how easy it is to fire off an email or text, the tone of written messages is easily lost. Sarcasm, humor, sincerity are all easier to comprehend when presented through video chatting instead of emails or texts. There may be 26 letters in the English alphabet, but there are over 50 muscles in the human face and neck. Body language speaks volumes.

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