Internet Relay Chat (IRC) is an often overlooked medium of communication. I've been using IRC for several years and have found it to be a great way to collaborate and interact with other people, wherever they may be.
If you're used to traditional peer-to-peer chat systems, you may at first feel rather daunted by the unfamiliar look and feel of IRC. Once you're able to gloss over this, you will start to appreciate the true power of IRC and maybe even adopt it as your preferred chat medium.
Here is my top ten list of tips and tricks that will give you a good start on the road to becoming an everyday IRC user.
Because there are so many different IRC clients to choose from, you could easily spend a whole day trying to decide which is best. The good news is that many of them are free or available as shareware, so there is often no harm in trying them out.
For Windows platforms, I would recommend mIRC, while on Linux, XChat seems to be a firm favorite. Mac users may like to try out Snak. If you're the kind of person who prefers to work from a console, you can find BitchX or irssi available for most platforms.
Each IRC network can support thousands of users, but each user must have a unique nickname. If somebody uses your nickname while you aren't connected, you'll have no way of getting it back until they leave.
If your favorite IRC network runs a NickServ service, you should protect your nickname by registering it. Freenode is one such network that runs a NickServ service.
All you have to do is connect to the IRC network and register your current nickname by typing:
/msg NickServ register [password]
Be sure to specify a password. When you next connect to the IRC network, you can identify yourself to NickServ by typing:
/msg NickServ identify [password]
NickServ will now recognize who you are. Once you are registered with NickServ, you can do all sorts of other useful tasks, such as kicking off people who have stolen your nickname. To find out what else NickServ supports, simply type the following:
/msg NickServ help
If you want to create your own channel for discussing a particular topic, you will want to register this channel with ChanServ. This lets you keep control over who can access the channel and what rights other people can have on it. Simply create your channel by joining it:
First, make sure you are identified with NickServ; you then can proceed with registering your channel:
/msg ChanServ register #MyChannel [password]
You are now the owner of this channel and can control every aspect of it. For a full list of the commands supported by ChanServ, type:
/msg ChanServ help
There's no point typing more than you have to, and most IRC clients will help to save your finger work when it comes to typing in peoples' nicknames. Simply type the first few characters of somebody's nickname and press the Tab key. If you are using a modern IRC client, you'll see the characters expand to the full nickname of that user. If there is more than one nickname that starts with those characters, you will usually be allowed to cycle through all possible choices by pressing the Tab key repeatedly.
An IRC bot is a program that acts like an IRC client but behaves totally autonomously. These are often the slaves of the IRC world, given mundane tasks that a human would be fed up with. One particularly useful bot is ReminderBot, which reminds people to do things after a set time period. For example:
<Jibbler> Remind me in 1 hour and 30 mins to watch TV. <ReminderBot> Jibbler: Okay, I'll remind you about that on Sat May 29 20:45:28 BST 2004
One and a half hours later ...
<ReminderBot> You asked me to remind you to watch TV.
If you find an interesting web page or some such, you can paste the URL into an IRC channel, thereby spreading the word to all of your online friends. But why stop there? Why not run an IRC bot that intercepts these URLs and also publishes them on a web page? Mobibot is an IRC bot that does just that plus a whole lot more. Mobitopia uses mobibot to capture URLs in their IRC channel and place them on a web page at www.mobitopia.com/irc.jsp.
Although most IRC clients will let you apply colors and formatting to your messages, not many people bother with this. Some people take a strong dislike to such extras, so as a general rule you should avoid them unless everyone else uses them. Be aware that some channels even ban the use of colored messages and will prevent you from sending them.
If you want more people to join your newly created IRC channel, you can advertise it on a web page by including an IRC hyperlink. If a user has an IRC client installed, their web browser may let them launch their IRC client automatically if they click on an irc:// style link.
For example, if you want somebody to join your channel on the freenode IRC network, you could include the following HTML on the web page:
Join my channel!
Whether you're using newsgroups or IRC, arguing in public is only going to make you look stupid. If you have a gripe with somebody on a newsgroup, the sensible thing to do is to take it to email. With IRC, rather than arguing your point with an individual on a public IRC channel, you can take it to private messages. This relieves everyone else from your arguing, and that can only be a good thing. You can send a private message like so:
/msg Dave You can't be serious
This message will be sent only to Dave.
Virtually all IRC clients give you the option to log your chat to one or more files. This is extremely useful if you need to check back on something that was said last week or even longer ago. Keeping log files also lets you produce interesting statistics about your IRC channels, such as those produced by the Perl IRC Statistics Generator.
Paul Mutton is the author of the PircBot IRC framework and several other Java programs that can be found on his web site.
O'Reilly Media recently released IRC Hacks (July 2004).
Sample Hacks are available free online.
For more information, or to order the book, click here.
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