Online Chat

Online chat can be just the answer for those who can't travel, don't live near a gay venue or just feel uncomfortable about visiting a gay venue. It can also provide exciting and safe "entertainment" where you can indulge your wildest fantasies and the proliferation of webcams means you can now see and hear what someone you're chatting to is doing.

The types of chat systems are:

Chat room systems
Many of the larger gay sites and specialist gay senior sites have chat systems with individual rooms which include gay seniors and admirers. If you click on the name of a chatter, they will display the profile of the user from the dating system of the site. They also allow for 1 to 1 chatting.

Instant Messaging
Provides the ability to both see a photo of the person you may be interested in, to send text messages. Some also allow voice, moving or still image attachments to the message.

Voice chat
adds the ability to talk to the other person like a telephone - or more like talking over a walkie-talkie as you (usually) have to wait for the other person to finish.

Video chat
adds to that the ability to voice or message real time while seeing and hearing a moving image of the other person - provided you both have a webcam and the requirements below.

There are three distinct categories of software for chatting:

System requirements
While you can get away without a webcam for text chatting, you are unlikely to get much interest from other users on video chat systems if you don't have one.

Also you need a fairly powerful computer to run webcams - particularly for two-way video chat - so we suggest a minimum 700Mhz processor and 128MB RAM or more for windows users.

While you could use video chat with a dial-up connection the result are likely to be so slow to make it impossible to use successfully, so DSL, a cable modem or other broadband connection is required.

Tips
Webcams require good lighting to provide an adequate image. Spend some time to optimise the set-up of your webcam, ensuring that you (or whatever you are pointing it at) are well lit with the light from the behind the cam.

Don't be concerned if people you send messages to seem to ignore you - they may have a broadband connection which they leave on all the time, although it is polite to add this to your profile.

Do complete your profile and add a picture - a face shot will tend to get you more response. Some people will not answer messages that don't have a profile or without a face.

Bots (short for Robots) are fake profiles set up to spoof a chat session and lure you to pay sites - you can block them on some sites but only after they have interrupted you.

Private chat Enables you to chat 1-1 with another user and even video chat in some instances. Some sites will interrupt you with multiple requests for private chat when you're in the middle of one already.

Online chat room systems

Gay.com

Their text chat system is subdivided into world geographical locations and into themes (including Mature). Profiles, video clips and photos can be added to chat identity and a click on a name will display a thumbnail photo. General Mature rooms tend to have more U.S.chatters than international. Regional Mature rooms are under-used. Requires paid upgrade to see full-size, adult & private photos. Irritating ads to avoid before you get to chat.
They also have a separate Video Chat system but this requires a paid upgrade to use.
Summary: Used to be the best chat system but the requirement to pay for much of the content, the number of bots (automated chat users which are in fact advertising), the confusing ads and interface make it much less user-friendly. As a result there seem to be fewer users although it's still busy at peak hours. Probably best if you are US-based and don't have a webcam.

Gaydar.co.uk
Simple text-based chat system which provides links to personals profiles. Chat rooms are separated into geography and themes. "Age 50 plus" is the one for mature men.
Upgrade allows for thumbnail display of chatters but unlike Gay.com you have to view the profile to see a picture - there's no pop-up on a profile name.
Summary: Probably best if you are in UK or Australia. Chat system is not as sophisticated as gay.com and lacks any video capability - but the interface is cleaner and easier to use. No pop-up ads or Bots.
Online chat room systems (Older/younger gay sites)
It's so easy for a website to add a chat system that many of them have one. However, we have only reviewed the most popular becuase that's where you're most likely to find someone to chat to.

Silverdaddies.com
Has had a text-based chat system for some time but has recently added excellent Video chat facility. As a result the number of users in the older text chat has dropped considerably.
Text chat links to profiles when you click on a chat name but doesn't have a pop-up photo or a short description - this means you have to open many profiles to find someone who may fit your likes.
Video chat is very fast and doesn't require additional software to use and has now been split into Older/Younger and Older4Older rooms. You can broadcast your webcam picture to all other users or only to one user in private chat. In private chat the video picture displays behind the text you type which can be irritating (re-size chat window to change).

There have been reports of younger guys asking older guys for money - don't do it! - there are plenty out there who love older men for free. Report the user to Dennis the webmaster.

Caffmos
Has had text based chat system (Caffmos lounge) for some time with links to profile from chat name. Has UK and US hosted chat on Sundays. New video chat system allows premium members to video multiple webcams simultenously. Non-members can only view one at a time.

Dedicated Video Chat Software
The advantage of the dedicated chat software is that it is easier to find someone with similar tastes and know that they have a set-up that allows you to video chat to them as well. In addition the cost of the software tends to put off spamers.

ICUII includes a Quick Message function that sends audio, text and a video image to any user on the directory or on your Pal list. This provides a quick and easy way to communicate with all of your friends online - or to make new ones in the themed rooms.

This includes a room for Gay Seniors which is very busy and attracts between 50-100 people at one time, around 50% of whom are over 50. You can also create your own sub-rooms.

In ICUII's software package includes, text-based chat, audio, and a number of other features such as a built-in directory, caller ID, and a 'Do Not Disturb' feature.

ICUII even has a filter built in to protect its users from unwanted users frequenting the public servers.

A free 21-day trial version is available. Cost of full license is $49.95.


