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Random rantings and such

IRC revival - irc.com / ircv3 - Why?

by Dan August 9 2018 10:19AM 2 years, 118 days ago

Where to start with this one? I guess I'll start with the premise: I'm saddened by the renewed interest in reviving IRC to its former glory. Things in the computer world seemingly are simply not allowed to die. They exist as bits, and can live forever. All they need is someone to tinker with them a bit to carry them into the next generation. It's hard for me to look at that as a bad thing in general. I'm pretty happy about that for the most part. Where as in the real world things rot, rust, and turn to dust. And that can be sad. But something new replaces it every time. How many human beings would exist on planet Earth if humans did not age past their prime? Would it be a good thing if there were 50 billion people here right now? Your family and friends might live forever but we would all be starving and drowning in a sea of humans. I'm not sure end result is positive. Ok, getting off topic here.

I probably started using IRC in 1995 or so, I can't remember exactly. I found discovered it during my first access to the internet, like many peoples back then, free AOL trial. Those things just came in your mailbox, and now you had a month of free internet, provided you owned a computer, modem and a phone. My family was not on board buying into the internet yet, and my main source of networking fun was still BBS's. So anyways yeah, I'm on AOL, feeling trapped in the walled garden that is/was AOL. Started searching for chat outside that. Discovered mIRC somehow, and ended up finding my way to IRCNet. Probably because its name literally began with IRC, I assumed it was the main place to be. It turned out it was basically just the most lawless and ruthless network out there in the IRC world, but that was amusing back then.

screenshot IRC, etc

I ended up in a channel named #Star69, dont remember how or why. Might have just typed it in, since I believe it was always a +s channel and therefore not in the channel listing. But regardless, it was full of people, from all over the globe. All carrying on with conversations. Mostly people my age or college age. It was not a large room, only maybe 20 regulars that came and went. This was dialup days, you weren't just connected 24/7 all the time like you are now. I made some friends there that to this day I still chat with. I got a lot of people I knew into IRC. Learned a lot from the friends I made on there. It was a great place. And at the time it had a lot to offer. And to this day if your going to run a giant chatroom, for whatever purpose, your going to need the fine grained ability to manage it that the various IRCDs offer.

Of course the WWW was taking over everything back then as well. And forum's quickly became the "new hotness". And it was hard to argue that it wasn't a more accessible platform. Access from anywhere, no need to be connected 24/7 if you wanted to be kept in the conversation, moderators had more abilities then they would have on IRC, your message history is there until someone scraps the forum. I was a member of a lot of automotive forums, and there was no comparable place on IRC. I don't know there ever could have been. But I hated forums for one simple reason: they were predominately used like chat software. Here you are, 1 full page of this forum conversation, probably took 15 seconds to load, and in 20 posts on this page it has about 200 words of content on it. It was ridiculously wasteful, that would have occupied half a page on my IRC client, and the irrelevant banter would happily scroll away soon. Of course on IRC, the entire conversation would scroll away soon, relevant or irrelevant, so hopefully you turned logging on if you ever want to refer to it again. Forum had you covered, you just hit the search box, clicked on the link to your old posts or started threads, etc.

And then a few companies started buying every automotive related forum in existence, and it was just a mess. Was an easy sell for people because the software could not cope with the volume of traffic they were seeing, and they were having to sink real money into the hardware. If that 90%+ nonsense content had been relegated to coming and going like it does on IRC, with a minimal protocol like IRC, they probably could have hosted their service at home. But it grew too big, and needed to much power to carry on, and companies wanted the forums user base to advertise at. Built-in forum searches all over had to get replaced with google search box, that just told google to search their specific site. It was and is pretty embarrasing really.

Then there were plenty of other chat services. AIM (aol), Yahoo, ICQ, etc. You preferably had an account everywhere, in case you came across that person whos only willing to chat with you via whatever specific protocol. I don't recall that back then, any of them stored message history, nor did they even store messages while you were offline. Eventually AIM stored messages for you while offline. So yeah originally you still needed this always on connection to receive messages. So it was not better than IRC in that aspect.

About 8 years or so ago, maybe 10, I tried to start-up a new IRC network that would connect to all the automotive forums out there. Someplace the banter could go, that could just be hosted as a webchat on the forum, or connected to with an IRC client of your choosing, whichever. I didn't expect to get far with that endeavour, because of trying to convince forum owners to make it happen. But I did sink a bunch of time into building a more modern network. Pulling up chat history upon entering the room was standard, so you could jump right in to the discussion. At the time by bot, but I think the intention was to write a service that could portray itself as all the users in the conversation history, so it looked perfectly natural in the IRC client. I remember trying to convince the ircd-seven developers on FreeNode to abandon the 512 character limit on posts, at least in a way where compatible clients could create non-standard rooms where this behaviour was allowed. That to me was step 1 into the future, without it nothing else mattered. Instead of that becoming the way forward, the already accepted approach continued, pastebin's and URL shorteners. Those things exist quite literally because of the deficencies of IRC.

