I found a ’90s chatroom for horses on a bunch of old floppy disks

While cutting through a vacant lot in Silicon Valley with my friend Ryan, we discovered a partially buried, moldy cardboard box. Inside it, under multiple containers of oats, were a bunch of old floppy disks, with “horsechat” crudely written in Sharpie on all of them.

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Intrigued, we searched for an old Mac to try to explore the disks. Luckily for us, Jenny Odell had an artists’ residency at the SF dump and recently pulled an old Macintosh Classic out of the pile. She graciously let us borrow it. With some futzing, we got it working, and tried loading the disks. Each made a terrible grinding noise. They were all busted.

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Except for one.

According to the readme.txt file and some bitter notes in the code, “Horsechat” was the first and only program created by a company called Horsoft, way back in 1992. It was an attempt to build an AOL-style chat service, a walled garden for “like-minded horses.” It would’ve revolutionized how horses communicate. But it was never released.

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Basically, Horsoft flew too close to the sun: Management kept demanding bold new features that forced coders to repeatedly start from scratch; employee morale tanked; the budget ballooned. Most horse employees angrily quit to find greener pastures. Horsoft went belly-up and had nothing to show for it. Soon after, their office mysteriously burned down, destroying everything.

Or so everyone thought.

The code for an early version of the chat application on our working disk was pretty close to being finished, so we filled in the blanks with some frog DNA, and updated it to run on a modern server. For the first time in history, Horsechat is now publicly available, at chatroom.horse.

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If people seem interested in this weird bit of Silicon Valley lore, we’ll try to fix the other damaged floppies (based on the labels, they seem to be later versions, with more features). If you worked at Horsoft, or know anyone who did and might have more information, get in touch with me on Twitter.

Horsechat lives!