THL Toolbox > Community & Communication > IRC Chatting
Contributor(s): David Germano.
IRC (short for Internet Relay Chat) is a form of real-time internet chat designed to promote conversations between groups of people in discussion forums called channels. It’s a a great method for a group of people working together across geographical distances to collaborate. The basic idea is that you create “channel” which is devoted to a specific group, and then the group members subscribe to it. Each group member has a nickname.
When you open up the IRC client, you then can choose that channel and you will see a list of the nicknames of all members of that channel currently logged in listed on the left. Thus essentially you just keep the window open all day while working. It enables a type of “hive mind” approach, and is quite different than one-on-one chatting that is often done through IM programs like Google Talk, MSN Messenger and so forth. Those programs do allow you to add in other people to have multi-party chatting, but such a deliberate decision to talk to 2-3 or more people is quite different than an established community of people devoted to a specific subject who are constantly online. In addition, all discussions are archived, so that you can review discussions over many days at any point – thereby keeping a record of the community’s discussions.
In contrast to discussion forums, there are real time notifications of someone trying to get your attention – if you type the person’s nickname, their task bar will flash and a sound alert will go off. That is an important feature since you can’t stare at the screen all day watching for someone to speak to you. In addition, entry of comments is easier and simpler than a discussion forum, so more likely to be done.
It thus combines the advantages of an IM program – you can talk in real time, and call out through the Internet to get someone’s attention – with the advantages of a discussion forum – you can go back at any time and see all the previous discussions. In addition, it is focused on the notion of communities of people with common concerns and how to facilitate their collaboration.
IRC is also an open protocol, unlike AIM / Yahoo Messenger / Google Talk / MSN Messenger. Thus you can download an IRC client for any platform and choose from different clients.
How do you get involved? First, download and install an IRC client. If you're on Mac, we highly recommend Colloquy. If you use Firefox on Windows, try a chatzilla plugin that also works well. Then create a new connection to an IRC server and connect to the relevant network, and join the channel you want. For example, for THL tech, connect to irc.freenode.net, and then join the THL channel. Or rubycodejam, which is the ruby programmers in Charlottesville and Richmond.
For Pidgin, go to http://www.pidgin.im/index.php and download the installer. Then double click on the installer to install. When installing, on the "Select Components to Install", check the "shortcuts: desktop and start menu" so you will have easy access to start up the application.