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Founding IRC

Written by Jarkko Oikarinen, founder of IRC.

I don't know if this helps much. I hope I remember things correctly and apologise people whom I have left out and they had deserved to be in here.

I was working in the Department of Information Processing Science in University of Oulu during summer'88. I guess they didn't have much for me to do. I was administring the department's sun server, but it didn't take all time. So I started doing a communications program, which was meant to make OuluBox (a Public Access BBS running on host tolsun.oulu.fi, administered by me) a little more usable. The purpose was to allow USENET News-kind of discussion and groups there in addition to real time discussions and other BBS related stuff.

Jyrki Kuoppala (jkp@cs.hut.fi) had implemented rmsg program for sending messages to people on other machines. It didn't have the channel concept implemented (though it supported it), so it was mainly used for person-to-person communications.

Another already existing simple multiuser chat program on OuluBox was MUT (MultiUser Talk), it was written by Jukka Pihl (pihl@rieska.oulu.fi). That program has a bad habit of not working properly, so in order to fix this, the first implemented thing of this BBS plan was IRC.

The birthday of IRC was in August 1988. The exact date is unknown, at the end of the month anyways.

Bitnet Relay Chat was a good inspiration for IRC. When IRC started occasionally having more than 10 users, I asked some friends of mine to start running irc servers in south Finland, mainly in Tampere University of Technology and Helsinki University of Technology. Some other universities soon followed. Markku Jarvinen (mta@cc.tut.fi) improved the irc client (there was only one at that time) to support some emacs editing commands. At that time it was obvious that adding BBS like functions to the program was not a good idea, it's better to have one program for one purpose. So the BBS extension idea was given up and just IRC stayed.

IRC was well spread in Finland. I contacted some friends of mine through BITNET Relay and asked if they would try this program. Internet connections did not yet work from Finland to other countries, so they could not connect to the Finnish network (which I suppose was the reason for them not being very enthusiastic about irc).

Internet connections to states started working (I don't anymore remember when). I answered to some news articles where people asked for multiuser chat programs. I didn't get replies.

At mit, there was the legendary ai.ai.mit.edu machine running ITS. I got an account there and learned to use it a little bit. Enough to know how to chat with people. From there I got the first IRC user outside Scandinavia, Mike Jacobs used IRC through OuluBox (he did not have accounts on any Unix machines).

Through ai.ai.mit.edu I got to know Vijay Subramaniam (I hope I spelled that correctly :-). I had given IRC to him and not heard of him for some time. Then I got mail messages from Jeff Trim (used to be jtrim@orion.cair.du.edu, University of Denver, current address unknown) David Bleckmann (bleckmd@jacobs.cs.orst.edu) and Todd Ferguson (melvin@jacobs.cs.orst.edu, Oregon State University). Vijay had given IRC to them and they had started ircd on their machines (orion.cair.du.edu and jacobcs.cs.orst.edu, if I remember correctly) and wanted to connect to Finnish irc network. After that some other people started running IRC, and the number of servers grew quickly.

The first IRC server (and still running) was tolsun.oulu.fi

I have no idea of the latest one...

Interview Log with Jarkko Oikarinen
Undernet Public Relations Committee

Welcome to the Undernet Public Relations Committee's Live Events Interview Auditorium. We have a very special guest tonight, Jarkko Oikarinen. Jarkko Oikarinen is known as the creator of IRC as he developed and tested it in 1988. Jarkko has been kind enough to take this time out of his busy schedule to be with us tonight. As most of you already know, the Undernet Public Relations Interview Staff sent out many invitations for users to send in their questions to be asked during the interview. The best and most appealing 25 questions have been selected carefully by the staff. We will ask one question, wait for an answer from Jarkko, and then proceed with the next. We will now begin the interview session. Sit back, relax, and get ready for an exciting hour.

