by Paul Arnote (parnote)
On May 19, 2021, the FreeNode IRC (Internet Relay Chat) network exploded into controversy. Twenty to thirty FreeNode staff members resigned their positions, and created Libera Chat, a new IRC network. FreeNode is considered the IRC home to numerous FOSS projects, including PCLinuxOS.
As a result, many FOSS projects have abandoned FreeNode. Most have gone to the newly formed Libera Chat network. These FOSS projects include Gentoo, Ubuntu, Wikimedia, CentOS, FreeBSD, and Arch Linux, just to name a few.
The controversy over FreeNode still rages like an out of control wildfire. FOSS projects continue to flee the carnage. Libera Chat, started by former FreeNode staffers, went from startup to the sixth largest IRC network literally overnight with all the requests for new IRC channels and new registered users. As you might imagine, the Libera Chat folks have been slammed with requests, and now have a backlog of new channel requests.
How Did This All Happen?
As with most things that have this much drama and trauma involved, the details are a bit difficult to extract. With two competing views of the actions involved, it's certainly difficult to discern exactly where the real truth lies. But let's try to at least provide a somewhat condensed timeline for the events that led up to this fiasco. It might just help shine some light onto how this happened. As you might imagine, this whole thing is, for lack of a better word, messy.
FreeNode originally started as the Open Projects Network (OPN) in 1998, before changing to their current name in 2002.
In 2006, the FreeNode project originator, Rob Levin, died in a car wreck. Levin's brother wanted to turn it into a business, but Christel Dahlskjaer, along with help from Richard "RichiH" Hartmann, took over the FreeNode project. She was an employee of Private Internet Access when she took over control of FreeNode's parent corporation, FreeNode Limited. She was the FreeNode "head of staff."
Dahlskjaer transferred ownership of FreeNode Limited to tech entrepreneur Andrew Lee in 2017, seeking a way to fund it more dramatically. Lee is the founder of VPN provider Private Internet Access. (In the interest of disclosure and transparency, I am a customer of PIA, and it in no way impacts my reporting of these events.)
In March, 2021, Dahlskjaer resigned from FreeNode to pursue other life interests. A new head of staff was not immediately appointed or named. In the power vacuum that ensued, a senior staff member assumed the role and asked for ownership of the domain. Lee instead suggested a decentralization of FreeNode. Shortly thereafter, Lee's access to the domain account was revoked. Despite being listed as the domain owner, Lee was denied access to the domain. Some former staff members painted this as a hostile takeover by Lee, and that brings us to the current events that led to multiple senior members of the FreeNode staff resigning.
If you want more in depth information about the FreeNode trials and tribulations, an internet search will net you more reading material than you can read in a day. It was reported all across the computer press outlets, so take your pick. To get you started, here's a search from DuckDuckGo. This link is particularly telling of the former staff members' view of things, along with each of their resignation letters (or at least the ones who chose to share those letters). This link (PDF, shared on TechRights.org) is particularly telling of Lee's side of things. You be the judge.
The Current Status
As a result, Lee ended up regaining control over FreeNode. But, in the process, many of the IRC channels that had been in place for years (including #pclosmag, which I created) ended up with its owners locked out. It was as if everything had been nuked. The same fate appears to have happened to the #pclinuxos and #pclinuxos-support channels. This self-destruction happened in mid-June.
I attempted to create a new channel for the magazine, but inconsistent behavior with NickServ (which manages registered user accounts) and even more radical behavior from ChanServ (which manages registered channels) resulted in extreme difficulty in creating the new channel.
I'd be trudging through the NickServ and ChanServ commands, and then NickServ would get amnesia. You can't run ChanServ if NickServ can't recognize you as a registered user. So, I had to start all over, first getting NickServ to recognize me as a registered user, and then hope to get through all of the ChanServ commands before NickServ caught another case of amnesia. And, do it all flawlessly.
That new channel, #PCLinuxOS-Magazine, is still up and running, as of the writing of this article. However, it still isn't set up as I want, due to how flaky NickServ and ChanServ are behaving. I just left it in a state of "good enough for now."
The PCLinuxOS-Magazine chat room on PCLOS-Talk, running on Pidgin.
I do not know of the plans for the two main PCLinuxOS channels on IRC yet. But, The PCLinuxOS Magazine has decided to relocate to the PCLOS-Talk server. Setting up the chat room for the magazine was easy, and not fraught with the pitfalls of having to deal with the flaky behavior of NickServ and ChanServ, not to mention the obscure, cryptic, non-intuitive commands used to manipulate those two services on IRC.
The move to the PCLOS-Talk server allows the magazine to maintain a consistent chat service that is available to any and all PCLinuxOS users who wish to avail themselves of the feature. Running on PCLOS-Talk, users can talk openly in the chat room (pclinuxos-magazine), or take private conversations to a private chat window.
You will, though, be required to sign up for an account on the PCLOS-Talk server, if you haven't already and wish to join the magazine's chat room. Doing so is easy enough, and it's free. Follow the instructions in YouCanToo's and Tuxlink's article from The PCLinuxOS Magazine's March 2017 issue. While you're there, you can also drop into the pclinuxos-talk and #chimpbox chat rooms to talk about whatever you wish to talk about. By the way, just about any topic is allowed to be discussed in the magazine's chat room, provided it's not abusive, obscene, or doesn't fall into a prohibited category (pornography, etc.).
Just like anyone else, I can't predict the future.
But, the #PCLinuxOS-Magazine channel on FreeNode is currently (at the time of this writing) still up and running. However, I cannot say for how long. There are multiple reports of channels being taken over on FreeNode just for mentioning moving to another network. FreeNode disallows "advertising" or mentioning other networks. The new magazine channel on FreeNode does mention in its topic that the chat is moving/has moved to PCLOS-Talk. So I may not have any say in how long that new channel stays up or under my control. Even if it escapes being taken over for that violation, I do not plan to keep the new channel up and running for too much longer.
The PCLinuxOS Magazine has maintained a chat presence on IRC ever since I became the editor 12 years ago. Had the kerfuffle at FreeNode not occurred, we'd still be there. But the sloppy way that the "transfer" was handled during the power change has necessitated a move to a new home.
IRC is old technology that predates the World Wide Web, having started in August 1988. Tim Berners-Lee didn't even propose his idea for the WWW until March 1989, seven months later. His vision wouldn't become reality until Christmas 1990. IRC has served its purpose admirably during that ensuing time. It allowed people to interact directly with one another, across vast distances, in real time.
But it definitely has some areas that just don't make sense in today's computing landscape. Messaging on the web has evolved to include better, more dynamic, more secure methods. IRC uses an inordinate amount of bandwidth to send plain text messages. It's insecure, and ripe for data interception.
So, now is as good of a time as any to move on. PCLOS-Talk runs on a custom XMPP server. It's more secure, even if just for the fact that it requires users to have an account, which means that users have had some sort of vetting just to be able to connect. IRC will allow anyone to connect, with or without an account, increasing exposure to trolls, spammers, and others with malicious intent.
When one door closes, another one opens. Thanks for the fond memories, FreeNode and IRC. You served us well.