by adam mathes

Will VR Matter

When the echo chamber of modern tech punditry and giant company thinking claims something is the next big thing, usually either they’re too soon, way too late, or completely wrong.


DID YOU KNOW: Some technology executives are so good at not predicting the future, you can safely bet that whatever they proclaim in their public statements will definitely not be a priority at that company or the industry within five years, and have successfully done that at multiple companies over multiple decades.

Is this the future?

Getting the self-loathing and industry-loathing out of the way — the HTC Vive is the first product I’ve used in a few years that has felt like the future. That thrill of the novel, the squishy odd newness, the vague sense of uneasiness.

Truly novel things have to cause uneasiness in early iteration or they’re not actually novel.

I bought, used, and got bored with an Oculus Rift DK2 in 2015. It’s not that it wasn’t interesting, it just wasn’t interesting enough compared to the annoyance required vs. other ways to occupy my time.

(Also, resolution was low, software wasn’t ready, nobody knows how to make good stuff yet, etc.)

The Vive seems qualitatively different — moving from seated VR experiences (which only ever felt “right” to me if in a cockpit or similar simulation) to “room scale” VR with motion controllers is about 10x the hassle in setup, cords, and ridiculousness, but 100x the value in awesomeness.


I spent an hour futzing around with magical light cubes, too many cords, tuning a gaming PC that forces me to use Windows despite spending most of the last 20 years avoiding that OS at all costs, and afterwards it felt a little like the time I looked around my living room after playing Rock Band for a month and realized my life was full of fake plastic instruments.

Is this really how I want to live my life? What if someone sees this? What is all this weird plastic ephemeral detritus strewn about?

I was pretty sure it was a mistake and I would return the ridiculous monstrosity by the end of the weekend.


After spending even more time setting up “room scale VR” by waving motion controllers around a room, then having to do it again while reaching over a futon and furniture to trick it into thinking I had enough space, I was finally ready.

The first time I loaded up Space Pirate Trainer, looked down at my hand, and saw a future space gun thing, it blew my mind.

Not the blowing up the space drones for 30 minutes afterwards — though that was fun too.

What sticks with me was looking at the virtual object that was mapped to a physical object that I was holding, and seeing it and manipulating it. That bizarre otherworldy interplay between physical, digital, real and virtual created a level of presence and weirdness and fun.

That feeling is the future.

It’s like the magic of the first time playing Wii Bowling but hyperwired into your retinas and with everything hitting your whole body and ten million times more intense. And not bowling.

Will Anyone Care

Translating existing popular genres of entertainment over has challenges. The weight, heat, power, GPU/CPU requirements, cords, and rest of the mess makes using VR for extended periods of time still annoying.

I just want to dive into the metaverse, not fight with hardware.


It’ll get sorted out — though it might take another two or three generations of VR technology to make the annoyance factor low enough to bring it from the early adopters to a more mainstream audience.

Nobody really wants to futz with cords, high cost GPUs, or touch Windows 10, even if it means that’s the only way to touch the future.

The dividends of the smartphone wars make it seem reasonable to assume we’ll have the equivalent of what today you need a PC GPU for in a high quality VR self-contained headset unit with 4k-8k screens in the next 5 years (either by shoving your smartphone into a headset or standalone) for the cost of a smartphone/console. (Google Cardboard was step one in this direction, Daydream devices are step two — I’ve got a Pixel with headset on the way to see how it’s progressing.)

Feels like we’ll also need some better ways to handle physically walking around without infinite physical space (treadmills? gyroscopic crazy things?)

The contrarian view here is that VR is just too weird to gain wide adoption — maybe all this hype is for nothing, and maybe AR or other things are the next thing.

Seems shortsighted. My bet is VR headsets in 10 years will be as prevalent as video game consoles and the dominant form of immersive entertainment (eating into television, gaming, and mobile device usage) once the hardware becomes cheaper and easier to use than a giant television.

Video Game Consumption, Q3 2016

Regency Solitaire

This game is so good I can’t really even explain it.

I’m not going to try.



VIDEOBALL is one of the most completely realized thoughts on game mechanics ever made in any medium.

