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Talkers are chat systems that people use to talk to each other over the Internet. Dating back to the 1980s, they were a predecessor of instant messaging.

A talker is a communication system precursor to MMORPGs and other virtual worlds such as Second Life. Talkers are a form of online virtual worlds in which multiple users are connected at the same time to chat in real-time. People log into the talkers remotely (usually via telnet), and have a basic text interface with which to communicate with each other.

The early talkers were similar to MUDs, with most of the complex game machinery stripped away, leaving just the communication level commands - hence the name "talker".

Most talkers are free and based on open source software.

Many of the online metaphors used on talkers, such as "rooms" and "residency", were established by these early pioneering services and remain in use by modern 3D interfaces such as Second Life.


History of talkers

Intranet talkers

The first talkers were hosted on an intranet within a school or office or local bulletin board systems that people used to connect to the Internet. An early example of an intranet talker was UNaXcess, which was created in 1984.

Early Internet talkers

In the school year of 1983-1984, Mark Jenks and Todd Krause, two students at Washington High School in Milwaukee, wrote a software program for talking among a group of people.[1] They used the PDP-11 at the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) central office. After searching around the PDP-11 files and directories, Mark found the PDP-11 program talk, and decided that they could do better. The system had approximately 40 300-2400 bit per second modems attached to it, with a single phone number with a hunt group. The talk program was named TALK and was written to handle many options that are seen in IRC today: tables, private messages, actions, moderators and inviting to tables. It was written so that people would supply a username when running the program. There was a single file that was always open to all of the users for read/write. The clients would watch the file for any changes, sometimes reading the file more than 100 times a minute, and if there were changes to the file since the last access, it would consider it a new message and parse it, to see what it should do with it. All users could write to the file any time they needed to. It was used for about 2 years, when, after a number of disk crashes, the System Admin would not let it run any longer the way it was written. After numerous attempts asking the System Admin to allow direct read/writes to memory, it was decided to re-write the software to a broadcast method to the users. It ended up using the PDP-11 TALK program, but kept a list of users who were in the front-end program.

The first talker that was hosted on the Internet was created in 1991 by Chris "Cat" Thompson, and was called Cat Chat, which was based on LPMud, a type of MUD code. Later that year, Daniel "Cheeseplant" Stephens created the code for Cheeseplant's House, which was the first ever popular talker, and hence 1991 is regarded as the "true" beginning of the history of talkers.[who?]

Other early Internet talkers appeared. They were primarily hosted on a university server without the permission of the university, and hence when the university found out about them they were shut down. Most of the first users of these talkers were from the same university or else from a nearby university. From 1994, many talkers were hosted on privately owned servers, and were owned or hosted often by the system administrator, manager or sometimes owner of the school or company.[citation needed]

EWToo talkers

ew-too talkers, which began in 1992, have been the dominant telnet based talker system since the time of their creation. Even though they have declined in popularity in the last few years, other talkers have suffered equal declines.

NUTS talkers

In 1992, a major alternative to ew-too code began development. Written by Neil Robertson as his final year undergraduate university project at Loughborough University, he based the look and feel on UNaXcess, an early talker from 1984 and ew-too. His project was called "TalkServ", but later released it publicly as NUTS, or Neil's Unix Talk Server. He created the code in 1993, and made his code able to be freely downloaded immediately, thus making a proliferation of NUTS talkers.

Talker hosting

In 1996, was formed, the first ever server to sell space for talkers, later giving it the name Dragonroost. The server had up to 90+ talkers on it at one time, during the mid-nineties boom of talkers. A number of other hosts started up as alternative hosting companies to ceased hosting any other talkers besides its owners on September 28, 2009.

With the proliferation of these hosting places, everyone could have their own private talker. As such, the number of talkers grew rapidly, whilst the number of users did not. This was no more obvious than with Fantasia's multiple worlds which grew to 30 worlds by 1998, with at times less than 5 users combined on the 30 worlds.


Talkers are designed and intended to be places on the Internet where free conversation and discussion can take place. The high comfort level users often develop, combined with the lack of security in telnet (namely that of text being sent in the clear, or without encryption), leads to some concern that there are insufficient safeguards in place against snooping.

Many talkers, especially NUTS-based ones, have an .invisible command that allows admins to be invisible to normal users. The intention of this command is to allow admins to monitor talkers while not having to be available for administration requests. Some people considered this invisible ability as a form of "spying" while others considered it a necessary facility to allow monitoring of chat for legal reasons. As a preventative measure against backlashes and spying ploys, the license for popular codebase PG+ includes a caveat which reads:

You may not add or cause to be added any functionality to the program that would allow others to see, without the users knowledge, the parameters or arguments passed to a command by a user, such as would infringe on the users privacy, nor may you replace a command that normally ensures privacy to a user, by another command that does not allow an equivalent level of privacy, and call that command by the same name, or by a name that implies the same level of privacy. [1]

Levels of users

Talkers usually have three basic levels by default - Resident (ewtoo)/USER (NUTS) is the default level, SuperUser (ewtoo)/WIZ (NUTS) as the administrator level, and Admin (ewtoo)/GOD (NUTS) as the owner level.

Most later talkers have fleshed this out with the following common additional levels. For instance, Amnuts talkers have by default this additional levels:

  • JAILED - Punishment level with very few commands.
  • NEW - Level users first start out as; requires them to register for an account by providing a description, gender, and email before being promoted to USER.
  • ARCH - Level between the Owner(s) and the other normal Wizzes. Supervises lower levels, and involved in more long term planning, whereas Wizzes are generally concerned with maintaining general order and helping new users.

Many talkers also have various user levels, such as "Advanced User" that give additional commands and privileges, such as personal rooms, as well as additional Wiz levels, such as "Senior Wiz". Some talkers have a "Junior Wiz" level which is an intermediate training level between the user and wiz ranks. These divisions vary from talker to talker.

Commands and abilities

Each talker had different commands available, but a typical list is as follows:

  • say - talks to the room
  • shout - talks to the entire talker
  • tell - privately talks to another user - similar to IRC/instant messaging "private message"/pm
  • emote - makes an action (for example, assuming your username was 'Jack', "emote smiles at you" would appear as "Jack smiles at you")
  • move/go/translocate - moves to another room - on some talkers this could go from any room to any other room, while on others you were required to follow a map
  • private/lock - makes the room private
  • public/unlock - makes the room public again
  • invite - invites a user to a private or locked room
  • join - joins a private or locked room
  • send mail (smail) - sends mail to a user, whether they are logged on or not
  • read mail (rmail) = reads your mail
  • delete mail (dmail) - deletes mail
  • look - looks at who is in the room, and the description of the room
  • who - sees who is on the talker (on multiple worlds talkers, as well as on talkers connected using NUTS 3.3 connection code, you could type in a port number of name of the world to see who was on that talker as well)
  • description - enters a short description for a user
  • profile or edit profile - creates or edits your profile (this works differently in each code base, but was typically 10 lines long)
  • examine or look (user) - looks at a user's profile
  • review - sees what has recently been said
  • review tells (revtell) - reviews the tells that you have recently been sent
  • private emote (pemote) - privately sends an action
  • shout emote (semote) - sends an action to the entire talker
  • quit - logs out of the talker
  • delete/suicide - deletes your own account
  • ignore user (ignuser/iguser) - ignores a user, preventing them from being able to send you tells (on some talkers, it also means that you cannot see their messages to the room, and it is as if they vanish)

The use of these commands made for an appearance which is similar to how instant messaging programs like MSN Messenger work today.

Examples of talkers

See also

External links



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