Note: This post is for an assignment here at Drexel. You’re welcome to read it, but it’s a departure from the usual programming.
My first encounter with IRC likely dates back to around 2005 when I was active on a forum I’ve since left. 2007 is when it became one of the programs I almost always have open. 2007 is when I first found ZREO (Zelda Reorchestrated) and my first staff position was as a moderator in IRC (which eventually escalated to IRCOP, or basically moderator for the whole network we were on). Back then, it was very active with 30-50 people in the chat at any given time and at least half of the room’s population actually conversing. These days it’s a lot more quiet and I’m back to just being a ChanOP (channel moderator).
If you’ve never heard of IRC, I don’t blame you, but it has been around for quite some time. However, I believe it is best know in the technology fields, especially when it comes to freenode, which is one of – if not the – largest IRC network. And yet I’ve never been on it until yesterday.
Before I go in to detail about lurking on freenode – the requirement for this assignment – allow me to give you a crash course in IRC. IRC stands for Internet Relay Chat. It’s an instant messaging service similar to AIM or Google Talk/Hangouts. However, it is not nearly as feature-rich as those services. IRC is also a one-to-many chat by default: you join a channel (chat room) after connecting to a network (like freenode) and chat with a bunch of people you may or may not know about a topic. Channels are in the form of “#channelname”. If you want a one-to-one conversation, you private message a user. If the network and your client support it, you can also share files via private messaging. A more detailed read on IRC is available here.
Now, on to lurking on freenode. The first thing I decided to do was register my nick out of habit. Next was to find some rooms to join. If you want to crash Colloquy (an IRC client for OS X), doing a /join on freenode is a good way to do it. Freenode is home to over 30,000 channels covering a variety of topics. I searched for four: Apple, Linux, OpenSUSE, and WordPress. In return, I was presented with ##apple, ##linux, #opensuse-kde, and #wordpress. I joined all four. ##linux was immediately active, although not the channel with the most users. The other channels started seeing activity much later in the night.
Apparently, I managed to enter ##linux in the middle of a detailed discussion over which filesystem was superior. ext4 appeared to be the winner with strong recommendations against ext2. Because filesystem arguments weren’t heated enough, another “discussion” over the best linux distro soon followed (I think my choice of joining #opensuse-kde speaks for my preferences). Thankfully, someone had the sense to state “There’s no such thing as ‘best’ distro” and another member asking “What do you do with your computer?”. Personally, I was rather happy to see openSUSE and KDE as the recommendations for a new linux user. Ubuntu was (of course) the other popular recommendation. Hilariously this was followed by comments that could be summed up as Ubuntu isn’t a “real” linux distro and GNU was “the” Linux. After that, the conversation split in to more comments against ubuntu and why one should use ext4 over ext2.
Now, will I continue to lurk around freenode even after this assignment? Yes. It’s a giant, sometimes entertaining, network. Based on what I read in the logs from the overnight activity in #wordpress and ##apple, it’s also a very helpful network. Personally, I primarily used IRC to chat with a team I worked with remotely, specifically the ZREO Team. Now that we’ve concluded our project, my primary usage of IRC has becoming lurking. Nonetheless, it’s still quite useful for communicating with a team or getting help with something (like when you accidentally bricked a virtual machine of linux and needed it for a presentation the next day). IRC is an “old” system, but it’s one I don’t expect to disappear any time soon.