IRC (Internet Relay Chat) is now considered a grandfather of instant messaging protocols. Having been around since 1988, it’s nearly as old as email. Back in the day, there was an IRC community for almost anything you could think of. However, the number of users of this protocol has been steadily declining since 2003. It’s lost about 60% of users since then.
I think there are a couple reasons for this decline.
Development on the IRC protocol itself is not very fast, and lacks many modern features which some users would expect of an instant messenger. For example, though it is possible to send images and files (through DCC), it isn’t very clean compared to the way modern messengers do it. DCC is also not very secure and vulnerabilities have been found.
Also many of the channels on IRC have moved over to Discord, an extremely popular IRC-like messenger.
Contrary to popular opinion, though, I wouldn’t say IRC is ‘dead’. For example, Twitch uses IRC and is quite popular. And some IRC servers still have a fairly large userbase (eg: Freenode).
So, why should we keep on using IRC? What advantages does it have to offer?
1. IRC is extremely lightweight, fast and low bandwidth. There is little to nearly no perceivable delay when sending messages through IRC. Handling large channels with hundreds of participants is easier because of the small bandwidth consumption.
2. IRC is a universal protocol. Every single operating system (including mobile ones) has the capability to use IRC. You can even use it without a graphical interface. There’s tons of clients available to choose from as well.
3. It’s easy to run a server and works basically out of the box. Any person with the hardware can run an IRC server without much hassle.
4. Fully open source. A requirement for privacy-conscious geeks out there like me.
5. Moderation is easy and intuitive. You can clearly define roles, invite/kick people in the channel, make channels private, etc.
6. Extremely versatile and extensible. There is a wealth of plugins for IRC which add many desirable functionalities. Bots are also easy to make.
So there are some reasons to still use IRC. I use it almost daily for a variety of purposes including general chatting, entertainment (there’s tons of IRC based games out there), and tech help when I need it. There’s tons of helpful people out there who will be available for instant help. I have also met some really great people in general from all over the world.
IRC may be declining in use, but there’s still some very good reasons that it shouldn’t be left in the dust. If you’ve never chatted on IRC before, I encourage you to download a client and connect to a server. Happy chatting!