Back in 1971 we considered the ‘chat’ function as the minor accomplishment compared to what else we were doing. Today, in terms of usage it is probably the most popular group communication mode on the net!
– Murray Turoff, Personal Communication, September 2000.
The Emergency Management Information Systems And Reference Index (EMISARI) system included functionality providing the first multi-machine chat system.
In 1971, Murray Turoff created EMISARI for the US Office of Emergency Preparedness. The original purpose of the system was to help exchange information on opinion surveys between people in geographically distributed locations.
In 1971, EMISARI was put to one of it’s first practical uses to coordinate policy information for U.S. President Nixon’s wage and price control program to fight high inflation. Users of EMISARI accessed the system through teletypewriter terminals linked to a central computer through long distance phone lines.
The EMISARI chat functionality was called the Party Line, and was originally developed to replace telephone conferences which might have 30 or so participants, but where no-one could effectively respond and take part in a meaningful discussion. Party Line had a range of useful features familiar to users of modern chat systems, such as the ability to list the current participants, and the invocation of an alert when someone joined or left the group.
EMISARI was written under EXEC VIII on a UNIVAC computer which had newly developed multiprocessing capabilities, making possible the new, interactive functionality that Turoff designed. EMISARI continued to be used by the US Government for management of emergency situations until 1986.
EMISARI had more features than many conferencing systems developed thirty years later, including real-time voting, data collection assignment and reporting, and discussion threads for individual database elements. More information on EMISARI can be found in a book written by Roxanne Hiltz, to which Turoff contributed, titled The Network Nation: Human Communication via Computer (ISBN 0262581205).