1. Technology

The World's First IMs

Peer-to-Peer Protocol, Talkers and IRCs


Three different IM applications emerged during the 70s and 80s that would serve as the basis for present-day IM. The first, called a peer-to-peer protocol, allowed for communication between two users of the same computer. As developers created a means of networking computers, so did programmers behind the peer-to-peer protocol system; now, users from across campus, or in some instances, across town at a sister facility, could access these two-way, text-based messages without being logged on to same PC.

In 1983, Mark Jenks, a Milwaukee, WI, high school student, built "Talk," a system which allowed students at Washington High School to access a first-generation system of digital bulletin boards, social networking rooms and the ability to private message other users. The application, also known as a talker, required users to sign-in to the network-based application using a handle or screenname. In short order, talkers began popping up across the country, hosted on private business and school networks through the mid 90s.

Similar in nature, Internet Relay Chat, or IRC, helped expose the journalism industry to the potential Internet communications could be. Created by Jarkko Oikarinen in August 1988, IRC allowed users to chat in multi-user groups known as "channels," send private messages to other users and share files through a data transfer system.

However, the need for IRC changed on August 19, 1991, when a coup d'état attempt was staged on the capitol of the Soviet Union. The opposition, a group of Communist Party leaders protesting a recent union treaty negotiated by Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev, prevented journalists from reporting on the events through an opposition-enforced media blackout. Without the ability to send news via television or through wire services, journalists turned to IRC to garner information on the offensive from colleagues and eyewitnesses in the field. The application was also be used by journalists to share news during the Gulf War.

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