Hexbyte – Tech News – Ars Technica |
Internet Relay Chat (IRC) turned 30 this August.
The venerable text-only chat system was first developed in 1988 by a Finnish computer scientist named Jarkko Oikarinen. Oikarinen couldn’t have known at the time just how his creation would affect the lives of people around the world, but it became one of the key early tools that kept Ars Technica running as a virtual workplace—it even lead to love and marriage.
To honor IRC’s 30th birthday, we’re foregoing the cake and flowers in favor of some memories. Three long-time Ars staffers share some of their earliest IRC interactions, which remind us that the Internet has always been simultaneously wonderful and kind of terrible.
Hexbyte – Tech News – Ars Technica | Lee Hutchinson, Senior technology editor
June 20, 1995 was the day I logged onto the Internet for the very first time.
It wasn’t my first time being “online”—as a veteran of the 713 BBS scene, I was well acquainted with the world behind my modem—but “the Internet” was a thing about which I had only the vaguest of understandings. However, thanks to a NetCruiser account (handed out gratis by Netcom to Babbage’s employees like me so that we’d be more likely to recommend the service to net-hungry customers), I found myself eagerly confronting the Internet of mid-1995. To my BBS-trained provincial self, it seemed almost impossibly vast.
NetCruiser was an all-in-one package that bundled together clients for email, telnet, finger, FTP, IRC, and the nascent World Wide Web into a single Windows application. It also came with its own dial-up TCP/IP stack, eliminating the need to screw around with Trumpet Winsock or its contemporaries. You simply typed in your NetCruiser account name and password and the application did the rest, dialing into the closest Netcom POP and handing you an IP address. It was kind of a middle ground between the walled gardens of AOL and CompuServe and the free-for-all of a direct university connection—there were some training wheels, but it was the actual-for-real Internet.
Clicking around on that long ago June afternoon, I found myself drawn to IRC. I had no idea what “Internet Relay Chat” was, but I assumed that I could talk to other people. Clicking NetCruiser’s IRC button brought up a list of channels on EFNet (though this was before IRC’s Great Split, and you could join other networks if desired), and that list was bewildering indeed.
But what to talk about? There were so many channels! Some were obvious (#sex seemed like it probably contained what it said on the tin), while some were inscrutable and lacked channel descriptions. One near the top of the list jumped out at me—#descent. I was a rabidly outspoken fan of Parallax’s six-degrees-of-freedom space shooter, and the chance to chat with other Descent players seemed jaw-droppingly awesome. We could talk about strategy and tactics! We could talk about that damned level seven boss! Oh, this was going to be amazing!
Eagerly, I clicked and joined the channel. NetCruiser’s IRC interface came up, with a layout similar to most graphical IRC clients—a participant list on the left, message window center, and a text entry field at the bottom. I typed my first words into the channel, anticipating that I would soon be talking to dozens of new friends.
There was a moment of silence, and then something odd happened. The channel went blank. The list of users disappeared, and NetCruiser politely played the Windows alert chime through the speakers. At the