IRC user interface idea

Don’t you know this problem?

You are connected to some amount of IRC servers and you are watching a certain amount of channels.

Every IRC client I know either uses tabs or windows to separate these channels in their own context, usually providing some visual clue if there was activity in a different channel you are not currently watching.

While this metaphor probably makes a lot of sense in very busy channels, I think that consolidating every channel into one single window probably is a much better way for you to follow what’s going on and to talk back to the channels – especially when you are watching lesser populated channels.

This frees you from the burden of constantly switching channel windows (or tabs) to see what is going on.

Let’s say you are connected to and On irc1, you are connected to #channel1a and #channel1b and on irc2, you are connected to #channel2a

Now, to my knowledge, every current IRC client either uses three windows or three tabs (maybe even 5 windows/tabs because the server themselves get a window too) to represent this information. In window based clients, you can arrange all of them aside of each other, but talking to a certain channel still forces you to focus different windows.

Now with my idea, you would consolidate these channels. You would only get one window which contains all the messages from all channels.

So in the simplest incarnation, you’d probably see something like this in your chat window:

1) irc1/#channel1a [user1aa]> hi there!
2) irc1/#channel1b [user1a]> hi there!
1) irc1/#channel1a [user1ab]> hi user1aa
3) irc2/#channel2a [user2aa]> hi folks!

though you would probably understand much more easily what’s going on if the server-, channel- and user names were a bit more… well… distinct.

Of course, you could add color. You assign each channel a color, like this:

1) irc1/#channel1a [user1aa]> hi there!
2) irc1/#channel1b [user1a]> hi there!
1) irc1/#channel1a [user1ab]> hi user1aa
3) irc2/#channel2a [user2aa]> hi folks!

and if you need to, you can still color nicks.

1) irc1/#channel1a [user1aa]> hi there!
2) irc1/#channel1b [user1a]> hi there!
1) irc1/#channel1a [user1ab]> hi user1aa
3) irc2/#channel2a [user2aa]> hi folks!

Now… how to talk back?

Easy. Every channel is assigned a number for quick access. Just type /[channel number] to switch to that channel and type, then hit enter. The channel you last talked to is predefined and sticks around until you hit /[another channel number].

This feels so much an easier and more intuitive way to handle multiple connections, especially in cases where the channels you are joined are not too active, as in this way, you can easily watch everything that is going on.

Also, usually, discussions happen in intervals in different channels. You will only very rarely see the color concert I’ve shown above as usually, you have a discussion going on in one channel while the others are relatively quiet.

I’ll probably have to go and implement a proof-of-concept sometime in the future, but this feels like such a nice idea when just looking at it. Why is nobody doing it? What am I missing?

A look at my IRC configuration

It has been a while since I’ve last talked about my irc setup. Last time was when I initially started to get my feet wet in IRC. In the three years (three years already? How time passes!), I have been active in IRC to various degrees (with some large wow-related holes, but that’s a different story).

Currently, my rate of IRC usage is back to quite high levels, mostly due to #git which is a place where I actually feel competent enough to help out here and then. Also #nesvideos is fun to be in as ever.

What has changed since 2005 is my setup:

  • Whereas back then, I was mainly working on Windows, I have by now switched over to OSX, so the question of clients is raised again, but see more on that later on.
  • By IRC proxy changed from ctrlproxy to ZNC. It’s easier to configure and I’ve had much better success with that than with any other bouncer I tried. It’s the only bouncer I know so far that does the thing I need bouncers for out-of-the box: Log the channel while I’m away and replay the log when I reconnect.
  • The client has radically changed. While I stayed true to X-Chat after my switch to OSX (using X-Chat Aqua), recently, I have tried other clients as Colloquy (no light-on-dark-theme with colored nicks) and Linkinus (not offering any features making up for the commercial nature), but honestly, Mibbit works best. And it works when I’m on my girlfriend’s computer. And it even (somewhat) works on my iPod Touch. And it looks good. And it provides all the features I need. I’m of course still connecting to my bouncer, but that’s easily configured once you create an account there.

IRC is still a very techie world, but it’s such a nice way to spend time on.

