IRC

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What is IRC

Internet Relay Chat (IRC) is the oldest forms of instant messaging still in common use. It has a number of properties that distinguish it from other instant messaging applications (AIM,MSN,ICQ). Many of these are technical reasons that don't immediately affect users of the applcation. However there are two attributes of irc that have an signifigant affect on the social aspects of its use.

The first is that modern IM applications default to peer-to-peer communication, which leads to most communication being one-to-one. IRC defaults to a client-server 'chatroom' mode, which leads to most communication being many-to-many. This has made IRC the preferred IM mechanism for peer-production communities; many if not most open-source projects maintain at least one IRC channel to provide instant communications with the project's developers.

The second is that by structuring the application around the server (ie. using a client/server approach), rather than the client (using a peer-to-peer approach), has meant that there is the creation of a permanent online 'space'. The creation of virtual locations where people can meet. The social effect of this is very similar to the distinction between a group who maintains contact by phone, and one emerging around a favourite cafe, pub, or a regular table in a refectory.

It is useful to contrast IRC with SecondLife. Both create permanent 'space'; identifiable localities where people can meet, and groups can form and interact freely. Both default to many-to-many communication, and so provide affordances to group collaboration.

On the other hand, irc is strictly text based, which restricts the interactions possible strictly to informal written communication. An IRC channel is also a fixed point, which discourages the forming of ad hoc sub-groups, and private group discussions. Granted this is a social norm, not a technical constraint (norm law not code law) as creating an ad hoc channel is a trivial task, but it is no less real for the that. The pure textual form can also be intimidating for people who are not confident or comfortable with informal written communication.

However IRC's textual basis also confers several advantages. SecondLife is all but impossible for the visually impaired to use. It also requires the use of a modern computer, and a broadband connection. IRC was first released in 1988, back when a high-speed connection to the internet was 2400 bits-per-second (that's 3.75 *lines* of pure text per second). Consequently add a screen and a keyboard and many modern washing machines have enough processing power to run it; and even the slowest modern dialup modem provides ample bandwidth.

Finally the textual basis of IRC, combined with the concentrating effect of it's lack of 3-dimensions, makes it amenable to participation by automated clients. On any given, established, IRC channel there is generally at least one, often more, 'users' connected that are actually programs providing services to the channels users. The sort of services that are often provided by these robot users include discussion archiving, bookmark management (an IM version of communal del.icio.us), user tracking (a common feature is the ability to ask a 'bot when they last saw a user on channel), note passing (as in asking the robot to "please tell 'Joe' 'I need to see him' next time you see him").

How to connect

To connect to the CyberOne IRC Channel either:

  1. Start your IRC Client
  2. Connect to irc.oftc.net
  3. Join #cyberone

or if your browser supports irc natively (Mozilla or Firefox with chatzilla installed)

  1. click on this link: [1]

If you are using Mozilla as your browser then you can still start chatzilla directly. From the 'Tools' menu select 'Chatzilla' to start Mozilla's internal irc client.

If you are using Firefox then you can install chatzilla by clicking on the install link in the lower righthand corner of the chatzilla website. Note: you will have to restart firefox for it to activate.

If you aren't using Firefox, there are numerous irc clients out there for every platform; or as Firefox is open-source, you can download it from the Mozilla website.

You talk on a channel, just type and hit return. If you need to perform an action (connect, join, leave, etc) you need to pass a command. In IRC all commands start with a forward-slash '/'.

Useful commands include:

/server SERVER
commands your client to Connect to the server SERVER. So in our case it would be /server irc.oftc.net.
/join CHANNEL
commands your client to join the channel named CHANNEL. In our case it would be /join #cyberone. Note: This only works if you are connected to a server; and if the channel doesn't exist it the server will automatically create it for you (ad hoc channel creation really is trivial).
/leave CHANNEL
the command to leave a specified channel. Alternatively it's fine to just quit the client, but you can join multiple channels simultaneously and if you do you often want to only leave one of them.
/nick NICKNAME
Changes the name visible to other users on the channel when you speak.
/msg NICKNAME TEXT
sends a private message (TEXT) to the user with the nickname NICKNAME
/me ACTION
try it out and see