Re-inventing IRC – come and join us on Twitter.

April 6th, 2009 by Jarmo Puskala

Baby Bird

Baby bird by Allie’s.Dad on Flickr. (CC by-nc-nd)

Back in 2007 Twitter seemed like it was the next big thing, so naturally we joined as well. What’s suprising is that now it’s been two years and if it seemed like a big thing then now it’s becoming mainstream. Since Timo got his own profile it’s been mostly me blabbering on the @energia profile with the occasional wisdoms from Antti.

What’s changed in the two years is that what first seemed kind of like a blog lite for little stupid things and links is turning into a chatroom. Since @sumppi recommended Twitterfon for the iPhone I’ve taken upon myself the quest of being more active at the Twitterverse – after all there are some awesomely awesome movie people there to follow like Stephen Fry, Wil Wheaton and Duncan Jones.

What keeps bugging me is that the more I use Twitter the more it feels like re-inventing IRC. Everyone is going gaga how celebs are using the service like “normal peopl”, meaning that for the first time in the mainstream media they are actually there talking with people themselves – instead of having some PR drone occasionally posting adverts to buy stuff. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a Good Thing – however it hardly seems like a big deal from the Finnish perspective. We’re used to finding every new reality tv celeb on IRC-Galleria and back in the day before geek was cool many superstars of the tech world were on the actual IRC chatting like “normal people”.

Now this is going to sound like the cat lifting it’s own tail – and honestly speaking it is. Our lovely little IRC channel (#starwreck on IRCnet) has been active for almost a decade. Sure nobody knew who were when the channel started but that’s kind of the point. It never was a marketing tool, it was a place where we talked about making the film and where people who were interested in the project could come and follow the progress, ask questions and make suggestions. To simplify the function even more the channel was a place for people with similar interests to talk to eachother.

And that’s what Twitter is becoming. @wilw talks about playing D&D at a roleplaying convention. @warrenellis is being strange and @stephenfry is being a real sport and tweeting about his travels and talking to people. What’s different to what we’ve been doing is the scale. These people can have hundreds of thousands of followers with maybe thousands or tens of thousands actually actively online at any given time. That’s one huge-ass IRC channel. Especially when it’s all mostly centered around the profile of one person. People are using #hashtags as kind of channels, but currently this approach is very unflexible. With a client that works better than the actual Twitter website and a “#channel” that’s not too popular it kind of works. I had fun talking about the oscars on #aa09 – the alternative channel since #oscars was completely unfollowable.

So that’s awesome. We’ve been doing it for a decade and while our channel’s 100 or so users pale in comparison to the number of the Twitter followers of your average “social media guru” it’s been up for 10 years and the people there are just awesome. Many have become real friends of ours and we the people have helped eachother out on many occasions. In my opinion seeing such longevity translate into a social media site would be phenomenal. However there is a snake in the garden. What has in part protected IRC is that’s it’s not quite mainstream – while it might have been used to report on the first Gulf War on CNN Britney Spears has never had a precense there.

So – and I know I’ve made this point before – Twitter is very much re-inventing IRC on the web. And that’s great – because it’s one more tool for people to talk to each other. It’s also easy enough that it has attracted people who usually don’t bother with these kind of things. But it’s still very much a flawed system. The popularity of the superstars is so overwhelming that they can not keep up using it as they do for long.

Our Twitter is still nice and quiet with the occasional interesting discussion and I recommend you follow @energia and @LeonBlank if you’ve got an account. I also think it’ll stay nice and managable for a long time still. But since so much of the activity is centered around the superstars can Twitter survive becoming any more popular? Will it become impossible to be a famous person and actually talk to people? And will that lead to the downfall of the whole service?

p.s. Also to take a page of the Warren Ellis book of public relations I just have to mention I finally got called “penis freak” by some random person on the internets.

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One Response to “Re-inventing IRC – come and join us on Twitter.”

  1. Joni Nevalainen says:

    Indeed, the chatting similarities are great between irc and twitter. Most of the stuff said is similar, so it becomes just a question of preference.

    The differences I’ve noted:
    * twitter is more asynchronic, friend updates can be followed much later on without being on the channel
    * twitter is “single name-space”, and quickly testing out the limits of massive fanbases. Irc is split into multiple servers and networks.
    * irc is still much more conversation-friendly, not too much focusing on the goings on of a single person like twitter and facebook are. Less idolizing in that sense.