IRC is dead, long live IRC

IRCIRC (Internet Relay Chat) has been around since 1988, which makes it ancient in Internet terms.

And although it’s still used by hundreds of thousands of users around the world, IRC has seen a dramatic downturn in usage.

We have talked to the creator of IRC, and others, about why the once so widely used technology has seemingly fallen out of favor with so many users.

The origins of IRC

We connected with Jarkko Oikarinen, the creator of IRC, who works at Google in Sweden, and he told us the story of how IRC was born.

The first IRC Server. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Oikarinen says that he created IRC during three to four months in 1988 when he was a summer intern at the University of Oulu in Finland.

At the time, Oikarinen was maintaining a local BBS (Bulletin Board System) called OuluBox and the chat system there needed refreshing. While working on the updated chat system he also wanted to allow participants from the Internet who didn’t need to be logged in to OuluBox to participate in chat.

Thus, IRC was born.

Since then, IRC has served as an invaluable way of communicating for scores of users around the world. For almost whatever you’d like to discuss or get help with, there’s been an IRC network and channel that would serve your interests.

But since the arrival of the new century, IRC has dropped in popularity, with users moving to other forms of communication like the web and social media. We took a look at the numbers to see just how bad it is for IRC.

IRC has lost 60% of its users since 2003

It’s clear that overall IRC usage, both in terms of users as well as channels, has been in steady decline for many years. In fact, IRC has lost 60% of its users since 2003, a dramatic fall in numbers for any service.

Oikarinen attributes the decline in IRC to a trend of commercialization on the Internet.

“Companies want to bring users to their walled gardens,” he says, to ”keep the user’s profiles locked there and not make it easy for users to leave the garden and take their data with them.”

IRC’s distributed nature does not fit with the walled garden approach, says Oikarinen. So instead of supporting open communication tools like IRC, companies invest money in making their own solutions, he claims.

Christian Lederer, also known as “phrozen77,” is the webmaster of and he’s had his pulse on the IRC community for many years. According to Lederer, the decline in IRC usage has many possible reasons behind it:

  • Lederer lists large and prolonged DDoS attacks in the early 2000s as one main reason behind the decline. The attacks disrupted many IRC networks, including the most popular ones, and crippled the chat experience for users. When the networks were back up again, many users had migrated elsewhere or abandoned IRC completely.
  • Software piracy and the spreading of warez, is another reason Lederer points to. In the early days of IRC, finding such content was a major reason why some users connected to IRC networks. Over the years, users have found new and easier ways of obtaining warez, like P2P, resulting in less of a need for IRC.
  • Social networking also played an important part of users fleeing IRC. With services like Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, and others, users found it more convenient to communicate through the social network rather than logging in to an IRC channel.
  • Finally, Lederer points to declining costs and increasing availability of cheap and reliable hosting. If someone disagreed with the way a network was run, they could suddenly start his or her own. In doing so, they could potentially take the channel they operated and their users with them, thereby decimating the numbers of the bigger networks even further.

So the decline in IRC usage is a complex issue with no straightforward answers. But it’s not all bad news, as we’ll see next.

Among top IRC networks, Freenode bucks the trend

If we look more closely at the top six IRC networks and chart their development since 2003, it’s clear there are winners and losers.

As you can see, QuakeNet, EFnet, and IRCNet have lost a lot of users, while DALnet and Rizon are floundering without moving much up or down.

But it’s not all doom and gloom in the world of IRC, however. is not following the typical trend. Rather it seems to be growing by leaps and bounds, up 486% from 2003 to 2012 in terms of users. According to Freenode’s blog, the network passed 80,000 concurrent connections on April 2, 2012.

In fact, Freenode has, according to these numbers, just become the number one IRC network in the world, just bypassing QuakeNet.

Christel Dahlskjaer, President of Peer-Directed Projects Center(PDPC), the organization that operates Freenode, explains the network’s growth with its focus on free and open source software.

“Freenode has indeed grown and continues to grow,” Dahlskjaer explains. “Freenode has never been a ‘traditional’ IRC network though. Our users tend to come to Freenode because they contribute to or use a free and open source (or other peer-directed) project that has a channel or more on the network. Then in turn other projects come to Freenode because there is a lot of overlap when it comes to users and contributors across the various projects.”

