This may be in the realm of “old hybrid yell at cloud,” but it’s something that I started to feel more strongly after having to deal with a bunch of different messaging clients over the last few weeks. Using Slack, Telegram, Discord and Microsoft Teams reminded me that a lot of the frustration I was feeling I didn’t experience back in the days of Internet Relay Chat (IRC).
The underlying technology of IRC was pretty minimal. You had IRC servers (which might be networked together to provide multiple servers for backup or to optimize by geographic region), IRC clients that would connect to the servers to send and receive messages, and IRC services which provided functionality on top of the base IRC specification.
IRC worked in a very similar way to most chat services you’re familiar with today; in fact, Slack started out as an IRC-compatible service you could connect a compliant IRC client to to chat within Slack organizations.
IRC had a lot of IRC clients, build on different styles of interaction. There were classic terminal-based clients, web-based clients and GUI clients that wouldn’t be confusing to someone who was used to using Slack, complete with Channels that start with # and user DMs that use @.
Starting an IRC server and logging it is really cheap, a $5/mth DigitalOcean VPS will happily run a IRC server and handle a couple hundred users. Functionality wise it wouldn’t be different than what Slack or Microsoft Teams offer. In a way, they’ve managed to take something really basic, make it prettier, and then charge way more for it.
For me, I dislike all the added complexity of integrations and the noisy visual style of Slack and Teams and would be happy with a simpler client, but I doubt we’ll go back to IRC again. In the world of overly-complex and noisy chat tools the prize would have to go to Discord. It’s interface and way of presenting content takes a lot of effort to fine-tune to the point where it’s anywhere near useful. It seems the developers felt that people would want to be hyper-aware of EVERY SINGLE MESSAGE anyone ever sent. A slimmer and more basic UI would make my Discord experience infinitely better.
If you’re someone who’s never gotten to experience IRC. Anthrochat is still up and running, and I’d recommend it as a good way to try out IRC and see how a similar networked chat tool can operate. It’s not got a lot of traffic these days (less than 50 users last I checked), so it’s hard to say how long it will remain online, so enjoy the bit of history while you can.