I like VIDEOBALL a lot. Even though it appears nobody plays it.


No Man’s Sky

It’s not as good as any of the gameplay trailers which are basically aspirational ads and not actual gameplay, as the internet will gladly tell you.

I’ve played 46 hours.

It’s pretty amazing, and feels like some of the most incredible exploration moments in gaming.

And also terrible and boring and awful and monotonous and addictive and garbage.

It’s a masterpiece while simultaneously being a huge disappointment.

Maybe in a year it will be 5 stars. Or zero stars. I don’t know.



A post-apocalyptic point and click adventure game published by Wadjet Eye Games, so, yes I enjoyed it a lot, as all previous evidence would suggest I would.

Feels like a believable world, great character, good writing, acting, puzzles. It’s good!



Finally a first person adventure mystery game where the main NPC is an MS-DOS machine with Dr. Sbaitso!

Event[0] is beautiful, interesting, and ambitious but the limits of its tiny world - both the dimensions and size of the ship and the limits of the “AI” Kaizen - hamper its ability to convey a complete, coherent, and rich interactive experience.

It’s not that I think games have to be “long” to have “value” — just that this one doesn’t feel complete, and ends up seeming a bit disappointing. I want more highly memorable, short 5 hour interactive experiences, I just felt this one didn’t quite hit, but applaud the effort.


Kathy Rain

A mystery point and click that feels like it’s trying to be Gabriel Knight but I felt ended up being only pretty good rather than memorable and awesome. Enjoyable but forgettable.

I expected I’d like the protagonist more but Kathy just sort of annoyed me after a couple hours.



The succession from Flower to Journey to this feels like each iteration the creative team gets closer to making the game they really want to make in terms of a visual interactive experiences.

But also maybe what they really want to make is just a movie?

But you can’t make a wordless cg movie of a dude swimming for a few hours, so, we have ABZU.

It’s very pretty and you can meditate on a rock while fish swim around you — proving that what consumers really want is just After Dark aquariums.



I was expecting that Quardrilateral Cowboy would blow me away like the other Blendo Games but it’s so finnicky I gave up after a couple hours feeling that it was too unfun.

I’m not going to talk about Mighty No. 9 other than to say I probably should probably just start blocking Kickstarter at the DNS level.

Virtual Reality

I bought an HTC Vive and played a lot of VR stuff that I’ll write about separately.

Sim Travel

I put my sim back into my iPhone 5S for a couple days and railed about how the 6 series of phones are slippery garbage — and after two years the hardware and software hasn’t adapted to larger screen usability.

(Why are home screen icons still filled from the least accessible part of the screen?)

· · ·

Putting your sim into a 3 year old device feels like the promise of time travel, but it’s nothing like that. The now and future won’t be stopped by anyone’s gadget defiance.

(Then I pre-ordered a jet black iPhone 7.)

Pre-Apple Event Sept 2017


Rumor: iPhone that looks like an iPhone 6 sans headphone jack.

What I want: iPhone that looks like anything other than an iPhone 6.


Rumor: Watch will now include GPS.

What I want: Watch with always on display.


The standalone 5k display and updated Retina MacBook Pro that has modern processors / GPUs that I would instantly buy are rumored to still be months away.

I’m increasingly afraid I will just give up and buy an iPhone SE.

· · ·

I don’t want to spend my time on a giant two-handed phone — I prefer real, powerful computers with giant displays and large iPads for the rest of the time.

The 6 has probably been the only iPhone I own that I felt strong dislike towards.

Apple’s product line feels increasingly hostile to my preferences.

Maybe It Just Makes Me Crankier

Well that was a weird summer. (On multiple levels.)

· · ·

Whether social media isolation can actually ameliorate the negative impact of social media is still an open question for me, despite a few months of evidence. It’s hard to evaluate when your test subject is yourself and there are large uncontrolled variables.

Just Add Nationalism and Emotional Human Interest Stories

micah: I hate the Olympics.

clare.malone: Wait. Really?

harry: Really.

clare.malone: I have never heard anyone say that. I’m not being hyperbolic here.

