Today, we’re proud to present you an interview conducted with QuakeNets Head of Public Relations Joe “meeb” Harris.
QuakeNet is the worlds largest IRC network and caters mostly – but not exclusively – to gamers.
Without further ado, below are the questions and answers:
First, please introduce yourselves to our readers!
Hi! I’m Joe “meeb” Harris. I’m currently the head of public relations for QuakeNet, which is largest IRC network in the world and has been since around about the end of 2003. I’ve been an avid IRC user for nearly 10 years, and joined the QuakeNet staff around 8 years ago as a member of the network support team, moving on to joining the public relations and development teams later. I replaced Ferg when he found his time limited as head of the public relations team about 4 years ago, since then I’ve overseen the interaction of QuakeNet with external organisations such as game studios who run regular popular events including developer chats and assisting gaming groups.
QuakeNet, where did it all begin?
QuakeNet was formed 13 years ago by Oli and Garfield (both of which can still be found occasionally lurking in the dark recesses of the network!) who wanted to help organise games of QuakeWorld online. It quickly grew with the initial surge of online Quakers and became a central part of the deathmatch-organising scene.
Later on it developed into a more general network, but it still retains a massively strong gaming core.
How did it grow to where it is today, still being the worlds largest IRC network after 13 years in existence?
Entirely by word of mouth and third party advertising, as a completely non-profit organisation we have no resources to promote ourselves really other than to offer services that we think people will want to use! We must have done something right, given we’re still pretty popular.
What are your duties as staffers and how do they compare to those on smaller networks?
The staff on QuakeNet is divided up into multiple workgroups, each tasked with oversight of a particular area and given the authority to autonomously cover one aspect of the network operation. The larger groups cover network support, development, public relations, security, operations and human resources. There are multiple sub-groups under these such as the tutorial group, web development, script support and so on. Each group has a group leader, and the group leaders form another group. All groups work under the oversight of the operations team which consists of the administrators of the physical servers and oversee the core network decisions.
Most users would only interact with the user-facing groups, such as our excellent network support team headed up by the veteran “beard” Bazerka, but that’s really just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what happens behind the scenes. Members of staff are welcome to apply and join multiple groups (for example I’m an active member of three groups, and a somewhat idle member of another two); we have excellent volunteers actively working on all aspects of developing QuakeNet.
How can one support the network?
Pretty simply, by becoming an active user on the network! IRC needs you! If you work for an ISP or other provider with a serious stack of spare hardware you can apply to assist QuakeNet with an extra server and join other excellent sponsors such as Id software, port80, Multiplay (and many others) in providing the stable platform our network is based on. If you have a lot of spare time, you can contribute by joining the ranks of our staff and helping the network grow even further. You don’t get paid, but there’s a lovely warm feeling from helping hundreds of thousands of users communicate better (and you get to stroke snailbot).
I’m sure many users, newbies and veterans alike, would love to become staff on QuakeNet – any word of advice how they could accomplish that?
I’m not ashamed to say that we’re extremely picky, we have what can only be described as triple-stage rigorous hiring procedure. Anyone can apply via a link on our website, and their application is processed by the HR team. If your application matches the base requirements and there’s an opening in the team you are applying for you’ll get a one-on-one interview followed by an extensive trial in the group you’re interested in joining. After that, there’s a full group vote to accept you as a member.
You shouldn’t be put off by this, if you are accepted into QuakeNet staff you become a member of a dynamic network of a hundred or so active people from all over the world and tasked with key responsibilities and representing QuakeNet. Once you’re in the staff you can also apply to join other groups that you think you can contribute to, further expanding your role in the organisation of you want to.
Late last year, you introduced a server sponsored by id Software – how did that collaboration get started?
Id Software developers have made fleeting appearances on QuakeNet for many years, and recently started making a more regular home. This culminated with the launch of QuakeLive which has a permanent channel on QuakeNet since the start of the beta, where the beta testers could directly relay feedback to the developers. We opened a dialogue with some of the developers as we do with most important organisations on QuakeNet to see if we could assist in any way. They generously offered to host a client server but were unable to provide the direct resources to oversee the new server (it can take quite a lot of time to learn everything from the ground up to run a popular client server on QuakeNet, as well as ongoing responsibilities to keep it maintained). We reached an agreement where some existing administrators on QuakeNet would take on some of the responsibility of maintaining the server and they would provide the physical hardware and connection, we also welcomed SyncError as the primary operator for the Id Software server onto the QuakeNet staff.
This has been working very well to date, and we are happy to have Id Software as one of our core US client server providers along with Gameservers and Velocity.
Most software you create for the network (qwebirc, snircd, operserv) is released as open-source – why not the rest of the services, like Q and S for example?
This isn’t anything nefarious at all, I’m sure most of the staff on the QuakeNet development team would agree that we would happily release almost everything if not all our code as open source projects. As you can imagine the non-linear structure of a purely volunteer organisation such as QuakeNet can make some projects a bit complex to keep track of. With the open source examples you list, qwebirc is primarily developed by probably our most active developer, slug, and it’s entirely up to him how it’s licensed. Snircd is a fork based on the excellent Undernet IRC daemon (IRCd) and we are more than happy to provide the source.