“In short, Freenode isn’t growing because it is Freenode or because it is IRC. Freenode is growing because of the projects that chose to make Freenode ‘home’ are growing,” Dahlskjaer summarizes.

On the question of whether Freenode’s current good fortune is sustainable, Dahlskjaer is direct. “I see no reason to think that growth is likely to stall anytime soon. For the last six years at least, Freenode has been very steady,” she says.

Where is IRC headed?

It’s clear that IRC is declining in overall usage but growing in certain niche areas. Perhaps that’s where the future of IRC lies.

Lederer says that IRC has to innovate to compete with easy-to-use solutions such as Facebook. This, in turn, is driven by a change in mindset of developers of IRC-related software, who have to drive this innovation, client-wise as well as protocol and server-wise.

To Oikarinen,“more interoperability” with other systems such as 3D virtual worlds, multimedia, etc. is one “interesting path forward.” Oikarinen is no longer actively involved in the development of IRC, but he says that it’s up to individuals now.

“It does not necessarily require a large team to make significant progress. Just one person can make a huge difference,” Oikarinen says.

Lederer makes a similar point, saying that some stand-alone clients are already pushing the boundaries of what is possible on IRC. He points to projects like KVIrc, which brought video chat to traditional IRC, as well as Konversation, with which several IRC users can share a virtual whiteboard.

Long live IRC

Although there’s no reason to think that IRC will disappear anytime soon, there’s also cause for concern about the future of the once so popular technology. Although Freenode can serve as an example of a growing IRC community, that, in and of itself does not mean the future is secure for IRC.

We at Pingdom recognize the tremendous value that IRC has brought to users around the world for many years, and hope that IRC will keep being widely used. In fact, we’ve just set up our own IRC server, which we have some exciting plans for.

Note about the data: We used the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine to go back in time and look at how IRC has developed over recent years, using the data from We’d like to point out that not all IRC networks are indexed by, the service we used to create the charts for this article. For example, Undernet is not a part of the SearchIRC index. We believe, however, that the general trend displayed by the SearchIRC data is correct. Top image via Shutterstock.


  1. Man I still love and use IRC every single day. I feel awesome. Now I feel old. Now I just realised I’m only 18. Now I feel weird. Wait. What?

  2. Some of the multimedia stuff was thought up in 1995 by Microsoft with IRCX. I wish we saw some IRC servers today which supported those media extensions. (Disclosure: I am the author of ignitionServer, a nearly defunct IRCX server for Windows)

  3. One thing that is important to remember, however, is that a large chunk of the numbers listed for efnet, amongst others, can be attributed to increased drone control after the 2005 peak. If I were to remove the BOPMs and dronemons on, the server would double in size within the hour, guaranteed. So even though efnet has decreased in size, it’s not due to less human usage, but rather due to better abuse control. IRCnet, on the other hand, has not implemented drone control to the same extent. However, servers on IRCnet are usually not globally announced and open I-lined, making them less desirable as farming grounds for drone nets. Johan Boger, admin /, (ircnet), and oper on qnet.  

  4. Naturally, interest for IRC has decreased now that teenagers prefer facebook/twitter and other services, but not to the extent described in the above article. 

  5. (well-written article and much appreciated topic that deserves more attention in the mainstream tech-media!) Kudos. 

  6. At my startup, we’ve been making use of a next-generation iteration of IRC called “Grove”, produced by leahculver .  It’s been a boon to our communication and productivity…  can’t really say that IRC is dead as a protocol, but perhaps is simply shifting form.  

    1.  @Martindale  leahculver  I wrote a Twilio SMS script for Hubot which you can get idling your Grove room. Paired with my Catapul sinatra app you get bidirectional SMS communication from your grove room.
      SMS Script:
      Grove Blog about Hubot:

  7. Nice write up, though I probably would have gone with, rather than SearchIRC, for retrieving historical channel and user counts. 

