A virtual area where like-minded people can meet and discuss topics of mutual interest. This may be IRC, or a Java applet on a web page, or ICQ, or some other program altogether.

Chatrooms offer pleasant conversation and discussion, but also a very real risk--on the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog. The person on the other end could be a nice, charming man or woman as he sounds--or he could be spoofing the opposite gender, or he could even be a pedophile.

Also, a visible or invisible user might be logging everything you say, and might use it against you later, or someone could send you a virus vis DCC.

This is not to say that using a chatroom cannot be a pleasant, fulfilling leisure activity...but caveat emptor. Know who the people you're chatting with are before arranging anything important--especially a meeting in real life.

Sort of like IRC channel, but not quite.

Usually, "chat room" refers to a system (often in Internet-accessible place, often in proprietary information service) in which people can chat in real time. (Usually "chat" refers to something that's not mentioned in polite circles.)

In Internet and World Wide Web, these are usually implemented with Java applets, Flash, or in some crazy situations with HTTP and "streaming" HTML (though HTTP/HTML is not designed for this use...). Usually they offer some quasi-nifty features like user icons or pictures, but they're usually technically inferior to IRC (mostly they need much more muscle from the computer and offer less *useful* features...)

Some people use the word "chat room" to mean a weblog or message board, but these uses of the word are incorrect (because they fail to meet the "real time" criterion).

(See also: Comparision of IRC and Web chats)

Today, outside my apartment, I found a piece of paper upon which was a hardcopy of a chat room session. I have no idea who the participants were, nor what the intentions were of the observer who printed it out. Nevertheless, it seems to embody some sort of lesson about the nature of chat rooms. It is a frozen instant in time, which some neighbor of mine must have felt was important enough to commit to inkjet -- and for this reason I transcribe it here. Sadly, E2 cannot convey the color, nor the fonts, in which the chat originally appeared; yet the Tao may still peek through the text:

You have just entered room "Hockey."
j RTSbBLUESHOeS has entered the room.
AlDezotell3: hi
FHgrrl15: notta
FHgrrl15: umm... ?
FHgrrl15: no, you're dumb
j RTSbBLUESHOeS has left the room.
QcHoCkEyGuRl30 has entered the room.
QcHoCkEyGuRl30: Hi room

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