Internet Relay Chat is one of the most interactive resources on the Internet, enabling you to chat via text to people all over the world in real time. And it's free.
We'll be looking at AthenaIRC, which is easy of use. It can perform the beginners' functions discussed in this tutorial for no cost, but advanced features need to be unlocked via a $US10 registration.
Setting up AthenaIRC
Download and double-click the .SIT file; StuffIt should expand the file into its own folder. Inside, double-click the AthenaIRC 2.x.x (OSX) icon. The Connection Setup Assistant should now appear. Following the on-screen instructions, enter a name for the connection and a nickname that you'd like to use when chatting. Make your way through the Setup Assistant until you get to a Network drop box. You'll see a list of servers such as Dalnet, Efnet and Undernet - these are the most populated IRC servers. If you wanted to connect to Efnet, for example, select Efnet and click the arrow button to move onto the last few steps.
To connect, click the Connect button in the top left of the program. Click the ... button next to Connect to bring up your status display - called the console. The console will display messages such as information about the server you're connecting to, any server rules and the MOTD (message of the day). You can also view the MOTD for the server from the Connections menu.
From the Connection menu, select List all Channels. From the list box you can type in a word and press Return to filter the list to display only channels (chat rooms) containing that word. When you've found a channel of interest, double-click its name. Once your channel has opened up with its own window, you'll notice a list of nicknames of people currently in the channel. Channel Operators (those who run the channel) are shown in red. What's being said in the channel appears in the main part of the window. If you type a message in the bottom part of the channel window, pressing
You can log conversation text to a file from the File menu as well as edit how your text appears from the Style menu. From the Preferences drop-down box, under General Preferences, you can adjust all the individual parts of the software, such as sounds and automatic reconnection if the connection drops out. In Preferences-Connection Settings, you can adjust your personal details under the User tab; the Connection tab allows you to select another server.
Typing /me before a message will make what you write become an action; e.g., if my nickname was DannyA and I typed /me says hello, the message would be displayed as "DannyA says hello". Entering /whois nickname will allow you to find out what channels that person is on. IRC conversations can be quickened by using abbreviations like those in texting someone an SMS phone message. From smilie faces :) to BRB (be right back), there's a lot of commonly used slang. Take a look at help.dal.net/docs/acronyms.html for more information.
Netiquette and keeping safe
Don't use caps, it's LIKE SHOUTING. Racism, harassment, large amounts of text (known as flooding) and advertising are not tolerated. Some IRC channels may contain profanity or sexually explicit material/conversations. Parents need to be careful of children falling prey to predators. As a rule of thumb, never give out personal details and never forget that you are using an anonymous means of communication. The Australian Broadcasting Authority has some good information and links on its www.cybersmartkids.com.au site about what to keep in mind to stay safe.