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Advice for IRC Newbies

There are a few things that really get under my skin on IRC. I'd like to share those with you. I'm going to be quick and to the point. I write this for those who have never logged in or have spent less than 100 hours in IRC.

  • Don't ask to ask- This is the Golden Rule of IRC, regardless of any channel that you join. Don't pop into the channel, asking "can someone help me?", "hi. i have a question", etc. You wouldn't do it on any web forum, in person, or any messaging board, so why do it on IRC? Just ask your question. Save yourself the time. Save us the channel noise.
  • Be specific- Yes. I'm serious. I spend more time in support channels trying to figure out a problem, rather than troubleshooting it, because the person seeking help isn't being specific. Don't ask "Why won't my mouse work?" when you join the channel. Rather, tell me the steps leading up to the problem, or what you would like to see accomplished with the task at hand. "How can I configure a 3-button mouse in my xorg.conf?" is a much better question.
  • Know when to and when not to highlight- When in a support channel, especially very busy ones, start off your text with the person you are addressing the question or statement to. When in very busy channels, such as #ubuntu on Freenode, starting your text with the person's nick will help him not miss your questions/comments. It's called highlighting, because when done so, the person on the other end receives a visual alert that he is being addressed in the channel. Usually, the line or his nickname will change colors, making it easy to see who and when he was addressed. However, when you and the other person are the only ones chatting, especially in a quiet room, don't bother highlighting. It's annoying and obnoxious. There is no need, as you are the only two doing the chatting. So, a good rule of thumb is, if there are several conversations in a channel, highlight for clarity. If there is only your conversation, don't.
  • Tab complete- This point follows the previous one. It really annoys me, just because of the spelling of my nick. First off, it's 8 characters long, so, for those who are unaware of the tab key, they either 1) try to type it out by hand, of which, they usually misspell it, or 2) abbreviate the first few characters of the nick, so they don't have to type it all out. At either event, if I'm not paying attention to that channel, I miss the message. So, for those who are unaware, press the first couple characters of my nickname, and press the tab key. Just like the interactive shell in your terminal, you can tab complete on IRC also. Use it.
  • Avoid fly-bys- A 'fly-by' is when someone joins the channel, then leaves almost as soon as they arrived. In support channels, this is very common, where someone will join the channel, ask a question, then leave less than one minute later. It's as if they expect the entire channel to have fingers glued to the keyboard and eyes fixed to the screen waiting to type a response. Here's the thing: if you're not willing to spend a decent amount of time patiently waiting for a response, then don't bother. Generally, it takes a little, depending on how busy the channel is, for someone to respond. The fewer the number of people in the room, the longer it may take. So, if you need to leave, or take care of something right after asking your question, then do what you need to do, but leave your IRC client open, so people can have adequate time to formulate and execute a response.
  • Avoid 1337 and SMS chat- Nothing, and I mean nothing is more annoying than "o i c", "omg", "rofl", "lmao", "lol", etc. You have a full keyboard in front of you, with hopefully, all of the digits on your hand(s), working. There is absolutely no reason why you should be typing as absolutely short as humanly possible. If you have a disability, fine. Otherwise, quit. It's annoying, hard to read for those of us who don't SMS, and shows a lack of maturity. I know channels that will automatically ban you for many of them. Basically, if you wouldn't say it in verbal speech to another individual, then don't type it in the channel.
  • Don't wink- Seriously, who started ';)', and why? Winking is just saying to someone "hey sexy", and I would bet that most people who are winking to others wouldn't say that to them in person. So why type it? If you must use smilies in your text, then use the traditional ':)', or something creative like '8)' (smiley with glasses). Just don't wink. I don't want you telling me that you think I'm sexy.
  • Don't tell anyone to "Google it", or "RTFM"- People providing support tend to forget that when someone comes looking for help, that they're looking for help. Rather, those providing support seem to think that the person asking the question is either lazy or stupid, so "Google it" is the first thing they type. There are a number of reasons why they are asking the question in IRC. It could be that they can get a better response in IRC than that of Google. It may be that they've exhausted all of their options, and are using IRC as a last resort. It may just be that IRC was the first thing they thought of, when looking for help with their question. I've seen that response on occasion, and I've seen some pretty nasty counter-replies. I am one to add to the nastiness. Be friendly, and we can all get along.

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