What Really IRCs Me: Slack

Find out how to reconnect to Slack over IRC using a Bitlbee libpurple plugin.

I'm an IRC kind of guy. I appreciate the simplicity of pure text chat, emoticons instead of emojis, and the vast array of IRC clients and servers to choose from, including the option to host your own. All of my interactive communication happens over IRC either through native IRC channels (like #linuxjournal on Freenode) or using a local instance of Bitlbee to act as an IRC gateway to other chat protocols. Because my IRC client supports connecting to multiple networks at the same time, I've been able to manage all of my personal chat, group chat and work chat from a single window that I can connect to from any of my computers.

Before I upgraded to IRC, my very first chat experience was in the late 1990s on a web-based Java chat applet, and although I hold some nostalgia for web-based chat because I met my wife on that network, chatting via a web browser just seems like a slow and painful way to send text across the internet. Also, shortly after we met, the maintainers of that network decided to shut down the whole thing, and since it was a proprietary network with proprietary servers and clients, when they shut it down, all those chat rooms and groups were lost.

What's old is new again. Instead of Java, we have JavaScript, and kids these days like to treat their web browsers like Emacs, and so every application has to run as a web app. This leads to the latest trend in chat: Slack. I say the latest trend, because it wasn't very long ago that Hipchat was hip, and before that, even Yammer had a brief day in the sun. In the past, a software project might set up a channel on one of the many public or private IRC servers, but nowadays, everyone seems to want to consolidate their projects under Slack's infrastructure. This means if you joined a company or a software project that started during the past few years, more likely than not, you'll need to use Slack.

I'm part of a few Slack networks, and up until recently, I honestly didn't think all that much about Slack, because unlike some other proprietary chat networks, Slack had the sense to offer IRC and XMPP gateways. This meant that you weren't required to use its heavy web app, but instead, you could use whatever client you preferred yet still connect to Slack networks. Sure, my text-based IRC client didn't show animated Giphy images or the 20 party-parrot gifs in a row, but to me, that was a feature. Unfortunately, Slack could no longer justify the engineering effort to backport web chat features to IRC and XMPP, so the company announced it was shutting down its IRC and XMPP gateways.