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The Enduring Value of IRC

July 24, 2012

If you're old enough to remember Windows 3.11, you may recall the earliest days of IRC:

"Internet Relay Chat (IRC) is a protocol for real-time Internet text messaging (chat) or synchronous conferencing. It is mainly designed for group communication in discussion forums, called channels, but also allows one-to-one communication via private message as well as chat and data transfer, including file sharing.

"IRC was created in 1988. Client software is available for every major operating system that supports Internet access. As of April 2011, the top 100 IRC networks served more than half a million users at a time, with hundreds of thousands of channels operating on a total of roughly 1,500 servers out of roughly 3,200 servers worldwide."

Back then, I spent considerable time on efnet and undernet IRC servers. I had a shell account running screen where I would run an IRC client, and connect to any IRC servers that I was interested in. Later on, when I worked at IBM, I took advantage of two IRC channels (#linux and #aix) that ran on the internal IBM network. It was a wonderful resource. When I couldn't figure out something on my own, when I really needed help, I had quick and easy access to technical experts.

Would you like quick and easy access to technical experts? A few years ago I suggested that using IRC was one way users could keep current on AIX technology. Since writing that, social media has taken off -- I know I've come to rely on Twitter. And of course today's instant-messaging (IM) clients, with their video conferencing capabilities, are light years beyond IRC in terms of function. (And the IM evolution is certainly ongoing.)

 Nevertheless, I stand by what I said in 2008: IRC is a valuable tool. It still is.

So get an IRC client. Try connecting to irc.freenode.net. Then try connecting to ##aix. Now, I recommend lurking awhile before you jump into the channel and blurt out all your (tech-centric) problems. The effort though is worth it, because ##aix can put you in touch with a world of talented AIX pros who are willing to help.

I like IRC's immediacy. You're not continually checking forums to see if someone replied to the question you posted. This is realtime communications. Keep in mind, however, that the inhabitants of ##aix are essentially volunteers. Don't get impatient if you don't receive an immediate response. Wait a few minutes. Wait a half hour if need be. This isn't anyone's full-time job. Just remember that you're accessing a worldwide audience of techies. No matter the hour, someone is out there. Odds are you'll get help if you just wait. And even if there's no one who can address your specific issue, sometimes it's just nice to exchange ideas with another person who can provide a perspective different from your own.

I've always liked the IRC environment. I find comfort in the old-school feel. I enjoy the off-topic conversations. I like the relationships that develop over time -- and if you do stay connected to a channel and get to know folks rather than simply join and bolt once your question's been answered, you will make some new friends.

If you've never used IRC, I encourage you to give this "old" technology a try. And if you have or do use it, please share your thoughts in Comments.

Posted July 24, 2012 | Permalink

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