20 years of Internet Relay Chat

20 years ago, I decided to stop hacking around, join an IRC network, and make friends. I chose SlashNet because I was reading Slashdot regularly. Since I was already on their IRC server, I figured why not go legit? 20 years ago today, in the middle of the summer of 1999, I registered my nickname, deimos, on SlashNet. Over the two decades, friends have been made, been lost, disappeared to life, death, and yet a surprising number have stuck together.

I’ve been an IRC server admin, Oper, running a server, and helped figure out a business model to make it affordable for all. I’ve heard for 20+ years, IRC is dead. I’d been on chat networks for ages, my first was via VAX when in high school (long before IRC existed). Many were based on telnet, some were FidoNet, and others usenet. I joined channels to break into things and learn how to get better at it. Uusually, they were full of other young men doing stupid things like breaking into ftp servers, telco servers, war dialing, and the like. I considered it just exploring. Today, it’s considered illegal.

I thought up the nickname “deimos” because it was the other well-known moon of Mars, opposite phobos. For the longest time, I used phobos as my nickname when joining rogue networks through jump hosts and the like. In Greek Mythology, Phobos is the personification of fear of loss. And his twin brother is Deimos, the god of terror. It’s a nice coincidence, but I originally chose phobos because a past girlfriend shouted one night, “Are you from Mars? Can you do anything normal?” It was then I decided phobos was a cool nickname. And now, deimos, the alter-ego to phobos, is still going strong after 20 years.

Over time, some of these IRC networks disbanded and moved to XMPP, Slack, or Discord. I’ve used them all and found IRC still can handle outages, server rerouting, and other network interruptions fairly gracefully. It can be made fairly secure with TLS and user certificates. The original IRC interface of command line clients isn’t the most user friendly, and definitively not the most mobile operating system friendly. As expected, people have written web interfaces to the systems and other direct clients to address the “command line” challenges.

See you out there!

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