What is IRC?
Just imagine a place far, far away (…and yet very close), a series of “rooms” where people can talk. They can make up names for themselves, share information on how do things, laugh and bicker. They can even be anonymous.
How did I hear of IRC?
“Did you hear that on IRC?” I would hear from programmer friends exchanging verbal jabs, at which point they would shake their heads apologetically. From tone of voice only, I understood that IRC was something embarrassing to mention out loud. Only later, having forgotten about IRC, and become an active member of a local makerspace where the first meetings I attended ended with “…let’s make our own IRC channel,” followed by a chorus of “Yeah!”, did I understand that there could be something good, delightful even, about these three letters.
Why would someone want to use it?
IRC chatrooms are often useful for people who are branching out, trying a new program, learning something new. They want to share stories, find out what other people know, get some help. On the other hand, IRC is also for people who have been working on a collaborative project for some time and care about its future. They might want to provide help and spread the word. Note that during the early to mid 2000’s IRC channels were invaded by rude teenagers and trolls who “made it suck” for everyone else. Nowadays, topical enthusiast seem to run the show, and rude people seem to have migrated to more mainstream forums (along with most other people).
How did I first use IRC?
I came across an IRC channel as a shortcut embedded in a website. Eventually I needed help with a project from my makerspace community, so I navigated to the webpage and followed some prompts asking me for a user name. Then I hit “enter”. A window with scrolling blocky letters gave me pause. I waited and read, seeing:
- A list of names
- People exiting and entering.
Then I figured out where to type messages. I think I said “hello” or some such nicety and someone responded, which led to conversation. It was a good experience. After that I occasionally used this website-embedded IRC for specific problems, but noticed that some users remained online at all times. How and why did they do this, I wondered?
Later, as I found myself focusing on various programming and design skills, I craved the instantaneous presence and feedback of others. Sometimes I went to forums and asked questions, but this way there was a time delay. Eventually I made it a goal to contribute to an open source project. Then I began to understand why some people enter certain IRC channels and stay put. I went to a weekend workshop on contributing to open source projects and almost the first thing the presenters told me to do was set up an IRC client. An IRC client is like a browser, but instead of using a browser to find websites, one uses a client to connect to a series of “channels” (chat rooms) . With a client I could quickly connect to a multitude of channels and stay as long as my computer was on (and connected to the internet). What other platforms like Gchat and Facebook offer through chatting in personal networks, IRC offers topically. For someone like myself, who is interested in working on certain projects and is excited to talk with people about these specific interests, a “place” to instantaneously communicate, has become ideal. Now, when I am excited about a topic on an IRC channel, only to find that it is abandoned, I am sad. More than ever, I want to talk about my projects and hear about other’s projects through that blocky, and ever available list of names.
Setting up IRC on Mac:
The first time I set up IRC on my Mac, I used a Firefox add-on called Chatzilla. I flailed around trying to fill in numerous fields in their auto set-up form, only to realize that all I needed was the host (like chat.freenode.org or irc.debian.org) and the name of the chat room (usually looks like #davismakerspace or #debian). Later I used Colliloquy. They are similar. Some channels are secure and require passwords and additional info, but this will be self evident.
Setting up IRC on Linux:
On Linux I’m going the way of the terminal, in part because of my interest in using more opensource technology and in part because of my desire to learn the basics of the command line. To download the client Irssi, I typed the typical install command “sudo apt-get install irssi”, launched the program, and then typed “/connect chat.freenode.org” (for example) to connect to a host, and then typed “/join #name_of_channel”
Topics I like with IRC channels:
- Digital/Networked Art (by Turbulence.org, but the room is empty.)
- MaxMSP (by Cycling74)
- Debian (There is many, many channels by Debian)
- My local Makerspace (#davismakerspace on freenode)
- General info on Opensource projects (#openhatch on freenode)
Also, here is an amusing description of IRC in the show ‘Numbers’: