Dorion Mode - A blog by Robinson Dorion.

August 2, 2023

Chat analysis : the ever enduring IRC

Filed under: Cultura Bellem — Robinson Dorion @ 17:46

The first article in this chat systems analysis series covered Signal and for the tl;dr crowd the conclusion reached was : Signal's marketing claims of being a secure chat protocol don't hold up under scrutiny. In practice it's a closed protocol built atop a centralized platform that infantilizes, disables and exploits its users. Now we'll turn to contrast it with Internet Relay Chat (IRC), a battle-tested, open protocol with a proven track record of empowering users and enduring decades.

To reforge the longer defintion from before : a protocol is the set of rules --ideally minimal-- that a publisher of an implementation has to follow and cannot change, but can reliably build upon. All decisions outside adhering to the protocol are firmly at the publisher's discretion. That being said, if the publisher aims to grow the usage of his implementation, he has to respond to feedback received from his target market to innovate and find solutions for the problems his user's report. Protocols engender competition and coexistence among publishers to meet the varying needs of a diverse market. Protocols treat publishers and users like adults and create an environment and incentives that enable them by opening up opportunities (some of which the protocol authors may have never imagined) and thus engender higher quality, long term client service.

In contrast, a platform is a centralized service in which its owners make all the rules and implementation decisions, both of which can be changed on a whim. Users must accept these changes or leave. If particular users don't like the changes and are in the minority, they either fall in line or are banned. Centralized services sometimes grow faster in usage than protocols if the owners are tuned into particular fashions of the time. However, this infantilization of users and repression of the minority limits the horizons of the platform's development, especially when the insights of the minority being repressed are worthy, which is often the case. As they grow they tend to accumulate bureaucracy and often fall out of touch with the new fashions that arise as the owners cash out their stock options and are outcompeted and die off and with it dies most if not all value the late stage investors and users invested in the platform.

For some context, IRC was invented by a Finn called Jarkko Oikarinen and first published at the end of August 1988 and its protocol was first defined publicly and formally in May, 1993, in RFC 1459 by Oikarinen and Darren Reed. IRC was a Finnish bulletin board extension that quickly spread throughout Finland then to Swedish networks then various US Universities applied to be accepted and were. IRC became well known to the general public around the world in 1991 when it was used to subvert a "media blockade"(i) during the Gulf War and was similarly useful later that year for reporting up-to-date information on the Gorbachev coup d'etat.

There are several IRC networks and a wide variety of IRC implementations for both server and client code. An IRC network is a collection of servers that users can communicate through, even if they're not connected to the same server. JWRD runs an IRC server and implemented and maintains an IRC client called yrc. It's worth noting that while the IRC protocol doesn't include strong encryption, strong encryption can and has been layered on top.

In Bitcoin's history, a critical piece of infrastructure, the Bitcoin Over the Counter (OTC) Web of Trust (WoT), was implemented by Daniel Folkinshteyn (WoT: nanotube) in November 2010 and leveraged another Internet Standard, OpenPGP. The interface for interacting with the WoT was implemented over the Freenode IRC network where parties communicated, negotiated trades and sent and received ratings. This is probably the best example of protocols empowering users and opening new opportunities that further strengthen user sovereignty. When IRC was created, there was no such thing as PGP or Bitcoin, but IRC's well established and reliable rules allowed users to combine it with other protocols and create an entirely novel economy. While it's rarely profitable to speculate about alt-histories, without this combination, it's very likely Bitcoin would've never got off the ground.

IRC plus the PGP WoT allowed participants to register a cryptographic key, associate it with a nickname of their choice and authenticate themselves with encrypted challenge-response model to provide cryptographic assurance the nickname you were talking to was the owner of the key registered in the WoT. By 2011, all the relevant parties, i.e. those who mattered, were communicating via IRC, which became the de facto public forum of Bitcoin politics, finance and development. I've not conducted a systematic analysis of the forum's logs with regard to percentage of text being emitted in the channel from authenticated participants, but would estimate it was upwards of 99%. Unauthenticated speakers could speak too, for example, newcomers that didn't yet have a key could be given voice in 30 minute increments, but the recommendation time and again was some variation of "get in the WoT". Since everyone was already using PGP for cryptographic authentication of public discourse, private communication via the exchange of ciphertexts between participants was readily available when needed.

