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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.

{ 12 } Comments

  1. Sandy Armstrong | May 1, 2007 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

    I still think winking is a pleasant and disarming gesture. 😉

    I don't like people who smile all the's insipid. 🙂

    Nice post, though...I was just thinking a lot of the same things. Specifically, I get really sad when people do fly-bys when we could have easily answered their question if they had lurked a little or sent an email to the list.

  2. Daryl | May 1, 2007 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, I know IRC is a great resource but I hesitate to use it other than lurking because I don't know the edicate. I'm a little more prepared now.

  3. Seveas | May 1, 2007 at 11:17 pm | Permalink

    But you are sexy 😉

  4. beza1e1 | May 2, 2007 at 12:25 am | Permalink

    "Winking" does have a different meaning for me. It's "this is supposed to be funny, so don't take it too seriously".

    I use it all the time, because people misunderstand me without "winking". Irony doesn't work that well without eye contact.

  5. Colin Watson | May 2, 2007 at 1:02 am | Permalink

    Corollary to "Avoid fly-bys": Don't start complaining along the lines of "oh well I guess nobody's listening to me" if nobody answers you within your desired amount of time. The people you most want to answer your question are often pretty busy and only check IRC once in a while.

  6. Stephen Weeks | May 2, 2007 at 1:30 am | Permalink

    I disagree with your last item.
    The majority of the times I've responded to a question with "ask google", I've had the answer right in front of me on the first or second page of my first or second google query. If I can find it that quickly, then I don't know of any good reasons in general why they could have done the same, and if I can teach someone to ask google themselves instead of asking others to do it for them, then I've saved the time of countless other people later on who won't have to deal with trivial questions.

    Something that annoys *me* is asking questions that are answered clearly on the project website or with a few google queries.

    I admit that I might be missing something here. If you can tell me why it's better to waste the time of half-a-dozen developers on IRC than doing a couple of minutes of research yourself first, I'd be glad to hear it. 😉

  7. Raideiin | May 2, 2007 at 3:23 am | Permalink

    "Something that annoys *me* is asking questions that are answered clearly on the project website or with a few google queries."

    It depends on what do you think it's understandable. I'm a newie and very often I've problems even to understand some instructions. That's why I'm using IRC, and that's why I hate when someone tell me to google it. If I'm choosing IRC it's not because I'm lazy, but because I need an help I can't receive from google.

    And for the wink issue: I never use it to say "you're sexy", maybe this is a meaning the wink symbol has in English... we use it often in Italian when we say something funny, or to say "take it easy" when we say something potentially misunderstandable for the receiver.

    So please don't be too strict with this rules, for me IRC is a common place, and I speak there as if I were speaking with other "normal" people... 😉

  8. Aaron | May 2, 2007 at 6:21 am | Permalink

    Sandy- I'm with you. People who constantly use smilies in their text, does get annoying.

    Seveas- Thanks. You're more sexy.

    beza1e1- And that's the problem with chatting on a computer over the 'Net. People don't know exactly or can't be too sure. So, the wink says to me that you find me attractive, even if you are trying to be funny. 🙂 is just safer.

    Colin- Good call. Right on the money.

    Stephen- Again, just because I'm asking a question in the channel doesn't mean that I don't know how to Google. There are other resources besides Google for seeking out help, and if your time as a developer is too precious to help anyone in a support channel, then don't hang out there. If IRC is the first place I turn for support, and I receive the automated Google response, I'll have some fun at your expense.

    Raideiin- I know that's not what you're using the wink for, but that's how it comes across to many. It's hard to convey tone in IRC, so using text and characters to minimize confusion is best.

  9. Stoffe | May 2, 2007 at 7:37 am | Permalink

    I've seen people use winks in messages on IRC or whatever probably every day for many years, and *never* have the context been such that it has meant "sexy". It means irony, or "just kidding". To everyone.

    It might mean something else to you, but you may also be alone in the world in this perception. So no, we will all keep on using it as we have done, because it *enhances* communication, not the other way around.

    Otherwise, pretty good post for the most part.

  10. Peter | May 3, 2007 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    omg, my Java tutor winked at me in real life the other day, shortly after making a sarcastic comment. I didn't realise he was coming onto me. I guess I should stop going to those classes, eh?

  11. TuxGirl | May 7, 2007 at 8:16 am | Permalink

    On the google issue:
    If I know nothing about the person asking the question (ie, it's their first question), i'll usually try to help them, etc. If they've been at the channel a lot, and regularly ask questions that are answered in the first result from a google search, i will often get annoyed enough to make a smart-alecky comment to them about it.

    Honestly, if you've googled, but are still lost, and come to an IRC channel, feel free to say "i've googled, and i found , but i don't understand it, and i'm not sure if it's actually the answer to my question" or something to that effect. it shows that you actually put some effort into trying to solve the problem yourself *and* it gives me (or whoever is helping you) a jumping-off point for helping with your problem (we can figure out what's confusing you, and explain that, which will likely be more helpful than us repeating the info in the website, and you still being confused.)

    I do still like 🙂 and lol, but other than that... 🙂


  12. Jason | May 7, 2007 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    The real irony here is that "Pierrot Somepeople" typed out his entire post without abbreviations, sans the two in the example (which was totally necessary of course).

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