Internet Relay Chat (IRC) is a form of instant communication over the Internet. It is mainly designed for group (many-to-many) communication in discussion forums called channels, but also allows one-to-one communication.
IRC is an open protocol that uses TCP and optionally SSL. An IRC server can connect to other IRC servers to expand the IRC network. Users access IRC networks by connecting a client to a server. There are many client and server implementations. Most IRC servers do not require users to log in, but a user will have to set a nickname before being connected.
IRC is a plaintext protocol, which means that it is fully possible (though quite inconvenient) to use IRC via a basic byte-stream client such as netcat or telnet. However, the protocol only uses a slightly modified version of ASCII, and does not originally provide any support for non-ASCII characters in text, with the result that many different, incompatible character encodings (such as ISO 8859-1 and UTF-8) are used.
Because most IRC implementations use an acyclic graph as their connection model, there is no redundancy, and outage of a server or a link can cause a netsplit.
Within the bounds of what we call the "Internet", there are several different channels or configurations... IIRC:
There may be others that I've overlooked but most people associate the 1st 2 with the internet / World Wide Web. Most people have not heard of the last 2, although both have strongly committed users groups.
Personally, I've tried IRC a few times but got scared and stayed away (seemed to be a lot of chat rooms discussing stuff that did not interest me...). Each of the 4 seems easiest to access with a good dedicated program (and 5-10 minutes with an experienced friend
Ok - now let the people who really know correct what I've written...
i prefer how IRC is set up to most any other chat setup on the web. however if you have never used it before its not terribly user friendly. one really nice thing about it is that it doesnt lag at all even with slow dial-up so it really nice when im at home and dont have DSL. if someone wants to setup a terraforums room that would be cool but i am only occationally on it when i want to bug some herpers. especially the cranky old guy down in west texas
I use to be on it ALL THE TIME but the chat I went to kind of croaked so I don't use it much anymore. And you're right it's not so much user friendly but I pretty much mastered it in a few weeks. I even made my own bot.