This week I’m going to cover an area which needs really more than one article to do the subject matter any justice; chatting on the Internet. I have little doubt that many of you would have used e-mail in the past to communicate to other Internet users, but what if you could communicate directly to the person concerned and they could reply to you immediately? This is the service that Internet chat provides, and to kick off we will look at the most primitive, yet also one of the most complex ways of doing this, a technology known as Internet Relay Chat (IRC). As just mentioned, this area is a fair bit more difficult to grasp than subjects I have discussed in the past, however it is one of the main uses of the Internet and is completely free to set up and use so I urge you to give it a try. Before we start, if you are of a sensitive nature, you may wish to use Internet chat with a program such as ‘Net Nanny’, which I covered two weeks ago to filter out any bad language or distasteful material that may crop up. By using this program in conjunction with a bit of common sense, for example don’t give out your phone number or address to anybody that you don’t know or trust over the Internet, you should avoid any potential problems related to chat-rooms.

To go into the past briefly, Internet Relay Chat has been around since 1988 when it was invented by an individual called Jarkko Oikarinen, and in the years since has provided a means for users to meet people of a like-minded nature to communicate in much the same way as the users of a CB radio.

Before you decide to delve into the depths of IRC you first need to get a ‘client’ program to allow you to connect to the chat network. Just like a browser for the Internet allows you to look at web pages, a client for IRC allows you to send and receive messages to other users.

One of the simplest and most comprehensive clients available is mIRC, which is available for free download from, once you download and install this program it will ask you to put in your name, nickname and e-mail address so that you can be identified by other users of the Internet chat rooms, when you’ve done that click on the file menu, then click on connect and you should be off. The program will then go though the motions and will eventually pop up with a window listing all the channels that are currently open. Channels are used to state the subject matter that a particular room should include, for example if you were to join a channel called ‘Gardening’, the subject that should be discussed should really be gardening. The topic of the channel is likely to change from day to day, for example, one day the gardening channel may discuss potential problems with the weather, the next it may discuss ways of making compost.

To join a channel simply double click on it and a new window should pop up. On the right hand side of this window you will see a list of names of people currently in the channel on the right hand side and what they are saying on the left hand side. To contribute to the discussion, type in whatever you wish to say and press enter. If you want to talk with a particular person one-on-one over the Internet, just double click on their name on the right hand side of the screen and a new window will pop up, in which you can write a private message that will be visible to just that person.

Remember a couple of ground-rules when participating in Internet chat; conducting any kind of illegal business, swearing or shameless advertising of sites or services is prohibited by the people who regulate the channels and by doing so, you are likely to be banned from the service. If you need any help, a trip back to the mIRC website ( or to another good help page such as should set you straight. If you have any other questions, please feel free to write in and I will do a follow up article in the near future.

To summarise, as I said before, although IRC is difficult to get the hang of at first, it is a prominent part of the Internet and something I feel that most Internet users should have at least a basic knowledge of. By using various help files such as the ones detailed above, you will learn a number of tricks and tips to gain access to information and services that you wouldn’t have access to without knowing about Internet Relay Chat.

Over a period of time, you will find yourself building up a list of friends that you have discovered over the Internet and may find yourself chatting with them on a regular basis, gaining a small insight into the personality of someone living in a completely unfamiliar country who may lead a very different life from one that you are used to.

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