With major steps being made by IM programs like Skype, it’s easy to think that the once-populated world of internet chatrooms has come to an end. While it’s true that it’s definitely past its prime, there are still chatrooms out there that see a lot of use. The majority of these rooms utilise what’s called ‘IRC’, a technological standard used to create and run chatrooms online.

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‘IRC’ stands for ‘Internet Relay Chat’, and it has been a part of the internet since 1988. While its prime was around the mid-2000s, the top 100 IRC servers in 2011 dealt with approximately 500,000 users. In short, it’s old; but it’s certainly not dead!

One of the bigger elements of IRC that draws people is the sense of community. IM services are very good for connecting with friends and family, but that’s where their usefulness stops. IRC heavily focuses on creating a chatting experience between yourself and people around the world, rather than those you already know.

It’s not just general chatter, however; the idea behind IRC is that people connect through to a central IRC server. From that server, there are multiple ‘rooms’ which users can join. Each ‘room’ has a theme or a topic which is discussed within that room. For a simpler time imagining how IRC works, imagine if the server is like a giant conference centre containing hundreds of different rooms. If you wanted to discuss computing, you take a look at the rooms within the conference centre and find the one where the topic is computers. Then you enter that room and chat with the people already there.

So, how do you enter these rooms?

First of all, you’re going to need to find the channels you want to connect to. Have a little moment to think about the sort of topics you wouldn’t mind meeting with strangers about, and then look for places that accommodate your interests.

How do you look for those rooms? There are many places where you enter a search term and are displayed a list of rooms that match your terms. One of the more powerful ones is the Kiwi IRC search, which goes through multiple IRC servers to find a room that matches your terms. So, how do you use it?

First, you go to the website. There, you’ll see this:

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In the box, you want to enter the topic you want to talk about.

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Then, after you click the magnifying glass button, you’ll be taken to a list of channels.

Tomorrow, in part 2 of this article, I’ll show you how to find a channel and start chatting.

~ Simon