I apologize for the light blogging the last several weeks. All of my spare time has been consumed by IRC. acrobat on #joiito compared it to a well placed water cooler. I drop in in the morning with my coffee, between meetings, from cab rides and after dinner before I go to bed. Some people who work in front of computers for a living "park" themselves in the channel. There are about 40 people on the channel now, only a half dozen or so are actually focused on the conversation. We've got a pretty interesting distribution of people. Most major time zones are represented and there are quite a variety of personality types and professions. It's also interesting to note that there is probably an equal distribution of people who are using IRC for the first time, rediscovering IRC and are IRC regulars. The conversation is much more random than my blog, ranging from total silliness to heated debates about RSS. I do think most of us agree that IRC today (or at least my #joiito channel) is much different from the IRC we used to use. I think the blogs help people identify each other and the wiki creates a bit more context and memory for the channel. IRC has definitely reduced my blog output, but in exchange, it has helped me make a much stronger emotional link to many of the people I blog/email with. I think it is the sense of spending time with people that creates this new sense of connection. It's almost like Sims Online. You see people drop off to take care of kids, cook, shower, go to work, come home, etc. Some of the more persistent personalities update people on what's happened during the "day" when you check back in after a being away. It's like being flat-mates with 50 people from around the world. "Hey, if you see so-and-so, tell them I'm looking for them and if so-and-so drops by while I'm out, be nice to them and introduce them to everyone..."
A useful thing about the IRC channel is that it is a 24 hour support system for a variety of issues. Just this week, Dave Sifry "held court" about Technorati, Mark Pilgrim explained python unit testing to me, Doc talked about the 17" PowerBook he was testing out, I got rojisan to book the venue for the DC party, I got Kevin Burton promise to finish the OSX version of NewsMonster and sniffles wrote a bot to remind me not to drink too much. ;-)
A controversial, but interesting thing in IRC are the bots. They are programmed to do a variety of tasks. There are bots that log, take notes, post stuff to wikis, answer questions or annoy people. The bots are probably how IRC will be integrated better into blogs and wikis. There are a few bots on #joiito. Jibot has become a collaborative effort with regulars pitching in via CVS on Sourceforge to add features to the bot.
As I continue to be immersed in IRC, the question that I am struggling with is how better to integrate IM, IRC, wikis and blogs. There are so many ways to do this yet no one seems to have done it well. There is also the issue of the metadata and meta-services like reputation tracking, search, identify management, etc. I'm sure different communities will find different combinations of tools useful.
Even though I call my blog "a conversation" I now realize after using IM and chat a lot that it still looks more like publishing or giving a speech although the comment threads are like conversations. IM chats can be like transactions. IRC is conversation or even "hanging out" with friends. The wiki is where we collaborate. The core strengths of each of these tools is very important and I think we all do a little bit of each of these activities. The alchemy of these tools is really interesting and I urge people to get over the hump and try these tools in combination and join us in thinking about what this all means. ;-)