smsociety15 has ended
Back To Schedule
Tuesday, July 28 • 14:46 - 16:15
"The original social media: For a social history of Internet Relay Chat"

Sign up or log in to save this to your schedule, view media, leave feedback and see who's attending!

Author: Maxigas

There is a substantial body of scholarship on contemporary social networks and some on obsolete forms of social networking. Internet Relay Chat is in a unique position as one of the oldest social network which is at the same time in continous use since its inception in 1978, yet it received comparative little scholarly attention so far. The proposed article addresses this gap, taking a social history approach. The results are based on archival research and expert interviews. The article abstract is work in progress: accepted for publication in the Journal of Peer Production special issue on Alternative Internets. 

IRC is the original, federated, community run and managed social media of the Internet. In many ways it embodies the ideals of current reform proposals for “fixing the Internet”, yet it has been in continuous operation since a quarter of a century as the quintessential messaging application which originated the hashtag used by Twitter, Inc. for example. The protocol engendered a particular form of sociality based on collective enunciation which enabled the collaborative production of discourse, FLOSS software, open hardware, politically motivated sabotage, and most importantly online communities. 

The article offers a primer for the social history of IRC in three interrelated parts. First, an introduction to the genealogy of the protocol and the socialities it engendered with a brief outlook to the parallel evolution of other chat solutions. Second, a presentation of its techno-social features vis-a-vis current “walled gardens” (like Facebook, etc.). Third, an overview of contemporary usage by three social groups: the hackerspaces scene, Anonymous, and bot herders, typifying whitehat, greyhat and blackhat patterns. 

IRC is a protocol like HTTP, which allows administrators to run loosely coupled groups of servers associated with a single address (like irc://freenode.net/). Providers have been running such servers for the benefit of the community since decades without any attempts to monetise on them – in practice they did not even get the benefit of fame, remaining somewhat obscure. Yet, users counted in the millions benefited from the public services, while private servers allowed informal communities, activist groups and criminals to organise themselves without reliance on media monopolies. The radical simplicity of the protocol allowed for a marvellous complexity of common usage patterns to develop into a sophisticated subculture of its own. As the technical design lends itself to automation, “artificial stupidities” called bots can coexist with human users in harmony, or serve as foot soldiers in tribal wars. 

The article closes with a discussion of the reasons for IRC to have resisted recuperation (which is probably good) and mass adoption (which is probably bad), drawing the moral of the experience for contemporary debates on Internet freedom and social media and societal change. 

avatar for Maxigas


Doctoral Candidate, Universitat Oberta de Catalunya / Internet Interdisciplinary Institute / Metatron Research Unit
The Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race.

Tuesday July 28, 2015 14:46 - 16:15
(7th Floor) Room TRS1-129 (Ted Rogers School of Management) 55 Dundas Street West, Toronto, ON M5G 2C3

Attendees (0)