timothy falconer's semantic weblog
Big Fractal Tangle

irc street corners

I’m surprised more people don’t use IRC. This might sound nuts to those of us that do, since we rightly think too many people already use IRC, but given the number of people that use the web, that use instant messenging, that read and write blogs, I’m surprised the number of IRC networks, channels, and users isn’t much higher.

Tonight I explored Search IRC, which is pretty useful resource. The numbers are fascinating. Over a million users, connected by 7000 servers, forming 600,000 channels on 1500 networks. Have a look at the network stats. Four IRC networks with 70,000+ users: QuakeNet, EFnet, Undernet, and IRCnet. Pretty amazing when you think of all those lines of text zinging around, holding it all together.

It’s fun to search *all* the channels, across all of IRC. How many “Java” channels are there? Fifteen. How many “photography”? Twenty-three. Type in “semantic” and I find a channel I’ve never heard of called #tml, discussing shirky’s pipe-dream article. Of course, some networks and channels are better than others. I’m liking the freenode network. It’s a pretty quiet neighborhood for developers.

But there’s nothing like #riskybus, #chaos, and the other trivia games. If you haven’t played these, have a look. I must admit, I’m captivated by these games. Also cool are the scratchpad applications. There’s real value to IRC as a kind of shared real-time community, particularly with useful bots to help us do our work.

The other day I joked that IRC was the best development platform I’ve ever used. Chatting with our developers in Canada, Russian, and the UK, I routinely type out my feature requests and then magically the code gets written the next day. “This is the best IDE I’ve ever used!” Having a commonly accessible record of our conversations is a real bonus, as is our ever-evolving wiki, which serves as a repository of links and research. My sense is there’s real opportunity in this space.

I guess the question is: what can we do with IRC bots? I’ve been experimenting with Pircbot for a few weeks, trying to think up new uses. What kind of social interaction will we be taking for granted in three years that we haven’t seen yet?

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