The combination of IRC and the WoT nurtured an innovative, Bitcoin-centric, framework for finance, politics and technical development. On the financial side, the GPG Contract was the instrument upon which the most innovative and biggest Bitcoin company was built : MPEX, the Bitcoin Securities Exchange. On the diplomacy side, when the SEC tried to open a real time communication channel with the leader of Bitcoin finance, Mircea Popescu, he required they use IRC and register a key in the WoT, thus taking steps towards implementing Bitcoin as a sovereign. On the Bitcoin governance side, when Gavin Bell and Luke-Jr attempted to hardfork the Bitcoin protocol, they made their futile pleas on IRC.

Now, it's true that IRC usage and WoT usage has severely diminished over the years. This is most likely attributable to the combination of the actual abundance Bitcoin has created and the perceived abundance of late stage socialism being fueled by an unprecedented credit bubble. The trouble with abundance is it has a built-in failure mode, or as the post-apocalyptic author, G. Michael Hopf put it in Those Who Remain, "Hard times create strong men. Strong men create good times. Good times create weak men. And, weak men create hard times." Despite usage decline of the very open IRC over the years, it nevertheless endures and keeps serving new generations of users. Meanwhile, the "popular" platforms surf one wave of popularity while it lasts, corralling their users into centralized pens for as long as they are naive enough to stay docilely there to be shorn. The platforms change names and nothing much else, there was Myspace long ago, but who uses that anymore ? There is Facebook that is changed to Meta and Twitter that is now X, and meanwhile Meta launched Threads that is what Twitter isn't anymore and so on, "everyone" was writing on Blogspot and then Medium, but now it's Substack. New labels only for the same thing nevertheless. As the man noted :

mircea_popescu : ie, irc is what "social media" idly pretends to have been. notwithstanding that digg and myspace went away, as reddit and facebook will go away. irc has been here throughout, and will probably see the successor websites putting forth the same sort of plowing flies idle pretensions. for idiots to believe and everyone else to laugh.

Now, ask yourself, dear reader, while Bitcoin is one tool --one very powerful tool-- the elite can employ to burn off the cheap money fueled, socialist clouds casting long, dark shadows over the modern world, is it enough in and of itself ? Or is it only one protocol that does its job very well, but needs to be combined with other protocols to create new markets to truly realize its potential ? Bitcoiners might see the problems with central banking and the destructive propaganda it emits, but why isn't it more common for them to employ that same logic to their communication tools ? If they remain on centralized platforms stacked atop one another(ii) which only really exist because of the cheap money fueled credit bubble, will they be able to truly and fully take advantage of the power Bitcoin affords them ? If they stay on centralized communications platforms, to what extent are they increasing their exposure to social engineering (the primary threat market in security) and Sybil attacks ?

Indeed modernism is collapsing under its own unsustainable weight and giving way to traditionalism and Bitcoin is at the forefront of this change, but remember that being a Bitcoiner means more than just owning some coin or even running a node, it means adapting yourself to the Bitcoin model, which includes learning the Variety Speak :

In Bitcoin this means, IRC, the WoT and a small amount of phone number.

Will you take heed of the advice of the wolf in the ancient fable :

where the fox asks the wolf why's he sharpening his teeth when there's no one to fight, to which the wolf retorts that when there'll be someone to fight there's going to be no time to sharpen teeth.

If so, you can connect to JWRD's IRC server and register a key in our WoT following the instructions in Jacob's Grand re-opening of #jwrd article. See you on the other side.

Cheers !

  1. Television and radio broadcasts were cut off. [^]
  2. The platforms really go all the way down : from the cheap money, progressive taxation that unnaturally redistributes away from the worthy and to the needy the market becomes flooded with fast-food technology because innovators can't rely on the market correctly valuing their choice. So they go for the cheapest and it's a race to the bottom to collect $1 from a billion warm bodies than $100 from 10 million people. [^]

1 Comment »

  1. [...] this product is to create a pipeline with simulated data loss and create the encrypt/decrypt protocol that mitigates that data loss to a reasonable degree. The audio jack could be a USB, USBc, or [...]

    Pingback by GPG Over Analog - Hardware Device for Secure Voice Communications « whaack — October 8, 2023 @ 00:08

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