ISPQ offers similar functionality to ICUii and is probably better suited to bears and their admirers, as their public "room" for seniors and admirers is called "bears, cubs and daddies".

ISPQ provides additional functionality for setting up private "rooms" where you can video-chat with up to 5 users simultaneously.

A free 21-day trial version is available. Cost is $39.95 for one year.

Eyeball Chat
Free dedicated chat client which can give excellent results if you're chatting 1-1 - (both will need to install it) usually better than you'll get with instant messaging software like Yahoo and AIM. Highly configurable for bandwidth and picture quality. Also has gay chat rooms but none for older gay men. Offers links to instant messaging systems but we could not get it to work.

Camfrog
Another free dedicated chat client (used by Caffmos) but free version has restricted image size. Also has gay chat rooms (including some in French) but none for older men/admirers.

Instant-messaging (with video)

The benefit of the following is that they are usually free and allow you to keep track of your friends online and send them messages and files. Being free is both a blessing and a curse since anyone can open an account and use it to spam (aka Spim) other users - or try to lure them into parting with money - you have been warned.

The proliferation of users means there is also a big add-on market to enhance use of the different systems such as web interfaces etc. Click here for more.

The different chat systems are incompatible, however there is software available which will enable you to access all the main chat networks simultaneously, which are described here

MSN

Microsoft may be the company you love to hate, but there are a few things you can get from them for free, one of them being MSN instant messenger. This is a small download which adds a little icon to your tool bar that looks like fat gray man (how appropriate! - Ed.), from this icon you can access your online friends.

Windows XP includes a version of the software called "Windows Messenger" that has more features than MSN Messenger. In Windows Messenger, Microsoft essentially blended their presence and messaging application with their NetMeeting video conferencing and collaborative work application. Windows Messenger interoperates with MSN Messenger but you won't be able to use the advanced features.

Advantages
Adding a friend couldn't be easier, get the e-mail address they've signed up with and a couple of clicks later you've got a friend to talk to.

  • Unlimited file transfer size
  • Lots of emoticons to play around with (smiley faces etc.).
  • Easy to change screen name
  • Send and receive text messages
  • Video Chat

Disadvantages

  • No way of logging on automatically in Invisible mode, so people know that you're online even if you click off-line straight away.
  • Can only send messages when online
  • No off-line messages

Yahoo Messenger

The second 'big' name, and the main rival to MSN - however there are a few differences, first is the signing up process which requires you to get a free Yahoo id before you can then download the chat software.

Adding friends is pretty much the same as MSN, just find out their user id and away you go.

Advantages

  • New (05/2005) -Beta versoin allows IP-based telephony (high quality calls over the internet)
  • You can sign on straight away and be off-line (which is very useful if you have a large list of contacts.
  • You can send and receive messages whilst appearing off-line, so if you ever only want to talk to one person, you can appear off-line and still speak to him/her alone.
  • You can leave off-line messages, handy when you've only got a few words to say.
  • Video chat with Webcams (Super mode allows hihg resolution/frame rate).
  • If you're playing one of Yahoos many games (games.yahoo.com), and also have messenger turned on, a friend of yours can join you by clicking on your name.

Disadvantages

  • Anybody can come through to you on messenger, whether they know you or not, although you can block them.
  • Video chat requires broadband to be effective and a fast PC. The video stream is jerky compared to dedicated video chat software such as ICUii
  • Limit to file size you can send

AIM

AIM (AOL Instant Messenger)
With approximately 85 million users, AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) is currently the most popular instant messenger. Chances are pretty good that somebody you know is already using it. Since it was one of the first messenger clients, AIM has many features and runs on many platforms, including a native Linux version and as a web applet. One of AIM's strengths, its large user base, is also a weakness. It is almost impossible to find a username when registering.

AIM has better support for private group chats than any of the other clients I tested, supporting up to 23 users. It also supports inline photos, which would be very useful for users who want to share pictures.

Again you can add Friends from their screen name and see when they are online to send them messages.

Advantages

  • Number of users
  • Links to AOL
  • See how long friends have been online
  • Video chat

Disadvantages

  • If AOL is your ISP, there you cannot appear off-line, you can leave a message after your screen-name that says what you're really doing, but its still showing that you're online
  • No off-line messages
Multi-chat programs
These programs provide a way to connect to multiple chat systems simultaneously which means you get a single program that provides a way to chat to all your friends no matter what system they use - although the functions tend to be limited.

Trillian

It provides a single interface for all your chat-programs (Yahoo, AOL, MSN, ICQ) in one window.

Advantages

  • You only need to have one chat client for all your friends

Disadvantages

  • Can be confusing since it shows all your friends on all the services
  • Communication set-up is not very intuitive
  • Does not have the advanced features of the original chat clients (e.g. video chat on Yahoo) even though you may be chatting to a Yahoo user
  • If one of the chat services it supports changes it can disable Trillian until for that service until a patch becomes available

Eyeball Chat www.eyeball.com) America Online, MSN and Yahoo instant-message users can sign up for an Eyeball ID, and instant message each other through one program, Eyeball Chat. While others offer the same "interoperability" among several systems, only Eyeball does this with text and video.

The video and audio quality of Eyeball is better than most chat clients and you also can send video e-mails to those who are Webcamless. But if you don't have high-speed Internet service, don't expect to see as much movement on dial-up, they are virtually unwatchable.

 

 

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