I talked with Joe Schober, the longest-running employee at AOL and its current chief architect.His relationship with the company started in 1988, before it was America Online.The late ’90s, according to Schober, was when chat rooms hit their peak.Just how powerful was America Online during this time? This is the era that many people, myself included, remember most vividly.All of your interactions online are constrained by the people you already know.” (MORE: Chatroulette 2.0?Napster Founders Launch Airtime Video Chat) So far, Airtime hasn’t exactly been a hit.“In the ‘80s, if you had a 2400 baud modem you were pretty hot stuff,” says Schober. People talk about their cellphones being slow now; a slow cellphone might be 256k or 512k, so if you think about something being 100 times slower than that, it’s ridiculous.
And, despite our memories of the slow-dialing modems of the ’90s, connecting to the World Wide Web was faster than ever at the time.
The chat product, called People Connection, had a variety of rooms for people interested in such topics as genealogy and strategy games.
Schober remembers a ticker dubbed “Network News,” a kind of virtual community newsletter that would let people know when certain chat rooms had a special guest or were discussing certain topics.
Last month, Sean Parker of Napster fame launched Airtime.
Amid the hoopla of the launch — attended, for some reason, by Jimmy Fallon and Snoop Dogg — Parker told an anecdote about meeting his business partner, Shawn Fanning, 15 years ago in a chat room, saying, “There’s something exciting about bringing spontaneity to the Internet.
Schober moved from beta tester to full-time employee in 1992, when the service — now officially called America Online — went public.