The world of IRC is an interesting one. Despite a large and extremely active user base, most people have no idea what IRC is and how it’s different than the type of instant messaging we’re used to today.
Today we’ll give you a crash course in chatting using the IRC protocol and take a look at one of the most popular Mac IRC clients around: Colloquy.
What is IRC?
For many Mac users, including myself, “chatting online” implies cracking open iChat or Skype and calling up a buddy. In this mode of communication you generally chat with a single person at a time or invite a few people to join in for a small group chat or video conference.
So what is IRC and how is it different from the instant messaging protocol that you’re used to? The answer can be quite techie, but I’m ill equipped to provide a lesson in server protocols so we’ll keep it simple.
Internet Relay Chat (IRC) is basically group-focused Internet chat that uses channels of chat rooms as opposed to a list of specific buddies (though buddy lists are still possible). Yep, you read that right. Chat rooms didn’t die out in 2002, they’re still around and contain plenty of active users.
What is Colloquy?
Colloquy is one of the most prominent free IRC clients available for the Mac. In addition to IRC, it supports SILC, XMPP and ICB chat (more server protocols).
Colloquy is open source and impressively extendable so be sure to stop by the website (shown above) and grab the latest build.
When you fire up Colloquy for the first time you’re going to see two windows (shown below). The window on the left lists your current connections and the window on the right creates a new connection.
Typing in a “Nickname” will essentially provide you with a screen name that you can use as an identifier inside a chat room. Obviously, it’s best to try to choose something unique to avoid confusion.
Next you choose your desired server protocol, in this case we’ll go with IRC. Finally, you can choose a chat server via the dropdown menu.
After you connect to a given server, it will show up in your list of connections.
Joining a Chatroom
Once you’re connected to a server, select it from the list of connections and hit the “Join Room” button. This should give you the option to view all the chat rooms associate with a given server.
Chat room titles generally begin with “#” and are either quite descriptive or completely indecipherable. The goal here is to scroll through the list and find something that interests you.
You can use the filter feature on the bottom left to quickly find a given chartroom. For instance, type in “osx” to see a list of rooms dedicated to discussions about Mac OS X.
Chatting it Up
The main chat window contains a list of all the chat rooms that you currently occupy. From here you can click on a room and see the conversation that’s happening within.
As you can see, each comment is listed along with the nickname of who is speaking. The bottom of the window contains a simple text field for you to join in the conversation.
Using the “Style” menu, you can change the appearance of the conversations. Colloquy comes with nine built-in theme options and the ability to customize further from the preference menu.
There are a couple of other useful features here such as the ability to clear the conversation and add the current chat room to your favorites.
Clicking on a nickname will open up a private dialog with that user and allow you to add them to your buddy list so you can keep track of when they are online and what room they are in.
The Colloquy preference window contains a ton of customization options including options for how the interface functions, basic appearing settings, alert customizations, word highlighting, file transfers and more.
In true open source style, Colloquy really gives you the freedom to structure your chat experience however you please.
To further the customization options available with Colloquy, you can check out the Extras section on the Colloquy website to find various plugins and themes.
The sizable plugins library will allow you to add all kinds of features such as the tweeting, Wikipedia links, and language translation.
IRC definitely isn’t for everyone, but for those who still enjoy the chat room format Colloquy is definitely the quintessential free client for the Mac. The feature set is quite powerful right out of the box and there are tons of customization and extension options.
Leave a comment below and let us know what IRC client you use and how it stacks up to Colloquy.