You don’t even like one event?

harry: I watch baseball and football. Those are not Olympic events.

natesilver: The Olympics is sports, packaged for non-sports fans, which is slightly offensive if you’re a sports fan.

Is Donald Trump Blowing it? FiveThirtyEight

Eric Andre at the RNC

The only political coverage that matters.

That sure was VIDEOBALL

VIDEOBALL is a game that you can not quit.

Mostly because Action Button Entertainment literally did not implement a quit function in the initial PC version.

VIDEOBALL is one of the most completely realized thoughts on game mechanics ever made in any medium.

(If you’ve been reading Tim Rogers’s work for years this makes intuitive sense.)

Mostly though, it’s fun.

It’s beautiful, simple, colorful, and engaging. The charge mechanics are so carefully crafted and pleasing it feels like pure joy each time you pull off a play just right.

And, on top of that, it has incredible sound effect design, music, and voiceovers.

Highest possible recommendation.


TECHCORP logo from Mr. Show Season 1, Episode 2 — “What To Think”

Every time I watch Mr. Show again I see something other detail that’s amazing.

[HBO Now]

Video Game Consumption Q2 2016


Expectations couldn’t have been lower. id hasn’t released a good game in years - rage was abysmal, Doom 3 a debacle. Carmack is off making magic VR goggles. Doom as a franchise is more than 20 years old. No review copies were sent out in advance — almost universally a sign that a publisher is expecting bad reviews.

So that Doom is a masterpiece of beautiful and horrific carnage, capturing what made doom bizarrely terrifying and awesome when it rocked the PC gaming world in the 90s, is one of the amazing surprises in gaming this year.

It’s fast, unlike the plodding cover based shooters that followed.

The weird over the top violence is mixed with a rhythm-based mechanic that finds a way to turn the ever-increasing carnage of monstrous demons and overwhelming odds into an intense flow when it works.

It’s level design again harkens back to the original weirdness of strange architectures, combinations of science fiction and demonic and horror.

Spoiler: you’re going to fight demons in hell.

Spoiler: it’s going to be awesome.



I have loved every sci-fi point and click adventure game Wadjet Eye Games has published. I loved this one too.

Great writing, art, atmosphere, and puzzles. It’s excellent.


Wolfenstein: The Old Blood

Pretty good! Came for free with Doom, which makes it seem less good in comparison, despite being free.

Wolfenstein The New Order was somewhat refreshing and fun, this felt more plodding, less fun. More forgettable.


Batman Arkham Knight

The PC version of this game was such a mess at launch they stopped selling it and I never played it. But now, in the future, graphics cards are more powerful and I guess they fixed some bugs and it’s kind of awesome?

I’m Batman! Wait, why is Batman in a tank? Am I Batman? And if so why am I in a tank?

I mean, if you are asking these questions instead of enjoying SCREAMING THROUGH GOTHAM IN THE BATMOBILE then why don’t you just EJECT YOURSELF from the Batmobile at high velocity up into the skies of Gotham and glide around and then land on a building and kick the crap out of some villains?

Now do you feel better?

I read Marvel comics, not DC, and thus do not care about any ideological purity or character guidance or nonsense in DC cartoons, games, or other media. I can just enjoy that every generation gets the Batman they deserve, and right now we need one that requires an insane amount of graphics power, and a fucking tank.


or maybe ★

I honestly don’t know but I played like 50 hours of this and all the DLC, sorry.

Are There Viable Open Source Slack Alternatives?

Some are close, but I believe there will need to be serious investment in native mobile applications for the existing open source solutions to get there.

What Is Slack

Slack is incredibly popular, high growth, proprietary chat software.

You should probably try it if you haven’t already, it’s nice.

What IS Slack

It’s a little more than that. Key elements that make Slack Slack

  1. real time chat
  2. asset hosting and sharing (images, links, etc)
  3. search of text and assets
  4. understandable authentication and permissions
  5. client software for web
  6. platform for automated users (bots)
  7. native mobile clients for iOS and Android with push notifications
  8. a bunch of social norms and behaviors around talking to coworkers (with emoji and gifs)

1-5 are nearly a commodity at this point in various forms, though generally not packaged very well together as a system.

