I remember the first time I saw IRC in action: I was about 10 years old and an older cousin, a computer engineer who lived with us, would log on to chat rooms to play Acrophobia, Trivia and MadLib. We were on a US Robotics Sportster 9600 baud modem and didn’t know too many other people in India who had an internet connection. Back then, it blew our minds.
IRC or Internet Relay Chat is a form of instant messaging with millions of users worldwide that dates back to 1988. One would log on to a server, pick a chat room called a channel, and then get talking. IRC hasn’t changed very much in all these years – it was meant to be basic and stays true to its roots (which aren’t exactly as described on Numb3rs). However, it was built by geeks for geeks, and so has undergone some development, which you can see in IRCCloud. This still-in-beta app brings IRC to your web browser and lives in the cloud. It offers a contemporary interface and some new features for advanced users. Let’s take it for a spin, shall we?
IRCCloud puts IRC in a web interface for today’s usage habits. It’s also fairly minimalistic allowing for maximum screen real estate to be taken up by channel windows.The sparse UI, though neat and clean, isn’t great for users looking to try out IRC – in fact, IRCCloud isn’t really for those who haven’t used IRC before. There aren’t any menus or tutorials to help you get started. If you’ve used IRC in the past and are still a fan, though, IRCCloud might be worth your time.
Now, IRC in itself is a pretty large topic to cover and if you’re not familiar with it, I’d suggest trying out a desktop client like mIRC, Colloquy or XChat first – once you’re comfortable with IRC on one of these feature-rich clients, you can choose to switch to IRCCloud and use the global commands to get around. IRCCloud solves the problems of having to have your IRC client running to receive messages and having to restrict your login to one computer at a time – you can login to your account on another computer anytime and pick up right where you left off, with messages addressed to you kept warm and ready to read.
IRCCloud is currently still in beta and invite-only so you may have to wait for a couple of days before you’re granted access to the app. Once you’re in, you’ll need to choose a nickname by which you’ll be known and then log on to a server and channel. Unlike desktop clients like mIRC, you won’t find any pop-up windows and panels here – you’ll have to type in commands yourself to list available channels, join channels and participate in them.
When you login for the first time you’re welcomed into the IRCCloud network’s #feedback channel. You can let them know what you think of their app there and type /help to see a list of common commands to use in IRCCloud. The interface features a few contextual buttons above the chat window which change depending on whether you’re on a network window or channel window. You can switch between these by clicking on the list of networks and channels you’re connected to shown on the right. You can edit your connection, identify your nickname, or disconnect/reconnect and remove the network window; channel windows allow you to leave, archive windows for later viewing, setting chat topics, toggle member list view, track unread messages and toggle display of nickname changes, joins and parts.
The new IRC experience
IRCCloud aims to keep things squeaky clean – there are essentially only a few contextual buttons, a channel members list and the chat window when you’re in a channel. This is great for serious users who know their way around IRC and want an up-to-date environment to converse in. The colors may not appeal to everyone but you can try out a few themes (available as Google Chrome Extensions and userstyles for Safari and Mozilla Firefox) to change things up a bit.
Since this app is geared more towards IRC veterans, there are no prompts to help you choose a network or channel – you’ll need to know how to get to your favorite chat rooms and how to create and operate your own channels. The mouse does help sometimes – you can click on member names to send them personal messages, perform a Whois lookup or invite them to a channel, just like you would on a desktop client. You can also easily toggle between networks and channels by clicking the names on the far right of the screen.
IRCCloud is essentially a no-frills IRC web app that solves the problem of having to stay logged in to receive messages. It’s great if you’re used to IRC and know how to do the things you want on this service, but if you’re looking to discover new networks and channels you’re better off using a full-featured desktop client. The app performs well enough and the beta is shaping up nicely. It’d be great to actually have features that one could turn on and off to suit one’s preferences (like in Google Labs) such as menubars, favorite networks/channels and so on. The interface could also use a bit more polish. All in all, it’s definitely worth a try for IRC junkies. Give it a shot and let us know what you think in the comments!