  8. If you want to write IRC bots with Python check out the Jeeves Framework

  9. I’m a bit biased here (I’m an Atheme Project developer ( ) and we basically develop the software used on most IRC networks these days), but it seems that IRC is not dying, it’s just that hosting has gotten so cheap that IRC is moving off big, un-friendly networks to smaller networks with better communities or the network that will get a lot of projects more exposure (Freenode).
    Also, IRC is being extended. There are now great web clients that most networks run for their users, great authentication methods such as SASL and CertFP (which almost every IRC client supports in some fashion) and channel/user modes that makes users’ lives even easier.
    This article feels problematic though since the new IRC network Pingdom setup is running a VERY antiquated IRCd and even more antiquated IRC Services. There are plenty of modern choices out there that are improving the server-side of IRC. ircd-hybrid and Hybserv are not in that list.
    It feels like SOME people are moving to services like and Campfire which don’t help the IRC community very much, but plenty of people are moving to IRC as well…For example, Geek and Sundry, Felicia Day’s new YouTube channel…thing has their official community chat on GeekShed’s IRC network…

  10. IRC is still my main channel of communication with a group of 40 close friends. For that, it’s much better than a Facebook group or anything else.
    For business use, flowdock provides a group chat with searchable (and taggable!) history, rich integrations to GitHub, JIRA, Pivotal Tracker, email etc. and now it also supports IRC clients ( ‘irssi’ just happens to be the best text-mode chat client. 🙂

  11. @pingdom 10x to your post I downloaded irc and went to freenode. but even a chat with 100s of users are SO quiet. its like a cemetery

  12. @ripienaar Within @MozillaIT we use IRC almost exclusively in order to actually do our jobs; bots relay Nagios alerts, etc. It works!

    1. @ak_msy @Dubhead IRCってなんか苦手なんだよな。twitterはIRCほどリアルタイム性がないから、何とか使えるけど。繋がってる感が重いと言うか。IRCの衰退は、多分オレみたいに感じてる人が増えたからだと思うよ(激違

  13. I met my then girlfriend now my wife on IRC back in 1994. We chatted for over a year before we met in person. We’re now happily married with a lovely son.

  14. @brandondawson What amazes me is that there still isn’t anything that has directly competed with IRC. It’s more like it fell out of fashion.

    1. @caseyjlaw Precisely. And really, more that texting became fashionable. Despite being a most limiting medium. (Tweets aside, anyway.)

    1.  @imjordanUK Yes indeed. As it says in the article: “But it’s not all doom and gloom in the world of IRC, however. is not following the typical trend. Rather it seems to be growing by leaps and bounds, up 486% from 2003 to 2012 in terms of users.”

      1. You can’t  say its every network other than Freenode dying. My IRC network has been climbing the SearchIRC ratings for a while now. Networks such as GeekShed are still strong as ever. I haven’t noticed a decrease of users on most of the well developed networks. All the nooby networks have died, as you would expect.

        1.  @imjordanUK You’re right, and we’ve made no such claim (that “every network other than Freenode dying”).

        2.  @imjordanUK I don’t know if you’re familiar with the phrase “the king is dead, long live the king”, but it basically signals the death of one king and the ascendance of another. More generally, the phrase “X is dead, long live the X” can be seen as a metaphor for major change where X is concerned – the end of one era and the beginning of another. In this case, the dramatic migration of users to other services that didn’t previously exist is noted, followed by the acknowledgement of a steadily increasing community of IRC users focused around the free/open-source software movement, most notably on the well-established Freenode network.In my opinion, this article was a very interesting read. As a long-term member of staff at an IRC network that thrived 10 years ago, but which has slowly shrunk since then, I can identify with many of the points mentioned regarding this exodus of users. However, it’s put a smile on my face to see that it’s a subject people still care about, and that the decline hasn’t gone unnoticed. And it’s very inspiring to see the remarkably steady growth of a large (10,000+ users) network over the past 9 years, compared to the dramatic shrinking of what used to be the largest IRC networks in the world. I didn’t realise Freenode was growing so steadily.I remember when QuakeNet was untouchable in terms of connection numbers. It was unquestionably the largest IRC network in the world, by a good margin. But now Freenode’s growth sees it just beginning to edge past the former titan, and is showing no signs of slowing. The king is dead, long live the king.

      2.  @Pingdom
         are you sure it was users?? the jump was more like BOTS and not real users. TO MANY WAR BOTS and OTHER BOTS on IRC. So your stats are wrong!

