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Real-time text chat facilities such as IRC appeared in the late 1980s. Web-based chat and instant messaging software appeared in the mid-1990s. The PLATO computer learning system allowed students to collaborate on networked computers to accomplish learning tasks as early as the 1960s, but the early networking was not accomplished via the World Wide Web and PLATO's collaborative goals were not consistent with the presenter-audience dynamic typical of web conferencing systems. PLATO II, in 1961, featured two users at once.
Web conferencing technologies are not standardized, which has reduced interoperability and transparency and increased platform dependence, security issues, cost and market segmentation. In 2003, the IETF established a working group to establish a standard for web conferencing, called "Centralized Conferencing (xcon)". The planned deliverables of xcon include:
In 1996, PlaceWare was founded as a spinoff from Xerox PARC. In November of that year, PlaceWare Auditorium was described in a public talk at Stanford University as allowing "one or more people to give an interactive, online, multimedia presentation via the Web to hundreds or thousands of simultaneous attendees; the presentation can include slides (made in PowerPoint or any GIF-image editor), live annotation on the slide images, real-time polls of the audience, live audio from the presenter and those asking questions, private text and audio conversations in the auditorium's "rows", and other features." PlaceWare Auditorium was formally announced in March 1997 at a price of $150 per simultaneous user.
Depending on the technology being used, participants may speak and listen to audio over standard telephone lines or via computer microphones and speakers. Some products allow for use of a webcam to display participants, while others may require their own proprietary encoding or externally provided encoding of a video feed (for example, from a professional video camera connected via an IEEE 1394 interface) that is displayed in the session.
In 1992, InSoft Inc. launched Communique, a software-based Unix teleconferencing product for workstations that enabled video/audio/data conferencing. Communique supported as many as 10 users, and included revolutionary features such as application sharing, audio controls, text, graphics, and whiteboarding which allowed networked users to share and manipulate graphic objects and files using simple paint tools.
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