They still sorta exist but its pretty much in the form of applications and games now. Any multiplayer online game is essentially a chat room. Matchmaking lobbies have always been chat rooms. VR apps like Big Screen, Altspace, Sansar, VRChat, Facebook Spaces are all virtual chat rooms. One of the first avatar based chat rooms I used was Habbo Hotel and that’s still there, remarkably! And Second Life is also still there. So is mIRC and other IRC clients. Discord and Telegram can also be used to find ‘chat rooms’.
But the same kind of chat rooms, the ones that used to exist on random websites on the internet i.e Yahoo Chat, Java applets that had chat rooms, etc those are mostly gone, and that’s a shame. I made some of my first online friends using online chat rooms (I think it was a website called iSketch).
I think the reason random websites with chat rooms no longer exist is I think as an online population we’ve gotten more cautious than we did before. In the 1990s and early 2000s the internet held a sense of wonder for most people, and we went to various websites, we didn’t care so much about security, we wanted to meet and discover new people, talking to strangers online was kind of cool! the popular phrase A/S/L came about because we were all meeting random people online. I remember when webmasters and webmistresses would just leave their AIM/MSN handle on their contact page, and I would add them randomly and start talking to them. Imagine that! It was definitely a more innocent time.
And then social media came. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram etc and with that we shifted the way we used the internet. Talking to strangers was now a ‘dangerous’ activity because we don’t know who they might be, they might be a pedophile, they might be a stalker, etc. We only talk to friends and people we trust now!
Another problem is these chat rooms were often filled with spambots. That made it very annoying to use these rooms sometimes as these bots would have to be manually kicked by the host of the room (who is sometimes afk).
And that’s kind of sad. That sense of wonder and discovery that the early internet brought has largely disappeared as people became more wary of meeting people they didn’t know online. Can you imagine in today’s world giving people your age/sex/location? that used to be such a common thing at one time.
RIP internet chat rooms.
SharedTalk by Rosetta Stone (I remember using this in 2014 before they shut down)
Java Chat applets (used to be everywhere on early websites)