N Things I Miss About IRC

mIRCIf you cut your cyber-teeth on MySpace and Facebook, you probably won’t recognize the face of Khaled Mardam-Bay. For millions (yes, millions) of us, though, he is the Zuckerberg of the 20th century (that’s where the IRC generation comes from), and IRC is where we took our first cyber-steps. You may want to hit Google and do some digital archeology to find out about IRC in general and mIRC in particular. Meanwhile, I just want to list down all the things that IRC meant to us, the generation that was exhilarated when we upgraded from a Hercules to a CGA monitor. So join me as I reminisce about life online in the last decade… after the nag screen.
mIRC Nag Screen

  • IRC was the real social networking medium

    Facebook, to me, is a collection of friends and family I already know. I hesitate before adding a total stranger as a friend on Facebook, unless I have interacted with that person atleast once elsewhere. On IRC, it was normal practice to chat up with complete strangers. Except the “a/s/l, m too, bye” kind of people, the majority of IRCers would be called “open networkers” in the Web2.0 lingo, always ready to strike up a mature conversation with anyone who said hi.

  • IRC had brains, not avatars

    Some of those brains were twisted and others were outright rotten, but there were a lot of healthy brains around to interact with. Instead of pretty profile pictures, university names or huge contact lists, people were judged by their nicks and their chat styles. Personal brand building did not mean adding 5000 facebook friends and going “omg-I-have-so-many-friends-that-I-need-to-delete-some!!” – it took a very slow and organic route.

  • IRC was our instant messenger

    Before ICQ and Yahoo Messenger, the (m)IRC Notify list served as the IM. You could see when your friends logged on/off and you could immediately start a DCC conversation with them.

  • IRC had social games

    There were channels dedicated to social games. You could join a multiplayer trivia game on #trivia (and curse your pathetic dialup connection) or play chess, hangman or other word games. Some scripts even kept a highscore list. The games were not as pretty or colorful as their Facebook counterparts, but they were realtime and fun!

  • IRC had peer-to-peer downloads

    Way before bittorrent and edonkey, IRC channels had people sharing files, with a complete search and download queuing system. The IRC CDCC file transfer protocol and the resume functionality was all you needed to download “stuff”. A lot of ingenious solutions were scripted out to tackle the bandwidth and computing resources of those days.

  • IRC had collaborative, crowd-sourced projects

    Most of the much-anticipated books (Harry Potter, for example) would be digitized and leaked/shared on IRC in few hours after their release. Even though not entirely legal, they were a great example of distributed collaborative projects

  • IRC was the help desk and expert-exchange

    Many firms ran their official help desks using IRC, and still do! The Facebook Developer Channel, for example, something that I find very ironic. Volunteer experts also took out the time to help out strangers on special topic channels, like #java or #c++, in realtime – for free – strange but true.

  • IRC was better than Twitter

    All you needed was to register your own channel and set its channel topic (which even had a twitter-like character limit) to tell the whole world what you were upto. Actually, private conversations and public broadcasts over IRC were a lot more convenient than twitter.

  • IRC had real-time citizen journalism

    News about natural and man-made disasters usually reached IRC before the professional media, and at times, people actually experiencing (and not merely observing) the event were the ones reporting live. Whenever an important incident occured somewhere, the corresponding city/country’s IRC channel immediately started filling up, and the channel used to become a news website, blog, discussion forum and press conference – all rolled into one.

  • IRC was about sharing

    I believe that today’s Web2.0/Social Media scene is driven by self-centered promotion, ego inflation or outright narcissism, and revolves around life-streaming and broadcasting yourself via your status messages. In contrast, IRC was about sharing in realtime. We shared news and infromation, we shared knowledge, we actually spent time together online, we shared ideas – we even shared dialup acccounts passwords when a frequent channel visitor was running low on dialup minutes.


PS. This is a half-finished post that was just sitting there in my drafts for the last few weeks – until Faisal Qureshi’s Facebook status prompted me to publish it in its half-written form. I have a few more things to add to it – perhaps later.

10 thoughts on “N Things I Miss About IRC”

  1. I for one still use irc mostly because its below the radar of all those trendy facebook people and you also meet people who are very well versed in the subject of the channel. Gone are those days of flooding and webcam bots and all that nonsense.

  2. Hey Aqeel, it was a status-message-turned-discussion. FQ was thinking about going back to IRC. I logged on to IRC after 5 years recently out of sheer nostalgia.
    was my regular nick on Dalnet – hence the .com
    Once an IRCer, always an IRCer

  3. oh man, i miss irc so much

    best part were the obvious keyboard commands, clicking takes way too much work

    /info (nick) so much easier than clicking on a profile name

    we need to revitalize irc!!

  4. A rebirth of IRC would certainly be fun. IRC was closer to the spirit of “Getting things done” – the new social media is certainly pretty and useful, but Web2.0 is to IRC what Windows Vista is to a shell account.
    If anyone wants to start an IRC channel, I’m game.

  5. Well, I am pretty much on IRC all day, mostly on freenode.net and zoite.net, there aren’t any locals though.

    Let me know if you find a place to hang out.

  6. In “my days”, we used to hang out on DALNET – I think dalnet attracted a lot of pakistani crowd perhaps because it used to be the default server in the server list in those days (there were no A,B or C servers)
    You can still find around a few hundred pakis there on #lahore/#pakistan/#lums etc. though what we really need is a mature #pakistan2.0

  7. Finish the article as it is so true – IRC was a fantastic place and still is.

    I am usually on Mibbit these days since AKARadio moved there from enterthegame.net

    I was on Enterthegame before due to my cousin in the now-mostly-idle #neocron support channel.

    Also, #trivia is something I have played as recently as 6 months ago. I haven’t been on IRC for a few months now, and want to get back to the well-versed minds that exposed me to the wonderful things found on the web about this world.

    Trawling through hundreds of inane tweets and facebook statuses to find a few gems is a pain, but that being said, sometimes it is nice to see if a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while seems a bit out of character and needs a bit of cheering up. A “hello, how’s things? wanna go for some shisha?” due to FB or Twitter doesn’t do people too much harm 🙂

  8. Hey guys.
    It saddens me that the article is in Past Tense… IRC may not be as popular as in 90s and early 2000s but is still very much alive.
    I don’t have anything to do with IT but still got involved in projects like OpenBSD or EKG2 cause of irc, blimey, i learned how to code cause of irc 😉 I’m a Freenode and IRCnet regular since mid 90s and you can see that then there would be 2-3-4k people on the channel, but looking now there is
    15:18 -!- Irssi: #freenode: Total of 634 nicks [1 ops, 0 halfops, 31 voices, 602 normal] … That’s still impressive. Same with help channels, There is a few dozens of ‘regulars’ and every now and again someone comes with a question (like on #mac, #help etc..) and you get to know those people, and you help 😉
    I went home (150k town) for christmas, and I said on my local IRC channel (we all know each other for years!) that i’m coming and lets go out for a drink. We had a 40 people turnout! That’s like a proper IP ( Irc Party ) :))

    So yeah, IRC may not be as popular as it once was, but the social side of it is still, and hopefully will be for a long time, very much alive! 🙂

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