In the past five years, many networks have seen their user count decrease. Very few networks are bigger today than they were during The Great Times (2004-2005). One of the networks that actually have grown, and that in a tremendous speed, is Freenode.
As a network, Freenode is quite unique. It relies on hosting companies, universities and other organizations to support them with servers and bandwidth. In return they don’t get any special privileges on the network, although a few of the sponsors are members of staff. The network primary targets people who want to discuss free and open source software (FOSS) and it was among the pioneering networks when it comes to using namespaces for distinguishing between different channel types.
Freenode’s Head of Staff, christel, says they’re constantly trying to make sure the network will not suffer from the continuously increasing user count. One way of doing this is by actively working with the round-robin (DNS rotation). That’s an efficient way of controlling how many users a server will take, without having a negative or visible impact on the users.
In January 2010, the Hyperion ircd was taken down in favour for ircd-seven; an IRCd that had been carefully chosen and designed to make sure it could handle the growth. One of the problems that Freenode has experienced while growing is that “more users are finding Freenode without necessarily being familiar with our philosophy or purpose, and as such don’t really fit within the scope of us providing services for free and open source projects and other peer-directed projects”, christel says.
Despite, or perhaps thanks to, this, Freenode is still growing today. In August 2007, they reached 40 000 simultaneously connected users. Only about a year after, that number had grown to 50 000. In 2009 the user count increased to 70 000 and in 2011 it was on 70 000. Right now there are 73 000 users connected and a peak of 79 600.
This suggests that Freenode is still one of the few fast-growing IRC networks, but it doesn’t grow in the same speed as it did a few years ago.
Netsplit.de has measured user and channel statistics about Freenode since 1999, and the curves in the graphs show and reflect the constant growth. According to their figures, Freenode is, together with OFTC, the only three of the major networks that are growing and have been doing so for quite a lot time. Both EFnet and IRCnet are facing a decline in users.
Quakenet, Undernet and Rizon have all faced a decrease in users the past five years, but they’re all slowly recovering now. It might just be temporarily and it’s just very recently that they (re)started, but they are growing.
Perhaps IRC is on its way back to glory, or maybe it’s just the calm before the storm?