Away Status on IRC

This was somewhat inspired by http://sackheads.org/~bnaylor/spew/away_msgs.html, but I felt that I needed something with a softer tone.

The Problem & Misconceptions

A lot of IRC clients and scripts think it is a great idea to broadcast mass notifications and change your nick when you set an away status. This is not in line with the design of the IRC. When you go take a shower, we don’t need to see:

-- Buddy is now known as Buddy|Showering
* Buddy is away: Taking a shower!

Who cares if you broadcast your updates to all channels?

You’d be surprised. When your client actually sends a message announcing your status change, everyone’s clients in that will now have marked the channel as active. Some clients may even beep. People will be disappointed if it turns out to be one of the fifty people in the channel going to eat pizza. And if you’re in many channels, every single one is now marked as being active.

But I’m just changing my nick.

That’s better, since most clients will not react as aggressively, but this is still problematic in a few ways:

If you change your nick for a specific status, then you’re really creating problems.

-- Buddy is now known as Buddy|Showering
-- Buddy|Showering is now known as Buddy|DryingOff
-- Buddy|DryingOff is now known as Buddy|Poptarts4Brkfst
-- Buddy|Poptarts4Brkfst is now known as Buddy
<Buddy> I'm back!

I can’t imagine very many scenarios where that is helpful to anyone.

I thought IRC was a chat platform. AIM, Skype, etc. all show status changes in the chat area!

Think of IRC as more of a bulletin board. Except for private messages, you are in a channel with several other people — possibly hundreds. Everyone is coming and going all the time. Nobody cares about every single status change. You can keep your client connected (or use a bouncer) and never miss out on anything. Being away is pretty irrelevant.

AIM and other such instant messenger platforms are primarily used for one-on-one conversations where coming and going is much more likely to be important.

This is also why highlights are important.

The Solution

IRC has a built-in away status system. Almost nobody I have met is even aware of this.

You can find someone’s exact away status by using /whois. Most IRCDs will send you a user’s away status if you send them a private message. If your IRC client marks away users in the nick list, you can tell if they are away just by looking at the nick they always use. “Buddy lists” typically make use of this as well, and may even let people that use them configure their clients to spam them about your status changes if they want.

The Solution for Victims

It’s possible to filter out this type of spam. Thankfully, most of it is in one of a few predictable formats:

* nick is away: status
* nick is back: status (gone for duration)
* nick is back
* nick is now away - Reason : status
* nick is no longer away : Gone for duration

Most clients also make it very easy to filter nick changes as well.