What's the Difference Between Chat and Instant Messaging?

IM someone you know and chat with people you don't

digital connection text on city background with bubble chat technology concept
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While the terms chat and instant messaging (IM) are often used interchangeably, they are actually two different ways to communicate on the internet. You can chat while sending instant messages to friends and colleagues, but an instant message is ultimately not a chat.

Always exercise caution when interacting with people online, and make sure to closely monitor your child's online activities.

What Is Instant Messaging?

Instant messaging is a one-to-one conversation, almost always with someone you know, during which your device is connected to another person for the purpose of exchanging text and images. 

An instant message is usually between only two individuals, though there are group messages. Instant messaging dates back to the 1960s, when MIT developed a platform that allowed up to 30 users to log in at a time and send messages to each other. The concept grew in popularity as technology advanced, and now we take instant messaging for granted and consider it a part of our everyday lives. 

Popular instant-messaging platforms include Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, and WhatsApp.

What Is Chat?

A chat usually occurs in a chat room, a digital forum where multiple people connect for the purpose of discussing a shared interest. Text and images are sent to everyone at once. People involved in a chat are likely not acquainted in real life.

While the concept of a chat room hit its peak in the late '90s and has since declined, there are still applications and platforms that enable people to participate in chat rooms.

Chat was developed at the University of Illinois in 1973. In the beginning, only five people could chat at a time.

In the late '90s, AOL revolutionized the digital landscape. Previously, using the internet was a costly proposition. In most cases, charges were incurred based on the length of time spent online. AOL made staying online affordable; people began to stay online as much as possible, and chat rooms flourished. In 1997, at the height of the chat room craze, AOL hosted 19 million chat rooms. 

Some popular platforms that offer chat rooms today include Twitch (similar to a chat room in that you watch videos and talk about them together), Zobe, and MocoSpace.

Whether you are looking to chat with friends locally, looking for love or romance, want to discuss the news or sports, or even swap recipes, free chat rooms are still very popular.