Happy 30th IRC

in technology •  4 months ago

Before the age of the Internet flourished, communication came in a handful of protocols. The earliest forms were the

  • Electronic mail, or e-mail (for kids who don't know what the e stands for).
  • Networks news aka Usenet aka net news aka newsgroups, a gigantic worldwide distributed bulletin board system.
  • World Wide Web, or WWW, no need to explain what that is.

Although communication had different flavors, it was either limited to one way exchange of information, for example with the WWW you can only read what the author wrote but can't initiate a dialogue about it, or communication had delays and exclusivity, like with e-mails (mainly limited to universities and corporations, there was no Gmail or Yahoo Mail at that time), or with Usenet (you could have discussions about tens of thousands of topics, however the responses were delayed and servers propagated the information once every 24h or so). Imagine Tweeting and reading replies once a day! Those were the days when the Internet was still a baby.

The Internet was missing a good means of communication...

T'was the summer of 1988, around the end of August, when Jarkko Oikarinen invented IRC, the Internet Relay Chat. For a brief history, http://www.irc.org/history_docs/jarkko.html. The IRC protocol brought a milestone innovation: real time messaging backed by a worldwide distributed network. This powerful combination allowed users to interactively chat in the form of text using a client->server->client scheme (hence the servers relay the chat). The chat was done in channels (they started with a hashtag #), anyone could start their own channel(s), set them to be private, keyed or hidden. User permissions was flexible and order could be maintained by a hierarchy of channel mods, operators and/or server administrators.

IRC didn't have a file transfer mechanism, however clients had the DCC protocol (Direct Client-to-Client) allowing direct messaging (not relayed by the servers) and file transfers. In no time, IRC replaced the BBS (Bulletin Board Service) which could be expensive when communicating and sharing files with people across the globe (the phone bills climbed fast), whereas IRC was powered by the Internet, significantly cheaper with no boundaries.

IRC evolved through the years, adding encryption, IPv6, extra modes and additional commands. IRC was also scriptable, which gave tremendous flexibility for client scripts/skins, and automation with robots (aka bots, for kids who don't know what a bot stands for).

Peer-to-peer

IRC was the precursor to P2P file sharing. In fact, file sharing via IRC was buzzing with all kinds of files imaginable, ranging from porn to mp3 to warez. There were hurdles in this process though, the speeds were largely limited by the slowest user and DCC server availability, e.g. running a DCC server 24/7, and waiting for your turn in the queue to download a file after the guys with the slow 14.4k modems! Later on, files started to be mainly hosted on (secret) FTP sites; those had their share of government crackdowns and busts, which later led to the peer-to-peer networks for better security and anonymity to a certain extent, Napster and the TOR network being the pinnacles of that evolution.

IRC Legacy

Without a doubt, I consider IRC to be the grand-daddy of all modern social media and file sharing. We owe it the chat, the hashtag, P2P file transfers, bots. Without these wonderful things inherited from IRC we wouldn't have Skype, Shitter, Assbook, AIM, Discord, Slack, etc. There are less IRC servers than before, but the community is still alive and well. Old school users, like myself, call it home. I've had my mIRC client running for nearly 25 years. I prefer IRC for its simplicity, high flexibility, open source and speed. I was actually considering running an IRC server for Steemians, but I abandoned the idea because everyone is seduced by the fancy GUI's of Discord, Rocket.Chat, Slack, etc.

I like IRC because it stood the test of time. Anything older than 30 years by Internet standards may be considered archaic or defunct; any of you remember Gopher, WAIS, Archie, or BBS? IRC survived and gave birth to the modern wonderful technologies easy to use and hard to resist. They all sprang from the universal human desire to communicate in real time, and IRC allowed that on a massive global scale.


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There are many weaknesses in the IRC-protocol, particularly that every server admin efficiently is a superuser in the network. This was probably the root cause of the bit split between IRCNet and EFNet. The total amount of IRC users continued climbing after the split, but the percentage of total Internet users using IRC started falling rapidly after this. Then we got commercial silos ... it's terrible, like I have 5-6 different chat applications on my telephone, many of them connected to chat networks that are unavailable from the laptop, and yet I cannot even connect to my wife even as she's at completely different chat networks than me... :-(

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Anyone can run their own IRCd server/network, if superusers was a concern, the code is open source. Also, many users migrated from EFNet to LinkNET because it had native SSL, very much appreciated for security. Later on, a Blowfish client addon became another option for encryption regardless if the server was using SSL or not.

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Today it's not so much a problem, as all IRC clients easily can connect to as many servers/network as necessary - but we're dropping the "relay" part and "network" part if everyone is supposed to run their own standalone server or their own small network.

Back in 1996 it was a also a huge practical problem for the end-users as (almost?) all client software assumed there should be one and only one IRC network, after the split one had to choose what network to connect to. Being connected to both was of course physically possible, but impractical.

In a perfect network topology, there shouldn't be such a great difference between clients and servers - everyone should be able to connect to the network and relaying messages. As said, with IRC every server administrator efficiently was a super user. This meant it was non-trivial to add new servers - every new server and server admin would need to be approved and vetted by the community. That's the reason why they had to throw out the Eris server - it was too liberal on whom was allowed to connect as a server.

Reading your email how everything begun makes me to feel so old, there is so much happened between 80's and now. I love the time when everything just started, the time when our computer have had black screen and we were learning to write algorithms in schools, so we had green letters on black screen I loved it although to tell the truth did not understand much of that.

Also the time of first email, I remember I could not imagine that it is a letter but that arrives immediately to the recipient within seconds or minute just depending on the connection. Also as you mentioned correctly once we were sending large (relatively large) files to someone and it took a while but by the end of the month my mother was so crossed with us because we received a bill of 500 USD for that month!

Now I see that the history is repeating when our children while playing computer games makes us mad when we see the bills for that. Luckily, it did not happen with our son, but I hear on and off stories.

I love the stage where we are now in computer technology and the development still in process, I am very excited about that and you are right back to the roots: Cheers, Happy 30th IRC!

Twitch is keeping the IRC dinosaur going in the millions.

Hi @drakos! We are @steem-ua, a new Steem dApp, using UserAuthority for algorithmic post curation! Your post is eligible for our upvote! Thanks for your contribution, keep up the good work, and feel free to join our Discord server!

@drakos this is not the subject of your post... I'm sorry, but I forgot to thank you for supporting my post with the dragonfly photo.

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I liked it because I took a few snapshots of a dragonfly few days ago! I'll post it later.

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I'll wait for your dragonfly post!

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I started writing a series on chat networks, I still have to complete it ...

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Good old ICQ!

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What was good with ICQ? I found it very annoying that so many fled from IRC to ICQ, I saw no benefits in ICQ.

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It was another means of messaging. I used it for a while, got flooded with Filipino friends lol.

LOVED IRC! We had our own chat room in my small hometown when I was a teenager. So much happened on there!

thx for reminding me... 30 years already... am I that old... by the way: do you know when I found my name Rival? It was with ICQ some long time ago i still know my number, lol

old is gold memories .@aryaan

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