It was once a big deal for Jay Leno to hang out with a virtual audience of plebs, but these days, we call that a Tuesday afternoon.
Folks in the mid-1990s were just as obsessed with celebrity then as we are now, but the internet was still a modestly unknown entity back then.
So it was incredibly novel when a major star like Jay Leno, as shown in this 1995 shot at NBC’s Burbank headquarters, would show up on America Online and talk to his throngs of fans. He wasn’t alone—much like the popular IAmA chats Reddit holds now, AOL had convinced dozens of A-List celebrities to hold court on the network. (Well, mostly on AOL. Michael Jackson, for one, couldn’t be limited to a single dial-up network: In September of 1995, he simultaneously chatted with 25,000 people on three different networks, a record for the time.)
The heavily-promoted events were novel, a clear presaging of the saturated online celebrity minefield we have now, but the approach had its skeptics.
Spy magazine was clearly not impressed with the trend, which it put in its “Spy 100” retrospective of 1995.
“In a craven effort to appear hip, celebs—including such cyber gurus as Garth Brooks, Alan Derschowitz, and Michael Jackson—have been fumbling with their PCs in wildly hyped online chat sessions, regardless of the fact that they end up ‘talking’ to only a handful of pasty geeks,” the magazine wrote, while pointing out that Leno’s thousand-strong chat was a microscopic share of his real-life audience.
(Somewhat ironically, the magazine’s snark-filled list was topped by Donald Trump, whose heavily followed Twitter feed, which occasionally shares missives from 16-year-old admirers, is a reminder that AOL was merely ahead of its time.)
Re-Exposure is an occasional Motherboard feature where we look back on delightful old tech photos from wire service archives.
from AOL’s 1995 Chat Rooms Were the Original 'Ask Me Anything'