Real-time conversation among computer users in a networked environment such as the Internet. After a user types a text message and presses the Enter key, the text immediately appears on the other users' computers, permitting typed conversations that are often only somewhat slower than normal conversation. A chat can be private (between two users) or public (where other users can see the messages and participate if they wish). Public chatting is conducted in “chat rooms,” Web sites devoted to chat, usually about a specific topic. The thousands of chat rooms now available typically use the IRC (Internet Relay Chat) protocol, developed in 1988 by Jarkko Oikarinen of Finland. See also bulletin-board system.

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