IRC is Not Dead

Towards Use-centric Media & Communication Studies

Maxigas (UOC/IN3 & CEU/CMDS), March 9th, 2016, Budapest, CEU

IRC use

What is IRC?

  • Internet Relay Chat (1988 cf. web 1989)
  • Synchronous written conversations
  • Organised around topical #channels
  • Simple & flexible open standard
  • Community managed infrastructure
  • “Communication commons”

1. Free software developers

  • Since 1989 (GPL v.1)
  • GNU, Linux, Debian, etc.
  • Support, development, socialisation (, -dev, -talk)
  • Bots: Revision control, bug tracking, continuous integration

(Coleman 2012: Coding Freedom)

2. Anonymous hacktivists

  • Took off since 2008 (Op. Chanology)
  • Swarm subjectivity
  • Bots: LOIC remote control

(Coleman 2014: Hacker, Hoaxer, …)

3. Hackerspace members

  • Popular since 2007
  • Async organisation of precarious tech workers
  • Bots: Internet of Things

(Maxigas 2015: Unfinished artefacts…)

4. Wikipedia editors

  • Popular since around the same time
  • Backstage conversations
  • Bots: Monitoring

(Jemielniak 2014: Common Knowledge?)

Contemporary use

  • Peer production communities:
  • Software, politics, hardware, knowledge, etc.
  • Backstage infrastructure
  • Qualitatively important, quantitatively irrelevant
  • Innovators are using old technologies

Critique of “new” in social theory

Modern myths

  • Technological progress = social progress.
  • Old technologies = backwards values.
  • Newer = better and more important.

→ Literature bias.

(CTOF; Latour 1993; Wyatt 2008)

From innovation-centric accounts to use-centred accounts

  • Can be more historically/geographically specific.
  • Can be more gender, race, class, etc. inclusive.
  • Who, where, how long, what purposes and what effects?

→ Media ecological / archaeological perspective.

(Edgerton 2008; Parikka 2002)

Critique of “new” in social history

Centralisation

  • Open standard, free software
  • Federated, modular, agnostic design
  • User committees set & enforce policies & governance
  • Resources diverted from capital/academia
  • History of IRC = forks!

Recuperative historical logic

  • 1980s state of affairs (vs. IM, platformisation)
  • Users can shape IRC affordances (vs. SCOT, USENET/BITNET, etc.)
  • Later: exploitation and social control

Today’s platforms

  • Corporate social media monopolies
  • Proprietary technology & centralised policy, governance
  • Business model: Metadata mining (surveillance)

The alternative may be in the past

Conclusion

Undertheorised and understudied

Even if:

  • comparatively significant in real world;
  • offers valuable theoretical lessons;
  • basis for the critique of social media monopolies
  • (cf. Google, Facebook, Twitter).

Limitations

For a full user experience you need:

  1. basic terminal knowledge;
  2. access to a shell server;
  3. some scripting skills.

→ Prevents mass adoption.

(Democratisation of technology or expertise?)

However

The same limitations prevented:

  1. recuperation;
  2. cooptation;
  3. commodification;
  4. massification too!

→ Technology rejection as resistance.

(Boltanski & Chiapello 2005; Barron 2013)

Thanks

Questions?

Email address:

maxigas@anargeek.net

Slides URL:

https://slides.metatron.ai/irc-is-not-dead/

Website URL:

https://relay70.metatron.ai/