The value of 6 can mostly be replicated by competing platforms as de facto standards emerge, but hasn’t.

7 is actually a competitive differentiator for Slack right now, and is the focus of the conclusion of this piece.

It may seem like I’m mocking 8 but I’m not. Setting the cultural context and norms for communication software matters a lot more than people think, and how software makes you feel is part of why people will or will not use it. (This is something that open source software, and software generally, ignores.)

All communication and social software is about people, and how they feel. When you breathe culture and personality into software, it has an impact on that. 1

Why Use Slack

Slack is a great way to get the above with very little hassle in a hosted, integrated offering with momentum.

I like the software! It’s nice. There’s an attention to detail, polish, and craftsmanship in what they’ve made that is very admirable.

I have friends that work there, and they’re all nice too.

Why Not Slack

Cost may be an issue, though for most business usage I doubt that will be the deciding factor.

For personal usage, it seems cost prohibitive if you want to keep access to your archives and get the “full” experience.

Bigger issues that may be important to you:

  • data security and ownership
  • federation
  • long term viability of Slack Technologies Inc.
  • cost structure in long term
  • long term viability of proprietary protocols, closed source code vs. open protocols
  • lack of control over your own communications archives and destiny
  • uptime and stability
  • government surveilance, end to end encryption, privacy

You can argue that exports and backups and documentation can mitigate a lot of the above but in 2016 it feels like real time chat communications platform should be something anybody can spin up and use without hassle, and without having to deal with a giant VC funded US corporation, no matter how benevolant you think those entities may or may not be.

Much of the above I think are just fundamentally not going to be addresseable with centralized, hosted solutions (privacy, surveillance, encryption, ownership). All the convenience of magical self-hosted centralized software comes at a cost, some people may deem the tradeoffs not worth it.

For me, while I work on proprietary software and have for many years, I choose to spend some of my free time pretending to be an open source curmudgeon, sometimes, and want to understand what the alternatives are.

The older I get, the more it seems like RMS was right more often than I ever thought.


Even if you don’t care about any of that, there’s probably viable businesses in getting open source slack alternatives up to parity and selling services or other complements around it.

Slack has hundreds of thousands of paying users and is growing — there’s hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenue over the next few years in this space, it will be surprising to me if the open source community doesn’t capture some of it.

Three Contenders

Looking at the current landscape of Slack alternatives, I found three that I think can get you most of the elements listed above: IRC, Mattermost, and Rocket Chat.

After limited usage my take is IRC is a glorious mess, Mattermost and Rocket Chat are both incredibly impressive efforts at this stage, though my personal take is Mattermost feels a bit disappointing, and Rocket Chat shows more promise and momentum.


I’ve been playing around with IRC lately and it’s, well, IRC. It’s a beautiful mess.


  • tons of servers
  • tons of clients
  • tons of bot and automation tools
  • tons of logging tools
  • lots and lots and lots of options for everything!

Challenges with IRC to get it to be a reasonable Slack alternative:

  • things may or may not work together
  • everything feels incomprehensible
  • very hard to integrate context / archiving / logs / search into client experiences
  • authentication is difficult
  • UX has a steep learning curve by default
  • native mobile clients — protocol works poorly on mobile, slow connection/starts
  • native push — extremely difficult to set up, non-standard
  • non-text assets — hard to handle by default, need to go beyond protocol
  • search — requires logging and external tools

If I were the CIO of a decent sized tech company that could recruit engineers, I might rather match the tens of thousands I’d spend on Slack with an internal open source effort to build out the capabilities of IRC to future proof and have full ownership of my data and processes.

(Etsy may be that company, which is awesome.)

Most of the above challenges are addressable, but it’s not trivial, and requires a lot of different kinds of work to come together (server, client, authentication integration, user experience) and by the time you’re done you end up making something that doesn’t work with most IRC software anymore.

For small teams, personal projects, and other things it feels like IRC is a lost cause at this point. Unless your audience is UNIX loving open source nerds, you’re in trouble.

Membership has been declining so it’s unlikely people are already using it - you’re probably trying to get people to use it from scratch.

(I tried and failed, but I didn’t try very hard, and I have no friends.)


