CHATting AND TALKing ON THE NET
One of the many nice things that you can do on the Internet is to "chat" and "talk" to other Internet users around the world through your keyboard without incurring long-distance and overseas charges. But even though this option is available to almost anybody with an Internet connection, only few people use it and most of the people who use it don't use it very well. While you can be off surfing the World Wide Web within seconds of setting up your Internet software in your computer, gearing up for a CHAT or TALK session is a learning experience that usually requires a lot of help usually from someone who has experiences in using it.
There is a difference between CHAT and TALK when used on the Net. When you CHAT, you usually do it with a group of people (although a one-on-one chat is also possible) using a program called Internet Relay Chat (IRC) that runs on an IRC Server. TALK is a one-on-one conversation that does not require an IRC Server. On a Chat session, the other people in the session do not see what you are typing in your keyboard until you press the RETURN or ENTER key. So if you are a slow typist, people on the chat session with you might have switched to another topic before you can relay your messages on the previous topic. Because of this and because it is sometimes difficult to find an IRC Server to hold your chat, a TALK session is preferable when you just need to talk to someone else in particular. We use the CHAT during our interview with Jim Paredes and Boboy Garrovillo of the Apo Hiking Society simply because a TALK session is not possible when there are more than two people in the session.
CHAT is similar to a CB-radio conversation. On a CB, you select a frequency to find other people to talk to; on a CHAT session, you select a Channel (or Room) to hold your group discussion. To be able to do a CHAT, you must have an Internet connection (of course!) and an IRC client software. Most providers do not provide an IRC client software to their subscribers but you can easily find one on the Net (do a Net Search for WSIRC, mIRC, InteRfaCe, ChatMan and Pirch, among a few of them). My favourite is mIRC which you can download at http://www.mirc.co.uk/. This site has everything you need to know about this software: (how to download to your computer, how to install, how to operate- and most importantly, it has several preconfigured IRC Servers that you can try). Unfortunately mIRC does not have a Mac version and Mac users may wish to check the IRCle software http://www.ircle.com/. Other IRC software can be downloaded from any TUCOWS site at http://www.tucows.com/ under the COMMUNICATIONS, CHAT-IRC section.
The first thing you'll have to do after you have figured out how to activate your IRC client is to give yourself a nickname and choose an IRC Server to logon to. You will be known in the chat session with your nickname. IRC Servers are computers (not necessarily with your Internet provider) running the IRC program. There are several of them on the Net and you can find some of them at: http://www.mirc.co.uk/servers.html.
The choice of an IRC Server is important because some servers will refuse new connections if there are enough users already using that Server. It is also a good idea to choose a Server near your place as some Servers will deny access to callers from a distant location or the response time could be slow if you are using a server from the other side of the world. Some IRC Servers are stand-alone server which means you can only chat with people who are logged on to that same server. Other servers are part of an IRC network which means that you can chat with people logged on to different IRC servers so long as those servers are part of that network. The most popular IRC Network is the Eris FreeNet (EFNet). Two other popular networks are DALNet and the UnderNet.
Once connected to an IRC Server, you must join a channel. There are some servers which have a default channel that you will find yourself with and start conversing immediately. Most servers however do not have a default channel and you will not be able to chat with anyone until you join an existing channel. To see what channels are available, type "/list" without the quotes (anything you type that starts with a forward slash (/) will be interpreted as a command and will not be visible to the other users on the channel. For example, the "/help" command will give you Help information about IRC and the "/quit" command will terminate your session. On popular networks such as EFNet, there could be thousands of channels at any given time so the output of the "/list" command can be long. Most channels have a topic of discussions to give you an idea of what is being discussed in the channel.
On EFNet, a popular hang-out of many Filipinos is the channel #Manila (for detailed discussion of this channel, check out: http://www.geocities.com/SiliconValley/Park/4886/. Channel #Manila is also available on other IRC networks but you'll find more Filipinos using that channel on an EFNet server than any other networks or servers. To join a channel, you will type: "/join #channel name" without the quotes (eg., "/join #manila"). If you join a non-existing channel, you are in effect creating that channel and you will find yourself all alone there with no one to chat with. And since you are the first person in that channel, you are automatically granted the channel operator status (unless that channel is reserved or registered). As a channel operator, you can change the mode of this channel (eg, make it private only so that only persons you invite can be in that channel or make it a secret channel so that it will not show up in the "/list" command.). As you will notice in the Chat interview with Jim and Boboy, a person nicknamed "Moonshadw" became curious about our channel (which we called Channel #apo), joined us in the middle of the interview and quickly left when he realized we were doing a private chat and after advising us to make our channel secret.
