Harvard may not have a 24-hour student center, but Daniel M. Hoffer `98 has created a virtual one--The CrimSim CHATeau.
The graphical chat server enables users at Harvard to have live Internet Chat sessions from their computers.
Hoffer customized recently released software called Palace to represent the Harvard environment. With a little smiley-faced character, user can stroll through the Yard, head up to the Quad or even swing by the Grille.
Hoffer has programmed in a few other extras, too. For instance, if a user types in "Yale", it appears as "Y***."
"The Palace represents a new era in recreational Internet communication", Hoffer wrote in an e-mail message.
The CHATeau can host up to 200 users at a time and operates based on Internet Relay Chat (IRC) technology. IRC allows multiple users to join in live group discussions by typing in lines of text.
Since the Harvard Computer Society (HCS) stopped running Harvard's IRC server last year for stability and security reasons, there have been few places at Harvard for students to explore this technology.
"I thought it might fill a niche since [the IRC server] went down", Hoffer said.
The CHATeau, unlike IRC, is a graphical environment in which users are represented by "avatars". These avatars can be customized by students and have an entire wardrobe to choose from.
Users can play board games, connect to other Palaces around the world and chat. Macintosh users can even transmit live sound via CHATeau.
"I like that the interface is graphical", Daniel A. Lopez `97, HCS president, wrote in an e-mail. "It would be interesting to see the program tried in more serious environments than those it is in right now".
Hoffer said he envisions that someday student groups will organize meeting on the CHATeau, among other things.
The CHATeau can run on Macintoshes, UNIX computers, and Windows-based PCs. The software can be downloaded for free from Hoffer`s homepage at http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~hoffer.