As of this writing this piece, its github has 341 watchers, 8462 stars, 987 forks. It’s an active, impressive project.

Mattermost feels like the open source project most directly positioned to challenge Slack credibly, but my short time trying it was kind of disappointing.

For example, here’s me trying to upload an image and look at it and figure out why it doesn’t work:

I failed.

I had a lot of trouble running it (mostly because I had a bunch of legacy 32-bit system libraries, but that’s a tale for another day.)


  • written in Go — I love GoLang!
  • core feature: real time communication, archiving, search basics seem to work
  • nice platform for integrations
  • single-sign-on authentication with GitLab
  • projects a more enterprise, professional face and sells services


  • limited deployment options documented
  • felt buggy to me, almost immediately
  • overall UX feels very janky, even on web
  • authentication with GitLab but not others easily
  • doesn’t feel like a fun, vibrant community project from their online presence
  • weak native apps — wrappers around webviews lead to high latency and low usability

It’s an impressive piece of tech, but more fuzzily, Mattermost doesn’t feel like it has momentum and delight yet as a product, it feels more like enterprise software that is in development.

Rocket Chat

As of writing this piece, its github has 499 watchers 8099 stars, 1686 forks, so a similar level of activity as Mattermost.

But Rocket Chat feels like the most viable Slack open source alternative right now to me. It gets the fundamentals right of real time communication, asset sharing, and search. The community has made efforts to make it very easy to deploy in a whole lot of ways, and discussions around it seem like it has emerged organically and has a lot of passionate developers working on it.


  • mostly seems to work with little tweaking
  • lots of deployment options and one click deploys that work
  • authentication, including social authentication on Twitter
  • lots and lots of features popping in
  • feels like a lively, active community


  • some of those features seems half-finished, buggy or not well integrated
  • buggy — a key push notifications feature didn’t work
  • some docs are non-existent or hard to follow
  • platform / integration tools are in flux, not easy to drop in arbitrary bots besides Hubot
  • weak native apps — wrappers around webviews lead to high latency and low usability

Native Mobile As Leverage Point

The success and ascendance of chat applications has mirrored smartphones.

Chat is, in many ways, the ideal mobile use case and interface, and certainly one of its killer apps.

Webviews wrapped in a mobile app to handle push notifications are just not as responsive, fluid, or usable as native applications. They’re subpar experiences.

It’s going to be very hard to compete against Slack without high quality, fast, real mobile experiences.

A viable Slack open source competitor needs high quality native mobile applications that don’t exist today.

Free Advice

If I were advising one of these or other Slack alternatives, I’d encourage them to make native mobile top priority and invest in it. I think it’s the highest leverage point of any of them right now. 2

The rest (while not trivial) seems to be coming along OK. (Though there’s probably something in security and encryption that could be interesting too.)

The open source community is weaker in mobile, compared to its strength in server and web experiences (and desktop.) Given that both major mobile platforms are managed computing environments owned by giant corporations and come with lots of restrictions and strings attached, this is not surprising. But it is going to hamper adoption of new communications tools like this and let others take the market.

The next priority would be to emulate Slack’s APIs for third party integrations where possible — the webhooks and bot integrations Slack offers are very powerful and being able to re-use that ecosystem is very powerful.

· · ·

My guess is Slack understands how important their mobile clients are to their current usage and growth. If I were advising them, I’d suggest finding ways to keep the mobile experiences extremely performant (my experience is it feels like it takes a long time to get back to a chat when relaunching the app) and figure out how to stay dramatically ahead of whatever open source alternatives eventually come up. (As usual, advice is easier to give than to execute on.)


[ 1 ] A more interesting and perhaps more controversial piece would delve into this topic, in the context of soul-less enterprise software, but I’m trying to be positive here and if I hear one more person complain about brand x proprietary enterprise soulless software vs. brand y I may cry.

[ 2 ] I estimate a first version is doable with a 3-5 person team in 3-6 months, if that team has the right mobile expertise and scopes the project appropriately. Given Rocket Chat is built on Meteor, it may be (slightly) easier to get there by using existing software that bridges Meteor changes to CoreData. You still have to build the real UI, which isn’t trivial.)

