The modern uses of IRC
IRC was invented in 1988 and it was one of the first global, real-time, chat networks.
While social networks may have replaced much of the casual conversation on the Internet,
IRC still has its place. While those conversations still continue on IRC, there is a group that
routinely hangs out on IRC that should be of interest to the readers of this topic: open
source developers. Most well-maintained open source projects have a corresponding IRC
channel where at all hours, you can generally find help.
For open source projects, the two biggest IRC networks are freenode and oftc . In fact,
every major software and hardware package in this topic has a corresponding IRC channel
where you can ask for help. There are a few benefits to using IRC over other mediums. For
active channels, it is beneficial and encouraged to lurk prior to adding to the conversation.
Lurking is just passively watching the conversation. You may, and probably will, learn
something just by reading the existing conversation. Also, if you do have a problem or a
question, IRC is a real-time chat, so you potentially can quickly resolve your issue. It's also
a more informal medium than a public mailing list. If you have some trepidation about ask-
ing your question on a mailing list, IRC is the place to ask.
On freenode, the relevant channels are: #sparkfun , for general electronics questions and
to chat with some SparkFun employees and customers, #beagle , home to BeagleBone
enthusiasts, #gnupg , for GPG-related questions, and #cryptotronix , which is the au-
thor's channel about open source crypto hardware. On oftc ( irc.oftc.net ), you can check out
the #bitlbee channel for help on BitlBee or #tor to talk about Tor.
IRC, like any shared communication medium, has certain netiquette that users expect
everyone to follow. Surprisingly, there is an RFC that defines netiquette guidelines (RFC
1855). It's certainly worth a read, but you should be ok if you follow these tips. First of all,
don't ask to ask . This means, don't ask in an IRC channel if you can ask a question. You
can just ask your question directly. While there are operators in channels, IRC typically
doesn't follow the raise-your-hand-and-wait-to-be-called-on approach. Secondly, don't
flood the channel. This means not to paste a large amount of text into the channel as it will
cause all connected clients to rapidly scroll the text off of the screen. Instead, use a paste
service like that provided by Debian ( http://paste.debian.net/ ) and then paste the link in the
IRC channel, while explaining what is contained in the linked information. Lastly, be pa-
tient. As previously stated, many people lurk on IRC in the background and may not imme-
diately see your question. Depending on the time at which you asked your question, it's