Twitter is my new IRC

· by Steve · Read in about 4 min · (680 Words)

Having already disrespected mailing lists, I might as well get all my ranting about old staple communication techniques out of my system, by admitting that I’ve never really liked IRC.

There’s nothing wrong with it per se, particularly as a casual social tool, but I just can’t say I’ve ever received any great value from it in a project sense, primarily because of it’s real-time and unfocussed nature. As a user of a project, I’ve frequently found that the people that are able to answer my questions are not online at the same time as I am. Secondly, even when those people are online, they tend to get mobbed by everyone, and anything more than one or two active discussions turn the channel quickly to a confusing mess. As a project lead, I always dreaded going on IRC precisely because of this “mobbing effect”; the usual outcome was for me to lose a couple of hours answering a ton of questions - which was not an unpleasant activity, it’s nice to talk to your users, but at the same time it’s a terrible time-sink, and unlike some people I’m incapable of multitasking real-time discussions with coding, at least not on anything remotely complex. As such, my IRC attendance slowly dropped off and I now rarely go on any more; I felt a bit guilty about that, but figured the community would rather I got more done than spend time talking.

I realised recently that Twitter has now settled into my life as a more effective replacement for the times when I might have previously found IRC somewhat useful, despite the noise. It’s as close to real-time as matters, but at the same time it’s not a chat system, which for me is a good thing, since it sidesteps by design the major downsides of an open chat system - the tendency for real-time discussions to ramble on, and the implied expectation of a real-time response. You often get that, of course, but there’s no perception that it’s an affront if there’s a delay, even of many hours. As a system that needs to sit alongside ‘real’ work, it’s a lot more practical in its utility. Also, as primarily a ‘pull system’ (you choose to follow people), the signal-to-noise ratio is far higher. People can reply to your posts, and you can reply to theirs, so the same kinds of discussions as IRC tend to spring up, but they tend to be more useful, because they’re among peers more often than IRC was. Sure, other people can @user you in an unsolicited fashion too, unconnected to your feed, but that’s generally considered impolite so it’s rare. There are also no ‘channels’ so I don’t have to be watching many places depending on the subject, channels simply form naturally based on individuals and subject tags. Finally,the 140 character limit does tend to waste less time for the reader - although for the writer time can sometimes be lost trying to shoehorn a coherent point into that space.

As a result, I find I have all of the benefits of IRC (in a project rather than casual social sense), with few or none of the downsides. I have many semi-real time, compact and most importantly useful exchanges with people on the service, all in a very convenient package (after trying a few clients, I settled on TweetDeck to organise things).

This might come across as me wanting to wall myself off from the ‘n00bs’ in my community. That’s not true, it’s just that time is my most valuable asset, and it’s finite; crushingly so. I’m happy to answer questions on the forum - where I can dedicate a known amount of time and tackle as much as possible, regardless of whether the person is currently online or not, and Twitter fills in the more social & real-time aspects without being a burden. IRC by contrast is high maintenance and extremely wasteful with time for the same purpose, and I just can’t justify it.

So farewell IRC,  I really won’t miss you very much.