I rarely use outside IRC. I do jump on if I have a strange technical question and a development team keeps a presence there, but more often than not I’ll keep a terminal window open with live IRC channel streams just flowing by. If I randomly catch someone asking a question that I can answer, I’ll lend a hand.
This morning I was on irc.libera.chat and took a minute to cycle through my registered nicknames, ensuring that they won’t expire from disuse. On finishing the task, I noticed a message that I had been banned from the ##chat channel, one of the noisier, general purpose rooms on the server with few if any rules. Not warned. Not kicked or placed in timeout. Outright banned. I suppose the rapid nickname-changing caught some room admin or bot’s ire.
What’s the recourse? Who knows… Can’t just drop in to the room to ask, after all. So, sure, I can probably just find an admin lurking in some other channel and ask lifted, or go through the work of establishing new accounts, using tor, and so forth, to get back in with a new identity, but that’s not the issue. If the channel was important to me, and I had built an identity with a reputation that I felt was important, and I was booted? That’d probably sting.
That’s how it goes when we’re using someone else’s resource, I suppose. The solution? Well, if you’ve got the know-how, …
Self-Host & Federate!
The meaning of “self-hosting” is clear: You can run your own email server, chat server, telephony server, social media servers, and others, providing service for yourself, your family, your club, your church, or your business. When you self-host, you decide who and what is allowed on your island.
The “federated” part is the interesting one: That’s what lets email@example.com communicate with someone_else@the_comapny.org or telephone someone’s cellphone from the office phone system without needing an account with every provider. These servers handle their local users, of course, but can (if you allow it) also communicate with one another, allowing you to interact with resources hosted on peer servers from your own and vice versa. For a less well-known example, those Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube social media services? There are very similar open social media services that you can self-host and federate, too, allowing you to like, share, and subscribe across various community platforms. We can talk about that more another time.
What else is important?
Whether you’ve got the know-how and wherewithal or not, if you need to stay in touch, these items are key:
- Plan. Have a method to prove your identity to your peers should you disappear from one account or platform and need to reestablish communications on another. The typical technical method is to use digitally signed messages, but it could also be something as simple as an “out-of-band” phone call to the person you know saying, “Yeah, that’s me. I’m about to type ‘xyz‘.”
- Prepare. Establish the alternative communication paths and prove your identity there before you need them. “This is my email and phone number. Here are alternates.”
- Verify. We make a lot of assumptions in digital communications that we don’t make face-to-face. Make it a practice to periodically verify the identity of the person at the other end.
- Practice. Practice using the other communications paths, and practice your previously established techniques to prove your identity.
A particular ##chat room provided on a popular IRC server may be convenient, but if you’re prepared, you won’t rely on it to stay in touch. And since this is a favorite topic of mine, expect to read more about it in the future 🙂