IRC to cure social dilemmas

Welcome to Internet Relay Chat (IRC). Home of the greatest time saver and waster. How do you wish to use it today?

In its simplest form, it is a medium in which people can interact with one another textually in real-time. The interaction can take place in channels (chat rooms) with a variety of topics or even be peer to peer. Any individual with an IRC client can join a server, participate in a particular channel or even create their own.

If you haven't yet, you are encouraged to hop on to an IRC server and continue your peer to peer interactions. Why? Here are the advantages: in a world with variety of - Instant Messengers (IM): (e.g. Google Talk, MSN Messenger, ICQ, ...) communicating primarily in a one-to-one fashion, IRC requires only a client to connect to different servers with an additional ability to interact with many people in any channel. By default IRC interactions are held in a community setting, IMs on the other hand allow the users to invite third parties to chat in a group.

By the way, IRC has been around close to two decades.

I will now give away the purpose of this article in order to perhaps save some of you a little time. It is to summarize and to exemplify our further need for improved digital social interaction systems. In my opinion the benefits are manifold. I will simply pick a case like Web development to illustrate my thoughts.


We are now connected to an IRC server.

/join #swig

We are now participating in a channel for Semantic Web Interest Group. There are hundreds of users present in this channel from different parts of the world with varying backgrounds, expertise in and around this field. The interaction is happening now and it is in real-time. We are able to participate in discussions, ask a question regarding our particular problem or even help another. This is a community of people that work on the Web. Its interest is to obtain and share information and knowledge. Splendid? Yes, indeed!

I believe we need to continue and increase our involvement in these communities simply because of the speed in which information can be gathered and put in to use. I leave the comparison of this platform to others like forums and instant-messengers as an exercise for the reader. One fair warning: once you join and get the hang of it, you might never want to leave again.

In my opinion, IRC Web development channels are similar in many ways to Barcamps, Democamps, RoCoCocamps and many other similar meet-ups. The difference is that, it is held on a virtual space, information is passed around in a much rapid way by the participants in real-time.

There are no costs to use IRC. If a Web developer faces a particular problem, they can raise their issue to the rest of the community. The suggestions or solutions proposed to the problem are free - as in free beer. Because this happens in real-time and ultimately reachable by other Web developers from all over the world, the likelihood of getting a quick, correct, response is good. In the event of incoming conflicting answers, discussions on the possible solutions rises naturally. Of course this is great for the community since it essentially allows it to grow, understand and arrive at better ways of approaching problems.

Unlike bloggers or forums writing up on methods or even evangelizing Web standards, there are no irrelevant advertisements nor hidden agendas with regards to improving their popularity. There is no pursuit for better search engine ranking either. In its simplest form, it is sharing information and knowledge without the bullshit. By all this, I do not mean to conceal the advantages of maintaining static information on Web pages which can be used as a great reference over real-time discussions. Depending on the channel's rules, IRC logs can be made public on a Web site.

Some of the IRC networks are still rapidly growing due to the nature of the platform. It is an environment where many people can interact collectively faster then mailing lists, forums, groups chats or video conferences. Freenode for instance is a Peer-Directed Projects Center (PDPC), ... provides discussion facilities for the Free and Open Source Software communities, for not-for-profit organizations and for related communities and organizations. To name a few, groups and organizations like microformats, WHATWG, Wikipedia and Semantic Web Interest Group (SWIG), can also be reached through IRC.

I also think that IRC is a better platform for movements like Web standards to strengthen simply because of the nature of the participants. The communities are made up of Web developers with varying expertise in a grass-root fashion. This is the platform not only to reiterate ways to improve our development but also on a personal level get a true sense of improving our situation on the Web collectively. The pure involvement of everyone allows these these communities to work and benefit all in the long run.

Like any other community, every channel comes with its own unique culture and allowed net-etiquette. Following channel rules and good etiquette is encouraged for an easy participation.

A quick guide to getting on IRC

How do I connect?

There are a variety of networks available. Most popular ones are EFnet and freenode.

You need to download and install an IRC client on your machine (see common IRC clients below). Once installed, you have to connect to a server on a network of your choice.

You can alternatively use your Web browser to connect to an IRC server/network through a Web page interface (portal). Check out Meebit to get on the EFnet IRC Network, without installing an IRC client.

Which server do I use?

Any. They all connect you to the main network. Some clients have a built-in list of servers it can connect to. and are example servers, former leads to the EFnet network, the latter to freenode. See server information list for a suitable server to your location (Note: connecting to a closer server may be more beneficial in terms of connection speed)

I'm connected! Now what?

By exploring your client's commands, you can reveal a list of (unhidden) channels on the network. For example, the channel for SWIG can be joined by entering #swig in your client.

Great, but how much does it cost?

Nothing. It is free to connect and participate in any community.

If you are new to the whole scene, don't panic, and there are tons of help available. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Like the rest of the Internet, you are responsible for the information you provide. In other words, don't provide any vital information about you or whatever you are involved in to anyone you do not know.
  • Familiarize yourself with your IRC client of choice for commands.
  • Follow good etiquette and channel rules for an easy participation.

Common IRC clients

Now, get in there and participate in the community!

You can also reach me on IRC. My nickname is csarven.

References and Resources



2 interactions

IT-BRR’s photoIT-BRR replied on

Thanks for this nice article about the greatest time-waster of internet-times :) To me IRC is, was and ever will be _my way_ of chatting, communicating and networking. BUT: it wasted so much time in my past, that I forced myself to a limit of 30 minutes a day.