In the beginning, there was IRC.
Well, okay, not exactly... BITNET Relay was around before that and there were other multi-chat environments in some of the walled garden services (CompuServe, GENIE, etc.) and BBSs... but for most of us who were online from the late 1980s onward, IRC was the place to be for "chat" and realtime IM communication. Of course, it lived primarily in the geekier side of the Internet. The "real" Net users used IRC and looked down upon all the "newbies" who were drawn to these new IM services from ICQ, AOL and later MSN and a zillion others. Sure, they were pretty and had cute emoticons. Yeah, okay, so they could include videos and knew when other people were typing and had little "toast" popups... all that would just be added to IRC clients at some point. And, oh yes, I said "clientS" because of course we had many different clients that you could use for IRC from all different platforms. We had our bots and our "/me". Clients had nick completion and a ton of other features. We were IRC users and we were vastly superior.
But over the last five years or so I noticed that more and more of the folks with whom I had been communicating on IRC... stopped... using... it.
Myself included. The last time I seriously used IRC was probably 4 or 5 years ago.
I would put a large part of the blame on corporate firewalls. Somewhere along the way IRC got the stamp of being a waste of time and a productivity drain (which, like any technology, can be true if mis-used). It was way too easy to simply block port 6667 on the corporate firewall (and/or the IRC protocol). As botnets proliferated and used IRC as a control channel, there became a security reason to block the protocol as well.
Many IRC users continued, of course, but to do so from behind a corporate firewall usually meant creating a VPN or ssh tunnel to an external server and running the IRC client there. Easy enough to do (I did it myself for a while), but not quite as easy as all those consumer IM products that just sat down in your Windows systray and gave you a toast message when someone was contacting you. Plus, while it was easy for the tech-savvy of us to ssh or VPN out to an external server, many of our less-tech-literate colleagues didn't know how to do that. So they didn't - but they were the ones with whom we often wanted to communicate.
So over time, we gave in.... and fired up AIM and ICQ and MSN/WLM and Jabber and Skype and....
Skype, especially, seemed to have caught on for group chats. In part perhaps because of the ability to create "public group chats" that were persistent (i.e. they survived logout/login and in fact you basically stay in them forever until you click "Leave"). I've often thought, though, that part of it was also that Skype groupchat is the closest that I've seen to replicating what is in IRC. It is basically "IRC with a prettier face". It has "/me" (admittedly a favorite of mine) and many of the other "/" commands. For IRC users, it is a very easy and seductive change.
But now, with the continued Skype outage, those of us who have come to rely on Skype groupchats as a component of our daily communication are suddenly left without an easy vehicle for the group communication to which we are accustomed.
Jabber, of course, is one option. Like IRC, it's all about open standards, there are many Jabber servers and a ton of Jabber clients. But I personally never saw it take off for larger groupchats to the degree that Skype did (or IRC).
So in the end this morning, I dusted off an IRC client I had installed (Miranda) and connected in to good old freenode, where some people with whom I communicate indicated they would be, talking, predictably, about the Skype outage (in "#skype").
Will I return to using the Skype groupchats when Skype comes back up? Probably. It's way too simple and easy. Plus, part of what I do is analyze Skype and you can't really do that without participating in it. But for now... for this moment anyway... I'll return to an old friend.
/me stops reminiscing and returns to work
UPDATE: For those not familiar with IRC, you may want to visit IRC.org and particularly the history page.