(1) You haven't been seen or heard from much

in half a decade but have now decided to appear in this online conference. Is there any specific reason for the time chosen? Does it have anything to do with Microsoft's intents to enter the IRC scene? -- Donwulff

There is no specific reason for this time, except that during 1993-1996 I was working abroad (Sweden and France), not spending much time on IRC or in Internet in general. I just happen to be a little bit more around now than before.

(2) Did you come up with IRC just because you were frustrated by the limitations of talk, or were there other reasons? -- Kev

I believe that IRC came up because there was a clear need for it. It was not to replace talk.. the purpose of talk is different. The original purpose of IRC was more like to provide similar features that existed on BITNET and DECNET, ie. bitnet chat system and the DECNET phone.

(3) Why do you think people are attracted to IRC? -- Tsu

What makes IRC special is the sense of anonymity. The only things that you often know of the other person, are those that you can conclude from the discussions.

(4) When you created IRC, what was the maximum number of users at the same time that you made allowance for? -- Run

It was not that well planned, but perhaps somewhere around 100 users.

(5) The protocol is now being used on networks with approximately 20,000 simultaneous connections. If you knew then what you know now, would you have restructured ircd differently? -- Kev

Of course... the structure of the world wide web is much more scalable than IRC. I believe IRC will integrate into the web.. or at least the functionality of IRC, it has already started to happen. Having the IRC channels being listed on web pages would allow each channel to have it's own well routing small net.

(6) How long did it take originally to code the source for ircd? -- NudeDude

The first versions which were tested within Finland were coded in maybe 3-4 months, with help from several other people in Finland.

(7) A lot of clients are introducing features such as color and sound on a client level that are not RFC-compliant. Do you think these sorts of commands should be at server level? -- saad

No, I think they belong to the client level. There is no need for the server to interpret the data people send to each other. There should, however, be some well-defined standards for this so that the clients will be compatible with each other.

(8) The original IRC RFC, RFC1459, relies on the rather questionable authentication method of sending passwords in the clear. Knowing what you know now, would you have done this differently by perhaps using some form of cryptography? -- Kev

Not necessarily.. Naturally it is better to encrypt passwords, but if that would have meant several manmonths more work, I would have skipped it. In fact encrypting all irc messages, including conversations was considered at some point. My reason for not doing it was the amount of work and knowledge that is needed to implement good cryptography routines. -oo-

(9) Have you heard about the new Microsoft RFC? and if so, what do you

think of it? -- }{obbes

... Humm... that's a tricky question :-) I am not familiar with the Microsoft RFC, so I do not have a strong opinion on that as such. I have some thoughts about Internet standards, and they may or may not apply to this... I believe that Internet standards should be designed by a consortium of Internet users (or possibly by many companies), not by any single company alone (ie. dictated). The problem with a company making a standard usually is that nobody else will be able to conform to the 'standard', thus limiting free trade and free competition... it is a little like companies making the laws in internet instead of representatives elected by people.. -o-

(10) IRC Operators nowadays face a major problem when banning users: Dynamic IP numbers. They usually have to ban entire sites. What do you think should be done to solve this problem for good? -- Net_Shark

I don't have any good solution on irc level, besides changing the complete

IRC server structure to have more loose connections, ie. similar to the web. That way abusers can make less damage.

(11) Do you use IRC to chat online, and if so, how often? Which networks do you like and why? What services do you think an IRC network should offer; e.g. NickServ and Channel Services? -- }{obbes

I do not use IRC very much anymore. I am logged on quite a lot, but I rarely engage in conversations, except with some old acquintances. I do not prefer any network above others, except of course the 'original' net (EFnet).. and this is just purely historical reasons, not because it would be somehow better (nor worse) than others... I do not have a strong opinion about services, e.g. NickServ, but I would prefer NickServ to exist. It is not a solution to the nickname problem, (9-character nicknames for 5 billion people cannot be a solution) but perhaps a little better with than without -o-

(12) How do you feel now that nine years down the line, almost every document on the history of the Internet mentions your name? -- Donwulff

