20 April 2021 - 11:02 am
Online real-time chatting via text-based formats is still very popular. It has been around for a long time, and was the obvious advance from emails which made conversations possible, and opened it up to groups of people conversing.
One of the first popular forms of online chatting was Internet Relay Chat, or IRC. With the advent of MSN Messenger, ICQ and then social media embedded messaging systems such as Facebook Messenger, and others based on mobile tech the original basic IRC text only chat fell out of favour. It seemed archaic in comparison. Cumbersome and unattractive looking software, no easy way to just drop in animated GIFs or the latest memes made it unappealing to all but the hardcore IRC contingent that still remains.
The advances in online communications applications and systems have been nothing short of amazing. Things like Discord that takes the concepts of IRC, such as “servers” and “channels” or “rooms”, and adds all kinds of cool embedded features and integrations. All these things have come at a cost though. Not really a financial cost directly as you can use all these apps and systems for “free”. But there is no such thing as free of course. The main cost has come at the expense of the consolidation of many of these systems into the hands of a few tech companies, and the centralised nature of the systems themselves. The notion of being able to chat privately over any of these systems is not a realistic one. Sure, all these companies have their “privacy policies”, their “GDPR Compliance” waffle and eulogise about how privacy is at the core of their company’s ethos and they eat, sleep and live privacy, but none of that is true, provably so and most of us know it.
So what is to be done about that? Ignoring the garbage claim that if you have nothing to hide you shouldn’t care about having no privacy, are there any easy, practical ways we could communicate online in relative privacy? Obviously if you attract a certain type of attention there’s not much you’re going to be able to do, but generally speaking for day to day text chatting online without Microsoft, Google or Facebook monitoring your communications for marketing purposes or worse, what could we do?
Perhaps that ancient tech, IRC could be of some use. There are a number of open-source IRC server applications that run on Windows and Linux that are pretty easy to set up. Obviously the Windows version is going to be slightly easier unless you’re used to the way Linux works and are happy using the command line. One suspects that Windows could potentially be less secure due to it’s nature but there are things one can do to mitigate those risks.
Soon I will be publishing a guide to setting up an IRC server and connecting IRC client software on Windows and Linux. IRC server software is incredibly efficient and consumes so little resources it will not impact the running of any PC these days. I used to run an IRC server on a i386 based PC with 8MB (yes, megabytes) of RAM. If that doesn’t mean much to you, a PC of that spec would be worth more as a doorstop these days and the minimum requirement for Windows 10 now is 128 times that amount of RAM (1GB), and you’ll barely get it to boot and be usable with just 1GB.
Sure it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of “modern” instant messenger software, although there are some decent IRC clients that provide all kinds of ways to add features that don’t come with it out of the box. Stay tuned :)