First mail, then office, now IRC. What’s next?

I know that I may be really late with this, but I recently came across Mibbit, a web based IRC client. This is another instance of the recent rush of applications being transported over to the web platform.

In the early days, there were webbased email services. Like Hotmail (or the third CGI script I’ve ever written – the firewall/proxy in my school only supported traffic on port 80 and I didn’t know about tunnels, nor did I have the infrastructure to create a fitting one).

Then came office applications like Google’s offering. And of course games. Many games.

Of course there were webbased chats in the earlier days. But they either required a plugin like java or flash or they worked by constantly reloading the page where the chat is appearing on. Neither of the solution provided what I’d call a full IRC-client. And many of the better solutions required a plugin to work.

mibbit is though. It provides many of the features a not-too-advanced IRC user would want to have. Sure. Scripting is (currently) absent, but everything else is here. In a pleasant interface.

What’s interesting is the fact that so many applications can nowadays be perfectly represented on the web. In fact, XHTML/CSS is perfectly fitted to present a whole lot of data to the user. For IRC for example, there is among the desktop clients to use HTML for their chat rendering aswell.

So in case of IRC clients, both types of applications sooner or later reach the same state: Representing chat messages in good-looking HTML while providing a myriad of features to put off everyone but the most interested and tech-savy user :-)

Still. The trend is an interesting thing to note. As more and more applications hop over to the web, we get more and more independant of infrastructure and OSes. Sometime in the future, maybe we’ll have the paradise of just having a browser to access all our data and applications from wherever we are.

No more software installations. No more viruses and spyware. No more software inexplicably stopping to work. And for the developer: Easy deployment of fixes, shorter turnaround times.

Interesting times ahead indeed.

IRC Clients

When my favourite game movies site (written about it here and here) went offline last week, I ventured a look into its IRC channel to find out what’s going on.

Chatting with the guys there was so much fun that I deceided that it’s time to get into IRC after all (I never really used it before, so I did not really have a big insight into this part of the net)

Soon after this decision, I began learning the ins and outs of IRC and the first thing I did was setting up a bouncer (IRC-proxy – let’s you be logged into a channel despite your client machine being offline. Very useful for getting an overview on what happened while you were away). There are quite many available, but the only one that seems to be still maintained is ctrlproxy

If you plan on using mIRC with it, go and install the current pre-release 2.7pre2. Older versions don’t let you connect.

Next was the question which client to use.

While mIRC is nice it has two problems: a) it’s single-platform. As I’m constantly using all three of Win/Mac/Linux, a single program would be nice so I don’t have to relearn all the shortcuts for each platform. b) It does not look very polished and cannot be made to do so.

Klient looks much better, but is still single-platform and has problems recognizing the state when reconnecting to the ctrlproxy (it sometimes does not notice that you are already in a channel).

virc looks better than mirc, but worse than Klient. Plus, it seemed a bit unstable to me. And it was slow displaying the backlog. Very slow. It’s single-platform too (and written in Delphi it seems)

irssi is single-platform too, but I could work around that by running it on our webserver and using screen.

A program that warns with

17:43 -!- Irssi: Looks like this is the first time you've run irssi.
17:43 -!- Irssi: This is just a reminder that you really should go read
17:43 -!- Irssi: startup-HOWTO if you haven't already. You can find it
17:43 -!- Irssi: and more irssi beginner info at
17:43 -!- Irssi:
17:43 -!- Irssi: For the truly impatient people who don't like any automatic
17:43 -!- Irssi: window creation or closing, just type: /MANUAL-WINDOWS

before starting it and with no obvious way to exit it (Ctrl-C, quit, exit – neither did work) is something I’m afraid of (quite like vim, though I learnt to love that one). So: no-go

Finally I ended up with X-Chat. It looks good, has all features I need, a big userbase, is maintained and is multiplatform after all.

There was this fuss about the windows version becoming shareware, but I can live with that as the tool is very, very good. For supporting it’s author, I gladly payed those $20 (I see it as a packaging fee – just like with those linux distributions), though you can get a windows binary for free here.

So for me, it’s X-Chat. And much fun in #nesvideos