Hum.. IRC is the accomplishment of all IRC users and developers during the last 9 years. The small snowball of original IRC which I had the privilege to create has grown this large because of all IRC users and developers... thank you for that :-) -o-

(13) IRC is now being utilized by many educational facilities online, not only for schools and universities to come online, but networks are offering classes for new users to IRC. What is your opinion on IRC's potential as a useful tool for educational purposes, and what do you see in the future regarding the use of IRC as a "virtual classroom"? -- ExtraRed

In general I feel that teleconferences (including video and audio) are better teaching tools than IRC. The throughput is much better when the

communication channel can include live gestures, tones of voice, etc.

IRC is better as a quick-paced discussion tool, where people throw comments while simultaneusly working with something else. There may be some smaller areas where IRC is best suited as an educational tool... -o-

(14) Are you still keeping up to date with the current developments? If so, what is your opinion about the fact that there are now multiple IRC protocols (i.e. EFnet/Undernet) that are growing further and further apart? -- Run

I am not following the latest developments. In my opinion it is good for IRC that there are many networks. It is a wrong direction, if the protocols grow apart so that a user does not familiarize him/herself in another network and the IRC clients are no longer compatible within different networks. -o-

(15) How do you feel about the changes to the original IRC code? -- MadCat

I think that all the people who have been helping IRC's success by improving the code have been doing a very good work. Some more, some less, but everyone has contributed. -o-

(16) Do you see any way of stabilizing the servers or somehow providing for increased population? -- Goldenrod

Changing to a more web-like structure, ie. having many smaller irc networks, which would be connected to each other by a loose structure, leading to a situation where all servers do not need to be aware of each other, contrary to current situation... -o-

(17) Do you think IRC will be around in 20 years? 10 years? 5 years? -- LGM

I think IRC will probably be around many more years, but it will evolve and integrate with other software in the internet.. how much of the original IRC is left at that point, I do not know. -o-

(18) Did you ever imagine IRC in addition to being a method for people to chat in realtime would also become a place for flooders, stalkers, harassers, and

just generally disturbed people to congregate as well? -- AngelBaby

These kind of things are in the nature of people and I think it is inevitable to some extent. IRC is just one media for these activities. -o-

(19) What is your opinion on the use of the DCC feature to distribute and promote illegal activities such as child pornography and software piracy. -- BONK

I do not accept these illegal activities. However, I do not think IRC is to blame.. if there were no IRC, these activities would take place somewhere else. Any useful tool can be used for good and bad. Don't shoot the messenger... -o-

(20) Did you ever imagine that IRC would grow to become a tool for fostering friendships, relationships, and even act as a medium for people to find God? -- }{obbes

not really.. when I worked with it, I was developing a chat tool. It just turned out that people found much deeper use for it than what it was originally meant for.. -o-

(21) Looking almost ten years back, what would you have done differently, if you knew what you know now? What do you see as the future for IRC? -- Donwulff and Goldenrod

There are many things that could have been done, but the reality is that implementing all nice things that came up would have taken incredible amount of time and IRC would not exist now... as for the future, I mentioned that it will likely merge with other internet software.

(22) If you could change one thing about how IRC has progressed since you founded it, what would it be? -- cpw

I would have been wiser in taking into account the scalability problems of current IRC, especially the nicknames would need to be taken care within the clients instead of servers. The security problem in channels is another thing which could have been better designed.

(23) What do you envision as the next step beyond IRC in network communications? -- NudeDude

It can already be seen in the VRLM worlds, with people being represented as avatars, live audio and live video communications.. another step towards cyberspace.. -o-

(24) Will you be involved in future enhancements to the IRC protocol? -- Net_Shark

I do not think so.. right now I am working towards by PhD and it really consumes all my time. I will be listening but not actively participating... -o-

(25) How has developing IRC changed your life? -- Tsu

It has opened my eyes to see and understand people from different cultures.

I have made many friends around the world, which I would not have made without IRC.

There are lots of people who have met through IRC and went married...