27 years later, mIRC still has loyal users. Discover the history and legacy of the Internet’s first social network.
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O mIRC was the most popular program at the turn of the century for accessing real-time IRC (Internet Relay Chat) communication networks. It was born in 1995 by the British programmer Khaled Mardam-Bey, when the internet was still very new to the general public.
Long before MSN Messenger or Google Talk became famous, mIRC came to answer the need to create a conversation program for the Windows system.
The goal was to make it user friendly for everyone and not just for programmers and university students who already used the real-time communication functionality of IRC networks.
mIRC showed the common user what the Internet was already showing researchers and the world of science a few years ago. The wonderful world of direct, real-time communication between users who could be right next to us or on the other side of the world.
mIRC: what was it for in 1995?
At a time when the Internet had just over 5000 users worldwide, mIRC allowed people with no programming knowledge to chat online.
Using communication limited to characters (text), at a time when it was still unthinkable to include photographs or videos in the conversation, users shared stories, news, created and developed personal, professional and even romantic relationships.
It was also a widely used platform for playing cards and chess or for carrying out online questionnaires that made it possible to collect specific answers and data very quickly.
The anonymity afforded by registered users’ nicknames was threatening for some, but equally liberating for those belonging to marginalized groups. For the first time they gained a voice and an existence online, without fear of repercussions or judgment.
How did it work?
The program offered communication channels that functioned as conversation rooms. Each channel was identified by a hash sign (#) before a word that summarized the topic of that chat room.
It could be, for example, a generic designation like #sport, #sex and #music, or a more specific designation like #hitchcock or #pimba.
What was most exciting at the time was the fact that any user could create and register his own channel, defining and managing the chat rooms himself. Thus, channels emerged for all tastes and needs, created to represent communities, schools, tastes, trends and even professions.
The “owner” of the channel could also choose whether his chat room was public or private, limit the number of participants in a discussion and choose helpers to block “misbehavers”.
Another of mIRC’s most attractive features was the conversation in a private window (pvt) between users in the same room, which made it possible to create more direct and individual connections between participants.
Over time, evolutions and modified versions of the original mIRC appeared, introducing new features, many of which were suggested by the users themselves.
mIRC peaked in users in the early years of this century. In 2003 it was part of the ranking of the 10 most popular programs on the Internet.
That year, its creator Khaled Mardam-Bey, accounted for more than 150 million downloads of the software, which demonstrates the level of curiosity and interest that it aroused among Internet users. In Portugal, the program reached 33,000 registered users that same year.
The emergence of new direct communication programs, such as the skype or Messenger, or the first social networks, such as Orkut or hi5, with new features and the use of images, caused mIRC to begin to decline.
Between 2003 and 2013 the program went from 1 million users to 500 thousand and the final blow was given by the growing popularity of the Facebook🇧🇷
Smileys, hashtags, @nicknames: the legacy of mIRC
If mIRC forever marked the imagination of the first generation of internet users, it also left deep marks on the language resources that we still use online today. Smileys, the famous LoL or wtf, the # before important words or the @ before a nickname, are just a few examples of a language that emerged at the time and which still resists in online communication.
It was also on mIRC that common users understood what kind of damage hackers could cause on the internet.
mIRC needed the servers to be active 24 hours a day so that conversations wouldn’t stop around the world and “taking down” these servers, making several participants disappear from the chat rooms at the same time, became a “sport” for the new pirates of the virtual world.
Still active for revivalists and technicians
Today mIRC is still alive and working🇧🇷 Its creator, programmer Khaled Mardam-Bey, has never abandoned it and continues to make updates. mIRC is already in version 7.68 and can be used in Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8, 10 or 11 and users are still out there. Those who stay like the simple, light, safe and practical communication of the text.
They are more technical users, who feed the channels of the technological community, but also revivalist users who appreciate conversations away from the cult of personality that profile pictures and social networks modern popularized.
They are looking for what remains of a world where communication is neither centralized nor censored by large technology companies, a world where communication has a low risk of public repercussions.