Q. What is Talkomatic?
A. Talkomatic is a space for real-time text conversations on the internet. In other words, a chat room. You type stuff, other people in the room type stuff, you all see what you're all saying. Or you can talk if your device has a voice-to-text capability. More on that later.
Q. There's already a zillion chat rooms out there. What's different about this one?
A. Three things. In Talkomatic you don't wait for someone to type a full thought before you see it. You see it appear letter by letter as they type it, so the experience is more immediate. And each person has their own little area of the screen.
Q. Okay, that's different. What else?
A. Talkomatic was actually the world's first multi-user chat room.
Q. Come on. Chat rooms have been around on the internet for years.
A. Yep. The first internet chat system, Internet Relay Chat, was created in 1988. CompuServe's "CB Simulator" came earlier, in 1980. But the original Talkomatic preceded them both, having been built in 1973 on the PLATO system.
Q. What's PLATO?
A. PLATO was a system designed for computer-based education at the University of Illinois. In the early 1970's it spawned the world's first online community, with email, discussion forums, instant messaging, multiplayer games -- and Talkomatic chat rooms. You can read more about the PLATO community here.
Q. Who created Talkomatic?
A. Two college students and PLATO system programmers, Doug Brown and David Woolley. In 1973 they were sharing an office on the 5th floor of the Computer Engineering Research Lab in Urbana, Illinois. Doug conceived the idea and the name "Talkomatic" and built a simple one-room prototype. David expanded it to support multiple rooms, privacy protections, and other features.
Q. But THIS Talkomatic is on the internet. Who's behind this one?
A. The same two guys. Doug and David, now 40 years older.
Q. Why now?
A. Web technology has not really been up to the task until recently. Doug and David felt the appeal of Talkomatic would be lost if people had to install special software to use it. The WebSocket standard was the answer, since it provides a continuous two-way connection between a web browser and a server, but the popular web browsers didn't begin to support web sockets reliably until 2012 or 2013.
Q. What's the development timeline?
A. Doug and David had occasionally thought about building a web-based Talkomatic as far back as the 1990s. They finally began serious talks about actually doing it in September, 2013. Initial coding efforts began in November and proceeded by fits and starts due to various distractions. They had their first chat in the new Talkomatic on March 11, 2014. Version 2.0, introducing private rooms, was released May 28, 2014. Version 3.0, introducing the ability to login via Facebook, was released July 31, 2015.
Q. What web browsers work with Talkomatic?
Q. How about smart phones and tablets?
A. Talkomatic works on mobile devices. On-screen virtual keyboards can make it awkward because they obscure so much of the display, so it's better to use a real keyboard (or voice, if available).
Q. What about voice? Can I speak instead of typing?
A. You sure can, if the device you're using has voice recognition capability that can turn speech into text. Most smart phones and tablets come with it. If you're using a desktop computer, you'd need to install voice recognition software like Dragon NaturallySpeaking.
Q. Does Talkomatic record our chat sessions?
A. Never. Once your typing disappears from your screen, Talkomatic forgets what was there and has no way to retrieve it.
Q. Can I put a Talkomatic chat room on my web site?
A. Yes, it's easy to embed a Talkomatic room on a web page using an HTML iframe. If your site uses WordPress, just download the Talkomatic WordPress plugin and follow the simple instructions in the "readme.txt" file. For a non-WordPress site, you'll have to code the iframe yourself, but that's not hard. To start users in the Talkomatic lobby, use this: <iframe src="http://talko.cc"></iframe>. To put users directly into a specifically named room, you will need to include the encoded room name in the URL. Log into Talkomatic yourself and open a room with the desired name. Then look at the bottom of the screen where it says "Invite friends to your room with this link". Copy the URL shown and use that full URL as the "src" attribute for the iframe.
Q. Is Talkomatic related to the Talko app for smart phones?
A. They are distant cousins. In the 1970s and 80s the original Talkomatic was commonly referred to as "Talko" by members of the PLATO community. Ray Ozzie was part of that community, and he decided to name his app "Talko" in homage to Talkomatic. You can read his comments about Talkomatic here.
Q. How does Talkomatic work?
Q. Do you guys actually expect to make money on this thing?
A. Hell no.