Sysop Chat

Back in mid-90s before anyone I knew had an Internet connection, a few of us had modems and would use them to call bulletin board systems via the phone line. On these systems what to me seemed the main thing was discussions and chat. For the first time I could talk to other like-minded people, and just being able to communicate by typing had a exciting mystical air to it.

There would be message boards about different topics, but what I liked the most was real-time chatting. Phone calls were expensive, so I wanted a way to chat for free, and to this end I started my own system so that people would call me instead of me having to call other boards. I just had it open during the night, so that my parents could use the phone line during the day.

The chat wasn't quite like chats are now. It was split-screen, and there were only two participants. Me, and whoever happened to be calling. It's a bit silly to think about now, as instead of typing we could have just picked up our phones and talked to each other directly by voice, but somehow typing made it easier to open up and talk without reservation. I made some great friends this way.

Another thing I really liked was that it had a feature current chats are missing: when the other person typed you didn't need to wait for them to hit "send", rather you would see their typing immediately. When they pressed a key, I could see that key press happen right away. When talking with someone I knew well, this would lead us to understanding each other even before we finished typing our line, making communication much faster.

I wanted to recreate this experience as accurately as possible, so I remade it as a web app that looks and behaves exactly like the split-screen real-time chat we had back then. You can invite a friend to talk to them directly, but I also added Omegle/Chatroulette -style random matching to create some serendipity. If no-one is present, you can also try it out without waiting for a partner by talking to the classic ELIZA chatbot. Oh, and it's encrypted.

Sounds interesting? Try it out. I'm calling it Sysop Chat.