”I have recently got a hold of a program called irc (Internet Relay Chat). Each machine runs its own server and the servers are linked in a tree fashion to a master server. I've only messed with it a little, but it appears to be a good program. I got it through anonymous ftp to (tolsun.oulu.fi) and have asked the author about release to the USENET. We currently have a small network of 5 machines, 2 at OSU and 3 at DU, with orion.cair.du.edu as the master server. If you get this program, you should try connecting to this network.”

source: Google Usenet archives

Back in February 1989, these words marked a starting discussion of one new useful program on the Internet. The discussion of course increased, and the users with it, but IRC has never been the right thing to cross the news threshold that well. During the past few years, messenger programs have filled this gap though, by reaching new records, new technologies, new sales of companies to even bigger ones, and new millions of dollars flying here and there. But before them, with them, and perhaps still after them, IRC is here, with many users that have outlived the dawn and dusk of technologies that came to revolutionise the internet. IRC wasn't designed for that, and perhaps just because of this, the revolution happened. Silently, slowly, but steadily, it happened.

Even without CNN making stories of it, the past few years have seen amazing growths in IRC user amounts globally. QuakeNet has seen its share as well, jumping from under 1,000 to over 70,000 simultaneous users in three years. Many other networks have jumped huge amounts as well. So what are these rising communities on the net that nobody seem to care about except their users?

Every IRC network is more or less a stronghold of the ideas that founded it. QuakeNet's plan was to have a home for a few Quake playing friends. Quake brought on the revolution of online gaming, with hundreds of new games following the same idea in various ways. Online gaming needs online communication and the players found themselves a method for this. Quake represented open ideas, anyone could run a server without a written contract with ID Software, anyone could design their own modifications, and anyone could play it online. QuakeNet and IRC both reflect this - everyone's free to choose their own client, their own channels, and their own nicknames. Both are reflections of an open way of thinking to some of us.

Some of us? Indeed, AOL Instant Messenger and its followers will probably always have users. IRC isn't the easiest to set up, it's neither colorful nor moderated by a huge company - a factor that many believe provides safety. IRC and messengers fill the gaps they both create and even as they do the same tasks, they're not competitors. Both are answers to something people need online, both reflect the fact that people have free choices in which methods to communicate online with. So are we just a generic alternative way of communicating online?

I believe IRC is a very human way of providing online communication. In QuakeNet, despite well presented claims to the otherwise, most of our operators are just normal human beings. Over here, a user can just jump on to an operator and virtually smash a chair on his or her head for a mistake made. Oh and yes - we do make mistakes. Offline, should our IRC clients ever disconnect, we're just regular people who you can actually see having a pint at a nearby pub as well - without an O: line.

This little hole between realities we call QuakeNet is really a very human place. The amounts of users may increase, the staff amount will grow and new things will be seen. It was a pretty small place when I first logged on here, but the spirit of providing a free, fun and open place for gamers hasn't changed. I can't speak on behalf of the future, but I feel that a place where operators and helpers are just users in the end has a continuing demand. Troubles ahead? Certainly, but every bump crossed is a place to learn from and every new achievement will be challenged by many. Only so long as these - very human - moods of free communication continue, can we continue.

My time of working with this great place has come to an end for now, as other areas in this magical mystery we call life seem to be begging for a change. Even as I leave now, I have no doubts that these strange people can continue on and on with the task that is the greatest of all here - being human.