Magazine article Online

People Are Talking

Magazine article Online

People Are Talking

Article excerpt

Two years ago, you couldn't pry my 11-year-old friend Zack away from his Nintendo. By last summer, he'd graduated to Mortal Kombat on a PC. This year, it's chat. Zack and his real-world pals hang out after school in a private AOL chat room. From what I can gather, they goof around, gossip, tease, put up parodies of each other's Web sites, and engage in whatever else passes for social interaction among adolescent males.

AOL, Zack's enabler, has rebuilt its business model around the success -some would say notoriety-of its hugely popular chat rooms. In June, the company paid $287 million for Mirabilis, an Israeli firm best known as the developer of ICQ, a real-time chat service that claims to have 12 million members worldwide.

Net-wide chat, known as IRC or Internet Relay Chat, used to be the province of computer geeks and gainers. No more. Conversation- whether chat, conferencing, listservs, one-on-one email, even Internet telephony-is proving to be the Net's killer app, and the driving force behind many late adopters' desire to get online.

My tiny rural community stretches for ten miles along a sparsely populated coastline, with no village store, post office or other central meeting place. But we do have a listserv. When the fire chief logs in, among rumor and speculation, to explain what the commotion was down on the highway this morning, it's like that scene in Annie Hall where Marshall McLuhan pops up to explain his theories. Locals who had never felt the need for a computer before are buying one just to get in on the action.


Listservs are old news to many online professionals (raise your hand if you remember PACS-L), humming away in the background of our already information-overloaded lives. But, like ham radio operators pressed into emergency service during wartime and natural disasters, they occasionally become vital links in the communication chain. During the recent Dialog pricing upheaval, official sources were silent or evasive on the subject everyone wanted to know about-the effect on our bottom lines. Listserv members took up the slack, providing eyewitness reports, analysis, and opinion. Lots of opinion. It was disintermediation at its finest-raw data, not always accurate, but delivered quickly, in detail, and without self-serving spin.

If you weren't reading the lists, you might not have known there was a story, let alone a controversy, in progress. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.