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Wednesday, December 24, 2003

context matters, even in irc

i frequent an irc channel that has, over time, collected an array of bots that do various things that someone might find useful – some of them are just geeks testing their bot-coding prowess, but some have stuck for a long time. it’s accepted that bots are part of the channel, and as with any software, there is turnover and upgrades and bugs that come with them.

often, very smart people drop into this channel, many of whom are completely new to this so-many-years-old irc thing. as with any new thing, walking into the “lion’s den” can be a bit intimidating – if not because of the human residents, then for the less-than-elegant technology that is irc or even the “what the hell is that?” moment that happens when a bot first does its thing in front of someone.

the channel has also evolved some fairly non-irc-like social norms – perhaps in part to accomodate these new people, and perhaps in part because most of the regulars also have outside-irc context to draw on with each other. anyway, precisely how the channel evolved isn’t really what interests me at the moment.

tonight, as i glanced in, i noticed a behavior from a recent bot-addition to the channel that has, in the past, resulted in days and weeks of time wasted explaining how “/ignore” works, or why something is the way it is, or this is just someone testing something or how the client they’ve chosen “sucks” and they should use something else or other various garbage.

unsurprisingly, gently mentioning a behavior that we’ve seen in this channel before, and the trouble (if it can be called that – more like “noise”) it has caused was met with a rather stiff, geek-paradigmatic response: that’s how it’s supposed to work according to the rfc, and that’s how it’s going to stay. i didn’t make a very effective case, and i’m going “backchannel” precisely to avoid prompting a debate on the subject. this was just another dead end conversation. compliant bot behavior isn’t what interests me at the moment either.

i just want to drop an observation into the blogosphere and say that context matters. in this channel, we have the same discussion, the same education process, the same complaints and questions every time a bot displays this behavior. conforming to the “channel norm” is, i think, more important than comforming to the “letter of the rfc.” for now, i’ll watch the noise-to-signal ratio creep up until everyone has adjusted to the new bot (or the new bot is upgraded, replaced or removed, as the case may be).

occasionally when discussion breaks down into yet another explanation of this bot-behavior, i’ll see it and think to myself that we’re spending a lot of effort to adapt the humans to the bots, and not enough adapting the bots to the humans… and then i’ll realize that it’s pretty common to get that backwards, particularly with technology and geeks, and i’ll smile a little to myself and wander off to something interesting.

posted by roj at 10:52 pm