Internet Relay Chat (IRC) is one of the most popular and most interactive services on the Internet. Sure, the Web is nice for finding info and E-mail beats snailmail hands down, but when you”ve been wondering ”where the others are?”, then IRC is what you”re looking for.

IRC is the net”s equivalent of CB radio. But unlike CB, Internet Relay Chat lets people all over the world participate in real-time conversations. IRC is where the Net comes alive!

Using an IRC client (program) you can exchange text messages interactively with other people all over the world. Some of the more popular chat clients are mIRC, IceChat, and Virc for Windows and Homer or Ircle for Mac”s. What program you use doesn”t really matter; all of them connect to the same chat networks. When logged into a chat session, you “converse” by typing messages that are instantly sent to other chat participants.

Meeting people. IRC is great fun and you”ll sure meet lots of interesting people and find nice spots to hang out! But, IRC is not something that you should just jump into without first reading up on it. You could feel very lost if you do not know some basic commands before you enter IRC, and you might not even know how to get out of IRC after that) So, we suggest you read some documentation (help files, readmes, FAQs etc) before you get connected to an IRC server, or it can be very frustrating for you when you get stuck. No worries, all info you need is available on IceChat”s web pages and… IceChat makes things really simple!

How to use IRC.

As in life -and CB radio- not all those chatters have something interesting to say, but some do, and many people have developed lasting friendships through IRC. Even marriages have resulted from relationships first forged on IRC. In fact, some people have become so addicted to chatting on the Internet that there”s a Usenet newsgroup entitled alt.irc.recovery.

The value of IRC depends on how you use it. IRC can keep you company when you can”t sleep, contribute to family togetherness and cut your phone bill. It also can expose you to unpleasant behavior. Chats can get wild and woolly, and anyone (male or female) who takes on a female persona is likely to be hit on. There is indeed a great deal of sextalk, sleaze and garbage on IRC, and one should exercise caution in allowing children to access the IRC without supervision. But, as an adult, you are free to visit only the channels you choose, and there is also a great deal of positive communication going on.

IRC gained international fame during the Gulf War in 1991, where updates from around the world came accross the wire, and most irc users who were online at the time gathered on a single channel to hear these reports. IRC had similar uses during the coup against Boris Yeltsin in September 1993, where IRC users from Moscow were giving live reports about the unstable situation there.

As you see, Internet Relay Chat is a great way to talk to people from all over the world about anything at all. On top of the latest world news there are many help related and tech support channels where you can get immediate assistance with perplexing computer related problems on the spot and in easy to read typewritten form!

What you need now.

You need an IRC client now to connect to an IRC server, and give IRC a try. There are several clients available… what program you need depends on what Operating System you use. IceChat is an IRC client developed for Windows. When you use UNIX, DOS, OS/2, or a Macintosh you will need some other client.

How to get started.

Unlike the World-Wide Web, which first-time users can pick up quickly, Internet Relay Chat may seem difficult the first time you log on. Once you”ve mastered a few basic commands, however, IRC becomes very easy to use.

Logging on. Just like you need a Web browser like Netscape or MS Internet Explorer to use the World Wide Web, you need an IRC client to connect to an IRC server. Once you have downloaded and installed an IRC client you can log on to some IRC server and talk away. The first thing you”ll want to do is choose a nickname; everyone on IRC uses one. People will soon recognize you by your nick, or even search for your nickname on IRC. Choose your nick with care; it will be the virtual -you-.

Finding a channel. It is not uncommon for an IRC server to have dozens, hundreds or even thousands of chat channels open simultaneously. There are some more or less permanent channels, but others come and go. Although a channel”s name usually reflects the general nature of the conversation within, each channel can also have a specific topic. Channel names tend to remain constant, while topics change continuously. For example, in a channel called “PC Users” the topic might be “Windows 95 Bug Fixes” one day and “How to Choose a High Speed Modem” the next day.

You”ll notice that all channel names begin with #. One popular and longstanding channel, for instance, is #chat. If you decide to wade in, just type: ”/JOIN #chat” and voila, you”re in. Type in some greetings and you”ll see them appear on screen, along with whatever everyone else types. You”ll probably feel lost at first, since you”re popping in on a conversation that”s already in progress. In fact, several conversations may be going on at once.

It would be great if you could get a list of all those channels containing only the funny, witty and wise, but you can”t. Instead, you have to use the ”/LIST” command, which lists all public channels, the number of users on each and a topic description for those that provide it.

Channel topics are set by the person who creates or moderates the channel, called the channel operator or ”op”. Chat participants can exchange ideas about common interests, making chat sessions an ideal means to hold forums and group discussions. For example, many businesses now hold scheduled chat sessions, wherein customers can chat with company representatives about a new product, or exchange technical information and advice.

On IRC many people can simultaneously participate in discussions over a channel or even multiple channels. There are no limits to the number of people who can join a discussion and there is no limit to the number of channels that can be made. You are only limited by your typing speed. IRC can be fun and informative and is rapidly becoming one of the most popular areas of the Internet. And IRC will undoubtedly evolve over the next year or two with advancing technology…

Private Conversations. The conversations are not limited to whats is going on on channels. You can have private conversations at the same time! If, lets say, you want to speak to Speedy privately, you can send him a message, as follows: ”/MSG Speedy What do you say we hide in privacy for awhile?”. The /MSG will open a private conversation to Speedy. Nobody can interfere in your private chitchat now ! In my view, private conversations are one of the handiest things about IRC.

Aside from meeting new people, then, IRC is also good for saving on phone bills, holding conferences or practicing a foreign language. If you”re in New York and your former college roommates are in Boston, Dallas and Seattle, you can make an IRC date, set up your own IRC channel and even use /NOTIFY to be informed when they log onto IRC so you can /INVITE them into your private channel!