Living In the Era of Infinite Computing

Yesterday I wrote about how technology at scale is itself a commodity.

So if scaled computing infrastructure and tools to use them are now commodities, what’s the complement that is becoming more valuable?

  1. collection of unique and gigantic data sets (big companiess, governments benefit)
  2. ability to do something compelling with data (data backed product innovation, data science, you should have paid more attention in statistics!)
  3. products and services that don’t rely on data (give up, go home)
  4. products and services that get worse with more data (left as an exercise to the reader)

More cynically, tracking, surveillance, or other means to continually gather and improve data sets, which is kind of terrifying.

Distribution was a critical capability — but distribution today is often just the free byproduct to a data gathering effort that makes that distribution profitable. Television and newspapers could sell access to an audience on distribution alone, they didn’t need the audience to ping back everything they did to the TV station to be stored for eternity.

As sensors and computation become cheaper, more ubiquitous and more embedded in more places, the owner and aggregation point for the data produced becomes more and more powerful.

I feel like I see a lot of people talking about consumer social media, user activity at scale and the matching ad tech behind it, but less so some of these others that seem a hell of a lot more important than targeting ads —

  • Insurance companies — health care usage and outcomes via claims, financial and claims data
  • Financial institutions — transactions, credit, asset changes at scale
  • Telcos — cellular data — as internet enabled devices and transportation adds networking they get tracking of vehicles, people, objects 24/7

…and of course

  • State-level actors — government intelligence agencies, surveillance at scale

Increasingly option (3) seems to a path worth looking at from my perspective.

Technology At Scale is A Commodity

One explanation for Google’s early success is that it was derived from the application of computer science at scale. This scale was not just a difficult technical achievement fueled by incredibly smart technologists, but so difficult that competitors didn’t pursue similar efforts due to difficulty, uncertainty, and cost until they were proven out.

Google crawled the web faster, then did complex graph analysis on it nobody else did or even could do, creating a better search experience.

Gmail provided effectively infinite storage for email — a gigabyte — at a time when competitors were limiting storage to an amount that required user attention and deleting — single or double digit megabytes.

Moore’s law may slow as we reach physical limits, but the unit economics of things like computation, memory, and storage fall, and fall faster at scale. So as you grow Gmail, unit costs decrease as usage increases and technological advances carry you ahead.

This isn’t a long term defensible play in and of itself: competitors can swoop in and realize these same cost advantages, as the big webmail providers did quickly.

But now, you don’t have to be a giant company to make that play.

Scale at Scale

Amazon Web Services (and the similar efforts from IBM and others) have made computing power at scale itself a commodity. Tiny startups have access to it with minimal capital, and they can realize much of the advantages of huge scale before hitting it themselves.

Companies like Google could develop innovations like Gmail by asking questions - what if storage was so cheap users never had to delete an email? And then build out the solution to deliver it.

Crazy Technology Ideas Are Sensible Now

Probably the coolest feature I ever product managed at Google started with a conversation that went something like

“Hey, this is computationally infeasible but could we brute force the linking between books via quotes? Hash every sentence or n-gram and compare?”

“Well, that sounds computationally impossible. So no, not that way. That’s well, that’s not going to happen. But, yeah, maybe.

Then brilliant research scientists went off and wrote ground breaking software , comfortable in the fact that they had access to nearly infinite computing resources to run giant mapreduces on to solve it.

I don’t want to discount the high cost of complexity and technical achievement in something like popular passages or similar work — just that getting great engineers to solve problems is not the scarce resource. If you want to do something crazy today, the gating factor is not owning a data center, or having access to tools to handle large amounts of data, or getting access to smart engineers.

Open Source

While AWS has made scaled computing a commodity, open source software increasingly makes complex tasks like machine learning more accessible to more people and cuts their costs too.

It makes sense for Google, Amazon IBM and others to invest and distribute these tools — they drive additional usage of the scaled computing platforms.

While hiring is difficult we have plenty of brilliant people who will jump to work on interesting giant problems (with enough compensation.)

The cost of scaled computing continues to drop and become more accessible, and the tools to leverage it become cheaper and cheaper.


