Back in 1971
– Murray Turoff, Personal Communication, September 2000.
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.
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).