IRC:#gb - History of #gb by Michael Lawrie

Michael Lawrie's brief history of the #gb channel.

I originally wrote this as a general history of the #gb channel but realised that it was getting a bit too biased towards my involvement as I went on. I present this as my personally biased history of the channel, and of early British IRC. I shall try and collect a few more viewpoints to present in other parts of this site.

In many ways, the history of the #gb channel is pretty much the history of IRC in the United Kingdom. In 1991 when there was only one real IRC network, there were very few British users, the ones that did get on came in from the University network, JANET. The UK academic users all got together on a channel called +UK. In those early days +UK was occupied mainly by the server operators, myself, Andie, Dunc, Steevie and ScottM; we had a couple of other regulars who were involved with running the channel as well, Gummi from Iceland, and Klets from Holland. In late 1992, there was a rather large disagreement over a user on the channel with some rather bad habits and we refused to tolerate him any longer. A lot of the regulars, led by Gedge, moved to another channel that they called +GB. Eventually, we got a bit bored and moved to +GB with the rest of the rabble, mainly to gloat over us being right all along over the user that caused the split in the first place. +GB was now the main British channel, leaving just the two bots, Spod and Plod in +UK. After a while, the way channels were defined changed and +GB became #gb.

In 1992, there were still only 60 or so British users on IRC but, as time passed, various new people arrived and a new channel formed called #England. This channel was unlike #gb in that it was made up mainly of young students who generally didn't much like the attitude of the 'old timer' #gb people who, because of the way the Internet was introduced into the UK were mainly University systems administrators. To this day, #gb remains mainly as a resting place for people who work on the Internet and don't really want to listen to too much idle banter.

In 1993, Demon opened up the Internet in the UK to anyone with a home computer, a modem and a tenna a month spare. The Demon punters soon discovered IRC and eventually, Demon got its own IRC server, and a client site to allow customers to use it without the complicated job of installing the 'ircII' program. Over the next year or so, hundreds of new UK users appeared on IRC, some becoming #gb regulars and some prefering the noise of #England. As more and more people arrived, more specialist channels were created like #London, #Lancaster and #York to cope with the sheer weight of users. #gb remained, a reasonably close knit, and friendly channel.

At around this time, most of the original +UK users had started to avoid IRC. I quit as an IRC operator, and vanished for a year or so to do none network things, Andie left to work with big policemen, Dunc went to do some real work, ScottM carried on vegitating somewhere and Steevie went to get a real job somewhere. The two 'honourary brits' (Gummi and Klets) also vanished somewhere, though they are still seen occasionally. #gb stayed around at this time with a reasonably fluid population but since this history is written from my point of view, there's not a lot I can say about it really, except that Fis turned up at around this time to keep the natives well and truly wound up and we aquired a few more resident foreigners.

Not a great deal of interest happened to the channel from 1994 to 1996, there were various fallings out, usually caused by the same few people and often connected with arguments occuring on the Demon newsgroup 'demon.local' - I went off to work in Portugal for a few months and my occasional returns were not greeted with much enthusiasm. There were quite a few attempts by people who had just started using IRC and had quickly formed a channel 'clique' to keep me off (they presumably knew me by reputation). There was so much infighting on the channel that none of these were sucessful, but it did drive more and more people away for no sensible reasons. The channel was still being used by Internet staff during the daytime but when the cheaprate crowd came on after 6pm, #gb was at its worse. There was huge amounts of bigotry, people weren't allowed to hold any views that contradicted with the clique who thought they owned the channel and since it would be rather difficult to hold views that did agree with theirs a general screen full of channel activity would have one line of message text to a screen of status messages (joins, ops, deops, kicks and bans). One thing that did thrive over these two years was the 'off IRC' socialising, once a month or so until most people came to the conclusion that they couldn't actually bear one another and they soon vanished into meets of just 3 or 4 lost souls.

In 1996, the actual infrastructure of the EFnet (the largest of the IRC networks) was so chaotic that a few of the #gb regulars had moved to other networks. For a while, there was a plan to try and move people to Dalnet, but no-one really wanted to, and that soon failed. The IRC network problems in the UK weren't being addressed and I decided to return to IRC from an administration point of view and eventually built up a new mesh of servers and a more close knit and stable management structure. At this time, my servers were still connected to the EFnet, but when I returned from a two week holiday, I came back to absolute chaos as all my servers had been cut off for "being badly managed" and "having open I-Lines" (ie: allowing anyone who wanted to use the servers to do so). Since I was of the opinion that my servers were amongst the better managed ones, and certainly the best policed in terms of abuse, I decided to join up with another server in the US, that had also been thrown off EFnet. The next few weeks were rather quiet, and most of the people who got dragged along to the new network thought I had gone mad, EFnet offered to let my servers back, if I would limit the I-Lines to the UK only, but I refused. The Demon server (the only other one of any note at this time) was bouncing between the two networks at random meaning that at any time in the day, the #gb channel could be on the EFnet or the new network we had created which was to become the IRCnet. Eventually, a few more servers joined the new network, first the Asia/Pacific followed a few weeks later by all of the European servers. Demon's server was still bouncing randomly between networks causing sheer chaos, especially on #gb, but eventually, the EFnet cut Demon's links, and they stuck to IRCnet, later opening up an EFnet server as well. The new IRCnet network was a far more stable and efficiently run network and #gb restarted on a new network.

With a shiny new network, it seemed a good opportunity to make #gb a little more like was meant to be - One of the big problems at the time was that the cheaprate crowd were trying to dictate policy (banlists etc) for a channel they only used for 3 or 4 hours a day. This seemed ok to them, with their rather limited view of the world, but #gb's main usage was in the daytime. A few of the old cheaprate clique had already taken themselves to a channel based on the newsgroup 'Demon.Local' called #DL-Bar. Eventually, after a bit of experimentation, I put the bot Tilda onto #gb and decided to enforce a tolerance policy. The basic premise was that in complete contrast to the old #gb, there would be complete freedom on the channel for anyone to say what they wanted - If it annoyed anyone, it was up to them to use /IGNORE and not up to them to use /KICK or /BAN; what may be annoying to one person may be perfectly reasonable to someone else. This scheme was implemented in about August of 1996, and it still working well today, in October of 1997. There are some channel operators on #gb but generally, they don't use their status. Over the course of a year, there have been a few changes, people who persistantly come to cause trouble are still banned, and as a rule, we try to keep the channel takeover people off - It helps having a channel full of IRC operators. Over the course of the last year, most of the cheaprate clique have moved to #DL-Bar and then on from there when they eventually started banning one another. They couldn't cope with other people being allowed the freedom to talk, nor could they cope with not being able to show off their operator powers every few seconds. One interesting thing that did happen to the channel with this new order was that a lot of the people who, in the past were obsessed with trying to take the channel over actually became regular channel members.

To be continued, soon...