  1. companies won’t win on scaling infrastructure
  2. much of groundbreaking computer science 10 years ago is now a commodity
  3. a lot of what we think of as groundbreaking CS today will be a commodity in 10 years

Try Shorter Forms

“What IRC thing?”

“Well, clearly someone doesn’t read my web site.

“Oh was that the most recent thing? That was… too long.”

Post-modern IRC

The last time I regularly used IRC was sometime in college to keep up with the underground classic arcade and console game piracy/preservation community.

I didn’t pay much attention to IRC itself — it was just an interesting way to communicate with a weird subculture I was on the periphery of.

Now that I’m looking at IRC with fresh eyes as a technologist and conscientious objector of modern social media, all the wondrous beauty, potential, incomprehensibility and flaws seem all the more apparent.


Unlike proprietary modern tightly coupled solutions, IRC is a protocol with an RFC from 25 years ago. So it runs everywhere, there’s clients for every platform, servers galore, and whole ecosystem of related software.

There’s a certain durability and comfort to these kinds of standards running on commodity hardware with an open source operating system. You can be pretty sure if you set some unix server to run IRC, you’ll be able to keep using IRC in some form years from now.

I love boring software now in a way I never thought I would.

If you choose some hot shit modern chat app thing, who knows where it will be in a few years. (On that note, does anybody still use XMPP? Wasn’t it funny that in the late 90’s when using XML for everything seemed like a modern and awesome future-proofing idea?! We’ll probably feel that way about Javascript in 20 years.)

Usability Nightmare

Unlike proprietary modern tightly coupled solutions, IRC is an old school protocol where everything is an incomprehensible nightmare of disparate configuration files, arcane commands, usability nightmares, security flaws, and duct tape and chewing gum to keep it all together.

It’s great though. Really. Really? Really. Maybe.

Missing Pieces

Ignoring the general incomprehensibility of IRC and the vocabulary that is required for a user, setting up a private IRC server actually isn’t that bad as far as services go. At its core, typing in a box to send a message is more or less something that makes intuitive sense once you get people there.

(That was one of the only things that people could figure out how to do on Orkut and social networks.)

Some of the challenges with IRC —

  • authentication and identity — IRC has always had a weird hodgepodge of “services” built on top to try and handle identity to fill the gaps but it feels particularly awkward now in an age of single-sign on services
  • persistence — the ephemeral nature of IRC is kind of wonderful, but makes it hard to keep up with things, and the weird world of bouncers and loggers to fill in are not super easy to comprehend or deal with it
  • mobile — native mobile clients for IRC exist but the protocol (and the lack of push notifications easily available) make using IRC as a modern messaging platform on the dominant platforms challenging to normal human beings who aren’t in front of a keyboard all day

Don’t Let That Stop You

Never one to let usability, security, or sanity stop me in technical endeavors for antisocial software, I now have a setup that includes:

  • IRC daemonngIRCd set up to only allow connections from my server
  • preconfigured web client that connects to it for easy access — Lounge
  • loggerLogBot
  • bouncer to enable persistent connection for myself and BFFs — znc
  • Mac clientLimeChat
  • iOS clientMutter with push notifications
  • no friends actually using it

I declare that a huge success, personally.

Anyway, give it a shot. Relive the glory days of the webarrific discussioney board but in realtime over IRC at

Or don’t. I’ll probably just ignore whatever happens on there anyway, and regret that I just made a thing that allows anyone to anonymously send me push notifications.


Ppersistence/login working seamlessly on a web version without a complicated bouncer setup would be nice.

Figuring out a way to integrate images/image hosting.

IRC bouncers are great but the multiple level of authentication / logins / etc needed to get all this to work is pretty daunting — something that handled all that seamlessly would be interesting.

Bots. There should probably an adammathebooks bot on the channel at all times, and really a host menagerie of bot pals since the internet for me has always fundamentally been about me talking to myself in various ways anyway.

At what point do I just give up and decide we all should just use the same UNIX server to talk to each other.

I feel like I’m inching ever and ever closer to just throwing everything out the window and trying to find a way to live in hacked up Raspberry Pi’s.