I remember back in those days trying to share something like a preplanned map route URL from google maps, that URL just on a line all by itself could break the bank. Mind you IRCs character limit is based on the full behind-the-scenes command being sent. The 512 character limit was an ever changing limit, in reality based on the length of the senders user@host, the length of the target channel name/nick, and then finally the message itself. Every room you were in and every target you sent to, technically had its own messsage size limit. Its hard for that to get more absurd. I thought about undertaking it myself, and patching a few select linux clients to work with the new behaviour. But if nobody was interested in making it a standard, then I wasn't really interested in learning a bunch of new code bases, and tracking down all the hidden references to character limits, just to make my tiny empty network more useful.

member berries

And now suddenly, actual cash money is being put into trying to revive IRC, funny enough still ignoring the 1 major flaw (IMHO), best I can tell. I can't help but think my entire generation is so addicted to their own past, or "member berries" as South Park would say, nothing is ever really going to change. I guess its a product of ageing, because I can't say I know a generation not like this. But it's sad none the less. I mean considering we all still use and rely on Email. I challenge anyone who thinks Email is a legit system, to piecemeal together there own working Email setup today. Go ahead, run it on your own server someplace like was intended, don't install some prebuilt Email server setup that already has all 100 steps taken care of for you, just construct it yourself. Originally that meant an SMTP server and a POP3 server. A server to send to other servers, and one to allow a client to download their messages, and your done. Thats a mess of components now, for obvious reasons. When your finished your Email server setup, you have the most insecure messaging medium that exists on the internet today. Congratulations. I'd say there has been sufficient time to go ahead and create an Email2 by now, that addresses the obvious concerns but... lipstick on a pig seems to be the preferred approach to things out here on the interwebs.

It's a true disaster, that we manage to get by on. This nonsense has driven people into the arms of facebook, google, amazon, slack, (insert mega coorporation here), who happily create newer and better services, behind their walled gardens, whilst also happily supporting the basic services that make up the internet while not improving their underlying problems. It's a win for them, they will always have a better solution to offer behind their closed doors. And you'll pay for it one way or another, via cash money or your raw data, and time while your forced to consume more ads. If the IRC revival, which is just a bunch of bandaids on top of an outdated protocol, actually succeeded in drawing in or back large numbers of users, it would be downright disastrous for progress... MUCH needed progress. LONG OVERDUE progress. We're talking about systems we've continued to use in their basic form for decades, when these systems were thought up, implemented, and in wide spread use, in a mere matter of years. That says something about how people behave now. Solutions are adopted strictly based on greed (how much $$$ its going to make you), or how many member berries your consuming. If the previous generations we're as stuck in this mentality as people are now, we wouldn't be on the internet as it is right now.

I'm going to suggest anyone still drinking the IRC kool-aid, that you let go of the obsession with the protocol, and get back to the experience. IRC once was a very decent experience, lack of markup language or ability to insert imagery etc, was not a major downside compared to a lot of the upsides. Now its massive number of downsides is just beyond silly. Using it for any other reason, then because the people your trying to talk to refuse to leave it (like when a piece of software still has nothing but a mailing list to contact with...), is just your own obsession with nostalgia. I'm completely reluctant to plug any alternatives, because it won't matter. Anyone trapped in this mindset will find anything as an excuse to keep doing as their doing. So by all means, carry on. But I'm going to plug one thing anyhow.

Matrix. This is not an off the shelf solution to replace everything you love about IRC with. It might be one day. Its one useable server implementation is not efficient, its got some thought problems in its design. But it's in progress. And most importantly Matrix is just a specification, like IRC. It's the set of rules you can go ahead and build any client or server or integration you need on top of. And it's based around being accessible, secure, modern. This is exactly the kind of project that needs to be nurtured right now. Not putting bandaids on IRC so people can continue to use their favorite IRC client that stopped being updated in 2001. So anyways, thats my plug and what I have to say about this. I'm not trying to change where you want to carry on with your chatting, I could not care less. I just want all the Kool-Aid drinkers out here to be honest with themselves about it, so there's noone actively trying to harm progress just because they love the taste of those member berries.

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