Real-Time Chat

Why Trust Techopedia

What Does Real-Time Chat Mean?

Real-time chat is virtually any online communication that provides a real-time or live transmission of text messages from sender to receiver. A variety of software programs are available to enable real-time chat between individuals using Internet services.


Real-time chat can be any direct text-based or video-based (using webcams) one-to-one chat or one-to-many group chats by means of tools like instant messengers (IMs), talkers, Internet Relay Chat (IRC) and multi-user dungeons (MUDs).

Techopedia Explains Real-Time Chat

The first real-time chat system was known as Talkomatic, developed by David R. Woolley and Doug Brown in 1973. It provided quite a few channels, each of which was able to support as many as five people, with messages from all users showing up on the screens character-by-character as they were typed. CompuServe CB Simulator, launched in 1980, was the first dedicated real-time chat service made available to the public.

Chat messages are often brief so as to let other participants respond swiftly, thereby creating a feeling much like a spoken conversation. This mode of communication differentiates real-time chats from other forms of text-based online communications, including emails and Internet forums. Real-time chat uses Web-based apps, which permit communication that is usually addressed directly but is anonymous among users in a multi-user environment.

Common real-time chat programs and protocols include:

  • Apple’s Messages
  • Google Talk
  • AOL Instant Messenger (AIM)
  • Internet Relay Chat (IRC)
  • RetroShare (encrypted)
  • Skype
  • WhatsApp
  • Windows Live Messenger

Chat programs that support multiple protocols include:

  • Adium
  • Google+ Hangouts
  • Miranda IM
  • IMVU
  • IBM Sametime
  • Trillian

Websites having browser-based, real-time chat services include:

  • Cryptocat
  • eBuddy
  • Facebook
  • Google+
  • Gmail
  • Talkomatic
  • Tinychat
  • Wireclub
  • Zumbl

Related Terms

Margaret Rouse
Technology Expert
Margaret Rouse
Technology Expert

Margaret is an award-winning technical writer and teacher known for her ability to explain complex technical subjects to a non-technical business audience. Over the past twenty years, her IT definitions have been published by Que in an encyclopedia of technology terms and cited in articles by the New York Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, ZDNet, PC Magazine, and Discovery Magazine. She joined Techopedia in 2011. Margaret's idea of a fun day is helping IT and business professionals learn to speak each other’s highly specialized languages.