Chat is supposed to be realtime conversation – and it often is. But just as some corporate victims live in Outlook (that abortion that Microsoft shoves down user’s throat as an excuse for a mail client) some fellow geeks live with an IRC screen at hand. Those people use IRC for realtime conversation, but not only. Soliloquy is widespread, and having a client with at least half a dozen tabs that are as many parallel conversations is a common occurence. IRC users were microblogging before the term was coined and web interfaces imagined.
People come to IRC channels such as project channels to meet the whole group. But just as often they come there to hang out with acquaintances, which they find spread accross various channels. Wouldn’t it be great if each user could have his own channel with just his friends ? This is what microblogging is : a people aggregator, just as any feed aggregator but for the people you want to follow.
I have had a hard time so far trying to convince my IRC addicted friends that we should use a Jabber MUC chat room in lieu of our usual IRC channel. Jabber MUC is superior to IRC in every way possible, but as much as we like to rail against the common user’s inertia to technological adoption, we are sometimes no better.
I believe that the problem was that Jabber MUC provides only marginal incremental improvement to their usage. And adopting a microblogging service is a huge stretch from their current use cases. I have therefore long been dreaming about a chat interface to microblogging that would meld the social power of microblogging and common chat usage patterns into a workable migration path for my IRC addicted friends. And there it is :
Neat isn’t it ? Jack Moffit mentioned it evasively in his article about filtering the realtime web and it piqued my curiosity.
From a user’s point of view, Identichat is about joining the Jabber multi-user chat at firstname.lastname@example.org and you’ll immediately find yourself in a standard MUC room where the participants are your Identi.ca subscribers. The conversation is the microblogging stream that you would normally get at Identi.ca.
If you try to enter a notice, a help message in the chat window points out that ‘You can register using your identica account by sending !register username password’. Do that – not ‘/register’ as I mistakenly typed out of IRC habit – and you are set to use Identi.ca as any chat tool.
How is that different from a graphical Laconica client ? It is not a Laconica client, it is plain XMPP MUC that about every decent XMPP client supports. As you may know, there are Jabber clients for about every platform you can imagine including mobiles – even some like Mcabber which provide a user interface which will make the console IRC user feel at home. Identichat is not just another client, it is a gateway to a whole world of existing XMPP clients so that every user can use his favorite.
Identichat will help Laconica by eroding chat user’s resistance to change. And it could also foster new uses of microblogging as a thick client enables considerably accelerated interaction compared to a web interface. For now it could be faster – the turnaround latency is perceptible compared to IRC or XMPP MUC, and a helpful “line too long” message would be better than “Send failed : error 406″. But I’m nitpicking : Identichat is a wonderful tool that gives new faces to the microblogging infrastructure. An infrastructure that can show different faces to different classes of users has a great future !