1. What is IRC, and how does it work?
All technical nonsense aside,IRC (Internet Relay Chat) is a method by which people can communicate from anywhere in the world given that they have access to the internet.The idea is that when you type something in it will appear on the monitors of anyone else in the world who cares to see it. And of course, you see what they type. You can communicate privately with one person, or with a whole "channel" full of people. It is even possible to participate multiple private sessions and multiple channels at the same time. Once you are connected you can join the channel #GaySA . This is where you will be able to communicate with muscle mary's, party animals, queens, ordinary folk and people with the same interests as you.
GaySA has it's own channel on ZAnet and LagNet in South Africa. These are the South african networks, however, the chat network consists of various separate networks (or "nets") of IRC servers, machines that allow users to connect to IRC. The largest of these are Undernet, IRCnet and DALnet.
The main reason to use IRC is simply that it is free. You may or may not have to pay an internet service provider for your connection to the internet, but there is no additional charge for IRC. IRC is a way to meet lots of interesting people from around the world and broaden your horizons a bit. IRC is usually less expensive than long distance phone calls. IRC is actually very easy to use, but we must warn you: It can be somewhat addictive.
Generally, the user (such as you) runs a program (called a "client") to connect to a server on one of the IRC nets. The server relays information to and from other servers on the same net. Recommended clients:
"Windows: mIRC or PIRCH
Be sure to read the documentation for your client!
Once connected to an IRC server on an IRC network, you will usually join one or more "channels" and converse with other users. On ZAnet, there often are more than 120 channels, each devoted to a different topic. Conversations may be public (where everyone in a channel can see what you type) or private (messages between only two people, who may or may not be on the same channel). IRC is not a "game", and we highly recommend you treat people you meet on IRC with the same courtesy as if you were talking in person or on the phone. Manners are quite important.
Some more details
Channel names usually begin with a #, as in #GaySA . The same channels are shared among all IRC servers on the same net, so you do not have to be on the same IRC server as your friends. (There are also channels with names beginning with a & instead of a #. These channels are not shared by all servers on the net but exist locally on that server only.)
Each user is known on IRC by a "nick", such as smartgal or FunGuy. To avoid conflicts with other users, it is best to use a nick that is not too common, e.g., "john" is a poor choice. You can reserve your nickname on Zanet and Lagnet with "services" See the How To section for more info.
Channels are run by channel operators, or just "ops" for short, who can control the channel by choosing who may join (by "banning" some users), who must leave (by "kicking" them out), and even who may speak (by making the channel "moderated")! Channel ops have complete control over their channel, and their decisions are final. If you are banned from a channel, send a message (/msg) to a channel op and ask nicely to be let in (see the /who command in the next section to learn how to find ops). If they ignore you or /who gives no response because the channel is in secret mode (+s), just go somewhere else where you are more welcome.
IRC servers are run by IRC admins and by IRC operators, or "IRC ops". IRC ops manage the servers themselves and, on EFnet and many other networks, do not get involved in personal disputes, channel takeovers, restoring lost ops, etc. They are not "IRC cops."
Just enjoy chatting on the IRC, you never know who you might meet!