(Mis)Uses of Technology

by Timothy Lee

Filed Under:
irc, private, public


IRSeeK Suspends Search Engine Pending Changes To Address IRC Community Concerns

from the public-or-private? dept

Slashdot points to the heated debate over IRSeeK, a "search engine" for public IRC channels. Although IRC channels are technically public, a lot of IRC users are uncomfortable with the notion of their off-the-cuff comments being recorded for posterity. I think the flare-up reflects the complicated dynamics of "public" versus" private" information. Although we often use these words as though they're two discrete categories, "public" and "private" are actually points along a spectrum. In the physical world we've developed an elaborate system of subtle social conventions regarding when it's appropriate to listen in on, record, and share the communications of others. Conversations overheard at a restaurant or on the bus obviously aren't as private as conversations in your living room, but people would still feel their privacy was being invaded if someone surreptitiously recorded them and then published them on the Internet. There are a lot of different degrees of "public" and "private" in our daily lives.

The same principle applies in cyberspace: the fact that a communications forum is "public" doesn't necessarily mean that people are comfortable with it being recorded, archived, published, and indexed by search engines. Unfortunately the online world is so new that the relevant social conventions have yet to fully emerge. Facebook, for example, caught a lot of flack when they introduced news feeds that let you keep tabs on your friends' actions. That resistance appears to have largely evaporated as people discovered how useful the feature could be. By the same token, IRSeeK could turn out to be a very useful service, and so initial resistance shouldn't necessarily be a reason to abandon the idea. A search engine could be particularly useful for tech support forums, because it would allow users who had a particular problem to search the logs for references to their particular problem before asking about it.

But it's important that IRSeeK help to develop clear social norms so that people know when their conversations are being recorded and how the archives will be used. And to their credit, they appear to be doing just that. It has announced that the search engine will be suspended until they've found ways to address the community's concerns, and it also mentions several measure it's considering to address the community's concerns. The most important, from my perspective, is to develop an analogue to the web's robots.txt file, so that IRC operators have a straightforward way to opt out of archives and search engines. IRSeeK also mentions giving their bots standard names so that other IRC users will know their statements are being recorded. And it may avoid indexing nicknames to make it harder to track a given user's activities across multiple IRC channels. IRSeeK's swift response to community outrage and its apparent willingness to modify its services to address community concerns suggests that it may successfully navigate these tricky issues and come up with a service that's genuinely useful without being overly intrusive.

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  • icon
    Killer_Tofu (profile), 3 Dec 2007 @ 11:12am


    They get props for respecting the community and delaying their product. Seems like not enough businesses do that these days.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    chris (profile), 3 Dec 2007 @ 11:48am

    switch to silc and move on


    it's encrypted and you have exchange a keypair to get into even public channels.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    AnonCow, 3 Dec 2007 @ 12:15pm

    Have you....read the headlines?

    "That resistance appears to have largely evaporated as people discovered how useful the feature could be" - if you're speaking to the resistance to Beacon, you're mistaken. User protests in fact won out and requested changes are being made.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Tim Lee, 3 Dec 2007 @ 12:24pm

      Re: Have you....read the headlines?

      I'm talking about the introduction of news feeds last year, not this year's Beacon program. Click the link for more details.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    anon, 3 Dec 2007 @ 1:38pm

    anyone seen bash.org

    im sure itll be helpfull for tech discussions.. but searching through multiple pages of pr0n talk? who cares? it seems that most chans that have usefull info put it up themselves on the chan webpage.. why take away from that?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Dec 2007 @ 2:01pm

    IRC sessions are the equivalent of standing in a room IRL and chatting. Everyone there can hear you. Everyone there can remember what you said (logs). But everyone in the world CANNOT hear you, nor remember every word you said.

    Thats just how it is for the vast majority of irc channels--that is the metaphor to reality that they utilize.

    Now, some of us might elect to invite the loggers into our channels to log us. That would keep us on task, and civilized, and we might move some of our bull to secret channels where you are NOT invited. We will adjust. But do not log where you are unwelcome, whether or not you think it is public or private.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Dec 2007 @ 4:17pm

    I harbour grave suspicions about the intelligence of anyone who transmits anything over the Internet and expects it to remain private.

    If you don't want people to know it, don't put it out there, it's not exactly rocket science!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Dec 2007 @ 4:42pm


      I expect people to have good manners. I expect them to respect my privacy.

      I also expect them to be jerks and do neither. I expect I will have to kick their asses if we meet.

      It is too much trouble to plan for the worse. Smart people can naively carry on and get burned. They are smart enough to know its worth it. They are smart enough to deal with the consequences.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Nick, 3 Dec 2007 @ 6:41pm


    It's true anyone can log their chats to a file and do whatever they want with it, but it's a big difference between that and a search engine that always records everything and makes it available to the public. Deleting nicknames is helpful, but there's a lot of personal information given out in a chat channel regardless.
    Strange how they don't mention which channels they want to monitor, there's credit card fraud ones, adult stuff, medical conditions, and they don't say which they are recording. I think most channel ops will opt out because if everything knows what they say is going into a search engine as public record, nobody is going to say anything.
    I don't think the IRC would be that good a source of information to search, it's all unverified and anonymous.

    Even channels like #politics don't have useful information, all opinion. Most people don't chat like they would in real life there. Just the thought of searching through a month of logs for any keyword that's been used a million times, I just don't see how you could learn anything relevant from it anyway.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    susedj, 6 Jan 2008 @ 10:47am

    IRSeek is up and running!!

    the service is up.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    tiasmith123, 31 Oct 2009 @ 12:48am


    I like your blog actually I get what I was search for I am cheerful to be the move of it. Tia Smith foreclosed home auctions

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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