  15. IRC will dies eventually just like MASS MAILING in AL did. but it will just grown into other venture as everything else did

  16. IRC will dies eventually just like MASS MAILING in AOL did. but it will just grown into other venture as everything else did

  17. This is quite an interesting article that contains good statistical information. Could you specify who’s the author as I would like to cite it properly?

  18. I really hate when people say software is dead, when it actually never has lived. The user base just declines or increases..

  19. IRC won’t die, just like mailing lists. A lot of people making things (from basement hobbies to public products) are chatting there, it’s a goldmine.

  20. I feel the need to speculate that there is another factor influencing the decline of IRC usage you did not mention; the protocol is often assumed to be malicious. IRC was so frequently used for botnet command and control that the norm in most enterprises is to block it outright (or have your IDS generate alerts).

  21. Live podcasting is one area where IRC is booming. Ustream and the TWiT network both have very active chatrooms that provide real-time feedback and really create a community around a program. I’m amazed when I watch main stream programs post people’s Tweets and other clunky feedback systems instead of just going to IRC.

  22. Another thing that is not helping is the marketability of it. I don’t think i’ve ever seen an ad for an irc network or irc program, or anything related to IRC. People just don’t know about it. 1 million people used it back in 2003? whoopie, that’s less than .01 of a percent of the population. There’s porn sites that had better traffic that irc at it’s best. If people want IRC to thrive they need to market it, and it needs to be sold better.

    1. @AnthonyCathers Meh, “thrive”. Most of us don’t really care about more people using IRC, most active channels are full enough as it is.

  23. I use to love and use IRC all the time.  After the early or mid 2000’s I kinda grew out of it, or grew up and stopped using it.  I like the concept, would love to get back into it but no one knows of about iRC.  
    Its dying because there are no advertisements or any promoting.  I can be reinvented if done right.

  24. I use to love and used IRC all the time.  After the early or mid 2000’s I kinda grew out of it, or grew up and stopped using it.  I like the concept, would love to get back into it but no one knows of or even heard of iRC.  
    Its dying because there are no advertisements and no one is promoting it.  It can be reinvented if done right.

  25. IRC is dead in some ways, other ways not.  Back in the day, IRC was THE place to go if you wanted to chat with people.  Pretty much everyone knew IRC was the standard.  Then came a long Instant Messaging (ICQ, AOL, Yahoo)  By then Broadband started to become more common which opened up the world to streaming audio and video chat, which caused a mini boom. Then came a long blogs, which lead to the creation of Myspace and Facebook. Of course, which offered instant messages.   Let’s not forget one other big thing that took life away from IRC, cell phones.  Phones have replaced pretty much everything these days, even computers to a degree. So, it’s only normal that things we once enjoyed are not being used as much as before. Ten years from  now, I am sure we’ll be using something totally different than what we use now.  Getting back to IRC, in ways it is still being used, but in underlying cores of what is popular.  Most people wouldn’t know that they are connecting to an IRC server, when in fact they are when they use various websites that offer live chat.  To wrap this up, Big IRC networks are fading away and will continue to do so, but IRC is still valuable for real time, text chat.  Once again, it’s only natural that manual input driven text chatting is falling by the way side and direct voice communications and voice to text is becoming more main stream.

  26. hi this age.. we are still alive.. on average daily 150-200 users every hour.
    please visit us:   http://WWW.BDCHAT.COM
    if you are a fan of MIRC/Color Script then download our Script from
    Best regards.

  27. I’m leaning towards the direction both Oikarinen & Lederer are going here. IRC has certainly lost a lot of its’ “charm” and user-base in this day-in-age. Where “social media” has forced simple text to take a back seat.

    But, it’s not completely dead. Niche markets (such as FreeNode & QuakeNET) are not entirely gone. They still have a user base in tact. 

    KvIRC adding user-to-user video chat is highly innovative. Things like this could help to revive some of the former IRC community. Although, it’s slightly late. A lot have already moved on for so long, they’re never to return. 

    I, personally, began IRC at age 11. I’m now 26 year of age. I still use IRC from time to time. (Perhaps two hours per month, as of the last year) But, I no longer use FB either. So, I don’t attribute this to social media.

    i just don’t see IRC ever making a REAL comeback. But, if people are innovative and continue to develop IRC, and work on those niche markets… it may not continue a decline atleast.

    — prez (Former DALnet Operator. Former Rizon Server Administrator.)

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