Chat rooms enable simultaneous, moderated communication between many participants, the ability to share dynamic content and files, private messaging with select users, and quick access to favorite contacts or "buddy lists." While these features vary between programs, most chat rooms offer some version of this collective format. Many chat rooms feature an image known as an avatar to represent the user graphically within the community interface. Some chat services offer live webcam communication between users.
Chat rooms are different from instant messaging programs in a number of ways. Because users initially conduct conversations with the community as a whole, every participant is able to see what the user posts. Only "going private," or establishing a direct dialog with specific users, limits conversations to a targeted person or group. Because of the communal nature of a chat room environment, it is common for a human administrator, moderator program or both to monitor it. Online chat programs typically feature privacy settings, such as the ability to block specific users, hide a user's "online" status and view conversation feeds only from selected topics or categories.
Live chat communities enable users to engage in real-time, discussing current events and things that users are actively witnessing. Sharing dynamic content related to trending events, such as video, streaming media, photographs or audio files, among the community offers the potential to create collaborative environments that are unique to chat rooms. Some chat programs, such as Yahoo Messenger, Windows Live Messenger and America Online IM, require download and installation, while others, such as Google, offer membership access to online chat services.