Yakkity yakkity yak...on IRC, the conversation never stops.

Arguments

Love

Heartbreak

Gossip

A complete waste of time

Familiar though the above may sound, we're not talking about your life here - we're talking about IRC, an acronym that inflates into Internet Relay Chat or, as those of us in the know like to dub it, Incredibly Retarded Communication ;-)

And strangely enough, it also happens to be the topic of today's newsletter - what a weird and wonderful coincidence ;-)

For those of you who have no clue what's going on, allow us to explain - Internet Relay Chat is a form of communication which allows you to chat with people from all over the world via your Internet connection.

Why is this different from e-mail, you ask?

Well, unless you're one of the fortunate few, you know that e-mail doesn't always get replied to instantly - as a matter of fact, sometimes you never get a reply [we're happy to tell you that this is one sin we've never been guilty of ;-)]

IRC, on the other hand, allows you to communicate in real-time - that is, type your message in and receive a reply immediately from other users who might be watching their terminals at the same time. And so, it's the perfect medium of communication for parents worrying about their darling daughter studying at the other end of the world, for business conferences between smugglers on two different sides of an international border, and for digital Romeos who can't breathe without their equally nebulous Juliets.

IRC was originally written by Jarkko Oikarinen, and is defined as "a multi-user, multi-channel chatting network, which allows people all over the Internet to talk to one another in real-time." A functional replacement of the old 'talk' protocol, it does everything 'talk' used to do, but better: it allows more than 2 users to talk at once, with access across the aggregate Internet, and a bunch of other useful thingammyjigs.

Since it helps to know that language of the natives, let's get familiar with the terminology first.

IRC is based on a client-server architecture [try saying that when looking deeply into her eyes after a romantic dinner ;-)]

The server: As we've told you before, a server is a system whose purpose is to "serve", or make available, data as and when requested by another system, popularly known as a "client". An IRC server allows IRC clients to connect and communicate with each other via the server, such that a message sent by one client is relayed by the server to all other clients connected to that server.

IRC servers come in all shapes and flavours - the most common one on the UNIX platform is ircII, but you'll find versions for Windows too, if you dare to look!

The client: An IRC client is an application that allows you to communicate with the IRC server and with other clients connected to that server. This is an environment used to communicate, join and leave channels, query other users and perform various other interesting tasks.

There are a variety of IRC clients available - if you're using the Windows platform, the most popular is easily mIRC, a piece of software that brings point-and-click simplicity to the arcane commands of IRC.

Every IRC user is identified by a nickname, abbreviated in IRC lingo as 'nick'. This nick is the name you are known by on IRC, so feel free to be creative!

Two users on the same IRC server cannot have the same nick. If this happens, you'll see a message screaming "nick collision imminent!" - that's a polite way of asking you to try a different nickname.

Every IRC server has chat rooms - so-called "channels", devoted to topics ranging from the useful to the truly frightening. Technical and political discussions are common, especially when important world events [like Zippergate, we wonder?] are in progress. Most conversations are in English, but there are always channels in German, Japanese, French, Finnish, and occasionally other languages. It's not uncommon for a single IRC server to have a few thousand channels - new ones keep popping up every minute, and there's something for everyone.

Channel names usually begin with a hash [#] - if you're new to IRC, we suggest you try #newbies, a forum that usually exists on every server, and is meant for kind-hearted souls to help excited beginners get to grips with IRC.

If you're a computer geek, try channels like #windows or #linux

If you're looking for friends in your locality, try #countryname - for example, #india, #bombay or #london

If you're bored, try channels like #funfactory or #theclub.

If your hormones are getting the better of you, try #sex - you need to know that channels such as these are often offensive, and are not suitable for minors. Try them at your own risk! ;-)

Every channel has one or more operators or "ops", identified by the @ sign before their nicknames - these are the channel administrators, who monitor the channel for offensive activity, and either "kick" offenders off, or "ban" them from the channel.

Now here's an interesting question - how do you obtain the names of the three thousand eight hundred and seventy-six channels on the server you've connected to?

Well, most IRC clients allow you to communicate with the IRC server via a list of in-built commands. Here's our top ten:

/help - the IRC equivalent of yelling for Mommy!

/nick doofus - changes your nickname to 'doofus'

/server irc.dal.net - connect to IRC server 'irc.dal.net'

/list - lists all channels on the server currently connected to

/join #newusers - join channel called 'newusers'

/part #newusers - leave channel called 'newusers'

/whois babe69 - displays information on the user known as 'babe69'

/msg babe69 Hi, sweetheart! - sends a private message to babe69 containing the words "Hi, sweetheart!"

/away Just lost my mind! - displays the message "Just lost my mind!" to indicate that you are away from the computer

/quit - end the IRC session

A more complete list of IRC commands may be obtained by consulting the documentation that came with your IRC client. Or, in case the thought of memorizing all these / thingummies makes your head spin, simply download and install a graphical IRC client - mIRC at http://www.mirc.co.uk, for example, uses the familiar Windows interface and toolbars to help you perform all these tasks by clicking colourful icons and menu items.

Our personal point of view, though - if you're a power user, you should know the basic commands listed above, so that no matter which IRC client you're using, or which platform you find yourself on, you have zero trouble navigating your way through IRC servers and channels - not to mention the adoring looks you'll get from the girls...

Now that you know the language, let's take you through the procedure of getting connected to an IRC server. It's pretty simple - but that doesn't mean you shouldn't take notes:

User gets connected to the Internet, and fires up the IRC client.

User enters details such as nickname and IRC server name [most IRC clients come with an extensive list of available IRC servers]

User hits the connect button

User waits patiently while client connects to IRC server

User has almost fallen asleep, when he is suddenly drop-kicked out of drowsiness by what seems like garbage flowing across the screen, but is actually the server welcoming him to IRC.

User watches as a small list of available channels automagically pops up [mIRC does this - your IRC client may not. In this case, use /list to list all available channels]

User types /join #hotstuff, and watches screen in eager anticipation, rubbing hands together in glee.

User types "Hello, anyone interested in some hot stuff?" in channel and waits with bated breath, heart pounding.

User is promptly kicked offline by channel operator, with the cryptic message "This channel is meant for serious discussion of the El Nino effect and how it will affect grain production in Canada - go away, pervert!"

User scratches head in bewilderment, and decides to call it a day!

As you can see, IRC offers a speedier method of communication as compared to email - although the downside is that you'll have to sift through twice as much garbage to get to the meat of the topic. And with instant messaging [ICQ and its clones] quickly catching on, the volume of chatter confronting today's Netizens is simply going to increase. That's progress for you - two steps forward, one step back...

And that, ladies and gentlemen, concludes this issue of The HITG Report ;-)

Till next time, stay healthy!

This article was first published on 01 Mar 1999.