One final word about IRC: if you are expecting to chat with your friends on the IRC, make sure that you logon to the same IRC Server or use a Server belonging to the same IRC Network and be on the same channel. Even if you use the same IRC server and you are on different channels, you will not find each other. Likewise, you can be on the same channel but if you are using different IRC servers and your servers do not belong to the same network, then you will still not find each other.
While CHAT is patterned to a CB conversation, TALK is like a telephone conversation. On a telephone conversation, you dial the other person's phone number; on a TALK session, you will initiate the session by paging the other party's IP (Internet Protocol) address or computer name. And here lies the problem. Most dial-up Internet connections will assign you a dynamic IP address. Your IP address will change everytime you logon to your account. The easiest way to get around this problem is to take note of your current IP address and then send an e-mail to the other parties notifying them of your IP address. If you are using Trumpet Winsock, the IP address is indicated as soon as Trumpet Winsock makes a connection. If you are using the Dial-Up Networking of Windows 95, you can run the program "winipcfg.exe" program that is in the Windows directory. There are also some shareware programs that you can use to announce your IP address in a web document everytime you go online such as Rhusoft's Online.
Once you have found the way to exchange IP addresses, TALK is easier to schedule than a CHAT session because you and the other party need not logon to an IRC server. It is also a more efficient way of doing a chat because you can see in your screen the message from the other party as he or she is typing it without pressing the Return key (as the case with Chat).
You will need a TALK software running on your computer to initiate a TALK session. I use a shareware program called WinTalk which is available at this particular site on the Net: http://www.elf.com/elf/wintalk/wintalk.html. If you have "shell" access with your Internet provider (you will not have this option if you are using big Internet providers such as Compuserve, Microsoft Network, iStar, etc.), you do not need to install a TALK program in your computer since you will most probably have access to your Internet provider's TALK program. In such cases, you can initiate a TALK session by simply typing the command "talk xxx" replacing "xxx" with the IP address or computer name of the other party.
For more information about IRC, check the IRC Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) at http://www.kei.com/irc.html .
1. November, 1997. A lot of new Talk and Chat programs have been developed since I wrote the above article. Some of them (like Mirabilis' ICQ) have combined the best features of a TALK program (eg, ability to see the messages as the other party types them) and the CHAT program (eg, multi-user chat). However, most of these programs do require the services of a Server where the IP addresses are automatically registered so that people can find each other on the Net. When that Server goes down for maintenance or becomes saturated with users, the program becomes useless. Web-based chatting has now become a fad and a lot of homepages are now providing their audience with a room to chat using the friendlier atmosphere of their web browsers. Some (like TalkCity) gives the audience the choice of using either their Java-enabled web browser (very easy to use but is slow to load) or their IRC program (loads faster but is complicated to install and setup) when conducting their chat session. The proliferation of sound-cards and microphones in most newer PCs have led to the development of several voice chat programs (Internet Phone, Netmeeting, Cooltalk, Digiphone, Freetel, etc.) and to a lesser extent video conferencing (such as CU-SeeMe, Videophone, etc.) which allows people to actually conduct a voice conversation over the Internet without incurring long distance telephone charges.
2. August, 2004. Almost eight years passed since I wrote this article and chatting on the Net is still predominantly conducted through the use of keyboards. Voice chat while already available in most chat programs like the MSN Messenger at: http://messenger.msn.com/ , Yahoo Messenger at: http://messenger.yahoo.com/ and AOL Instant Messenger at: http://www.aim.com/ has not gained momentum yet. This is because there is no set standard yet for a voice chat--for example, a person using the MSN messenger can not chat with someone using the AOL Messenger. There are still IRC servers around but not as much as the old days when IRC is the only means for a group chat.
(c) Copyright 1996 to
2004 by Rey Carolino
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transcripts of my chat interviews with