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The term chat room, or chatroom, is primarily used by mass media to describe any form of synchronous conferencing, occasionally even asynchronous conferencing. The term can thus mean any technology ranging from real-time online chat over instant messaging and online forums to fully immersive graphical social environments.
Online chat is a way of communicating by sending text messages to people in the same chat-room in real-time. Some chat rooms such as Yahoo! use both text and voice simultaneously. The oldest form of true chat rooms are the text-based variety.
Graphical multi-user environments
Visual chat rooms add graphics to the chat experience, in either 2D or 3D (employing virtual reality technology).These are characterized by using a graphic representation of the user (avatar) that can be moved about a graphic background or in a graphic environment. These virtual worlds are capable of incorporating elements such as games (in particular massively multiplayer online games) and educational material most often developed by individual site owners, who in general are simply more advanced users of the systems. The most popular environments also allow users to create or build their own spaces.
Some visual chat rooms also incorporate audio and video communications, so that users may actually see and hear each other. However, some find these types of environments cumbersome to use and actually an impediment to chatting.
Chat room activities
The primary use of a chat room is to share information via text with a group of other users. New technology has enabled the use of file sharing and webcams to be included in some programs and almost all Internet chat or messaging services allow users to display or send to each other photos of themselves. With a prolific rise in the activity of 'Sexting', where people send digitised nude or otherwise sexually explicit photos of themselves electronically to be viewed by others, it is becoming increasingly common for chat room users to exchange nude or sexual photos.
Some people who visit chat rooms use them as a place to experience online sex, also known as cybersex or computer love. While not physically able to see their partner, cyber-ers get stimulation by reading x-rated quotes. While many in the media focus on this aspect of chat rooms as it certainly boosts their ratings, it is by no means the only thing chat rooms are used for. While many people engage in "cybersex" for many reasons, it is also true that sexual predators use cybersex conversations as a means of identifying potential victims.
Games are also often played in chat rooms. An historic example is Hunt the Wumpus.
Rules of behavior
Chat rooms usually have stringent rules that they require users to follow in order to maintain integrity and safety for their users. Particularly in rooms for children, rules usually do not allow users to use offensive language, or to promote hate mail, violence and other negative issues. Also chat rooms often do not allow advertising in their rooms or flooding, which is continually filling the screen with repetitive text. Typing with caps lock on is usually considered shouting and is discouraged.
Sometimes chat room venues are moderated either by limiting who is allowed to speak (not common), or by having moderation volunteers patrol the venue watching for disruptive or otherwise undesirable behaviour.
Yet, most commonly used chat rooms are not moderated and users may type what they personally choose to send.
Even today, relatively little is known about the discourse produced in on-line communication contexts. While there is a growing body of literature on sociolinguistic variation in French chat for example, other forms of computer mediated communication (e.g. discussion fora, weblogs, etc.) have received less attention.
As chat rooms are often frequented by minors, they can facilitate illegal sexual contact though studies have shown that this is not common, with the American Psychologist journal calling many of the fears 'myths'.