The repositories not yet public are currently closed for a very simple reason, they’re not stand-alone services but modular services for our outstanding service platform / framework “newserv”, you can forgive the less than vibrant name given it’s happily hosting almost all of our current services! Newserv is primarily developed by one of our other lead developers, splidge, with contributions from other staff members. We of course need the complete sign off from all the developers involved to release a project, some have since resigned their positions on QuakeNet (and hard to track down), some are still deciding. This makes it pointless to release (for example) the sourcecode for the Spamscan module given it serves no use what so ever to anyone without the base to run it off.
Personally I am confident that eventually the remainder of our currently private code will be publicly available at some point, although don’t assume anything as opinions can change over time!
Recently, a large open-source focused network introduced the ability to have user-connections encrypted with SSL – are there any plans to do so on QuakeNet?
It is currently under discussion, but there hasn’t been a great deal of movement in the SSL area if I’m honest. I would suspect that eventually we will introduce an SSL option, but it’s not likely in the short term. IRC is typically regarded as a public medium so SSL encrypted client connections have a limited use at best. This might be pushed up the task list depending on external circumstances such as regional governmental internet monitoring, but I wouldn’t expect it quickly on QuakeNet. Generally the other use for SSL (certifying the IRC server is who it says it is) is negated by most other networks not deploying certificates from commercial authorities (and understandably so) – this again makes IRC over SSL less useful in general.
Many IRCds cloak userhosts (or parts of them) even without registering – why isn’t this done on QuakeNet?
We take user privacy seriously on Quakenet, and we provide excellent and easy to use functionality to mask your host if you choose to. We also allow full access from TOR exit nodes if you wish to chat truly anonymously, but we believe that this is a choice. You can easily configure your IRC client to mask your host as soon as you connect if you wish which provides the same functionality as other networks, we just don’t force the decision on you.
This allows our users some freedom to use custom vanity hosts for bouncers and bots as well as channel administrators to more accurately keep their channels in order by banning troublesome ISPs.
Q and its help is only available in english – do you have plans to change that?
Q actually supports many languages! This was a core feature of the “new” Q, codenamed Q9, that was deployed some two years ago (again mostly by splidge). We had some issues sourcing high quality translations for some of the Q messages, and it was decided to not delay the launch just to wait for the extra languages. I’m sure they’ll arrive at some point.
IRC can be a scary and to some extent dangerous place for unsuspecting users – what safety tips can you give them?
Much the same as most semi-anonymous online forums, don’t give away any personal information (at all!), don’t provoke confrontation, keep online and offline communication separate. If you do encounter any serious abusive behaviour you can contact the network support team in #help who will assist you with any problems, we have even filed regional police reports in extreme cases to help protect our users and QuakeNet.
If you could change one thing in the way IRC works – what would that be?
I would probably build in redundant links for clients and servers, resulting in a dramatically less violent ‘netsplit’. If I was designing the protocol now I’d include more common features expected in 2010 such as a standard for transmitting general media (avatars? streaming video? who knows). And snails, everything needs more snails.
There have been many polls and forum topics about a decline of IRC – what is your opinion on that and where do you think is IRC heading in the long term?
It’s natural that certain mediums become more popular while others decline. Given that IRC is a pure text group chat (as the popular bash quote says, it’s basically just multiplayer notepad) I think it’s a testament to the big IRC networks that they’ve been around for many years and still with active user bases. We tend not to worry about the physical number of users dropping off a bit from their peak in the early 2000′s, the users who do remain are extremely numerous and dedicated.
In the future, I think IRC still holds a unique place. No-where else provides the ease of collaborative communication online in an effortless medium with very well established clients and user management systems. The novice user might have replaced their IRC usage with newer web-based services or flashier methods of realtime messaging, but there still remains very few places on the internet where you can jump straight into such a massive and active community of people. You don’t really see many 50-person MSN chats.
What do you use IRC for when you’re not actively “on duty”?
Mostly chatting with friends, ex-collegues and sharing the latest memes (how do you think they spread so fast, it’s not because of ‘microblogging’!). It’s only really the user-facing staff members that have to take shifts and be on-duty as such, the rest of the staff are usually available for network based discussion whenever they are online in a relaxed manner.
What can users expect feature-wise in the future on QuakeNet? What plans do you have for the network?
We have some light hearted fun planned for the near future, and we’re actively in discussion with several organisations to bring more developer-orientated live events to QuakeNet. We’re constantly rolling out improved versions of existing services as well as introducing brand new features, admittedly largely behind the scenes to the average user. If you notice a dramatic decline in irritating spam on the network, then it’s us doing something new!
In the timetabled future we have a new release of our IRCd in the works which merges in many of the changes released by the IRCu team over at Undernet as well as adding some more QuakeNet-specific features, and upgrades to some of our channel services. The new IRCd will contain some new features to help combat some current annoyances on QuakeNet, such as unsolicited private queries.
Thank you for the interview, do you have any parting words for our readers?
No problem! As some parting words I’d probably suggest you try embedding a qwebirc chat frame into your clan site or blog, it’s awesome. Oh, and remember to send some love to molluscs. Pop onto QuakeNet and say hello! You can find the PR team in #QuakeNet.
Thanks for reading,
Thanks go to meeb for the awesome interview & QuakeNet for generally being great Live long & prosper!