Borrowed and mangled from Wikipedia:
Talkers are a form of online virtual worlds in which multiple users are connected at the same time to chat in real-time. People log in to the talkers remotely (usually via telnet), and have a basic text interface with which to communicate with each other. Most talkers are free and based on open-source software.
Dating back to the 1980s, they were a predecessor of instant messaging, MMORPGs, and other virtual worlds such as _Second Life_. The early talkers were similar to MUDs with most of the complex game machinery stripped away, leaving just the communication level commands — hence the name "talker". EW-too was, in fact, a MUD server with the game elements removed.
Many of the online metaphors used on talkers, such as “rooms” and “residency”, were established by these early pioneering services and remain in use by modern replacements.
This was a time when…
- instant messaging (e.g. ICQ, AOL IM, etc.) did not exist
- the most common Internet access was through work or a university
- home users relied upon very slow dial-up modems that tied up a landline telephone circuit
- a TCP/IP stack (required for Internet communication) was not a standard part of Windows or Mac OS
- graphical Web-browsing was a recent invention; most Internet services were text-based
Individual talkers were often customized around a theme, and consisted of multiple named
rooms that fit within the theme. Some rooms were public, and others could be made private
for sensitive conversations. As the name suggests, the purpose was primarily to enable casual
conversation. (Unlike MUDs, which were similar software services of the era, but these often focused
more on role- or game-play than conversation.) Since all communication was text-based, it was relatively
quick (as long as your connection didn’t experience lag) but mostly required users to be
online simultaneously, in stark contrast to other Internet communication formats such as e-mail or Usenet.
Customizations and distinguishing features, made to attract users to a particular talker server over another,
were almost always applied by changing the source code and recompiling. Popular code bases were shared
and forked, renamed, and shared again.
IRC (Internet Relay Chat) is another text-based, real-time chat technology from the same era and its user experience exists essentially unchanged on the Internet of today. IRC networks facilitate chat, messaging, and even file transfers, but lack the theming that gave each Talker site a unique personality.