Whatever happened to IRC?

Before MySpace and Messenger, we had bulletin boards and IRC. And in times before the web browser, we relied on Gopher. Which of these dead or dying technologies could you be found on?


Internet Relay Chat was – and still is – a server hosted instant messaging system that lets you talk with folks from around the globe in real time. Divided into "channels", in its heyday you could find live conversations about anything from Abba to Zappa – with lots of software swapping and Star Trekking in between.

Killed by: ICQ – the first popular desktop messaging client did away with the need to find and log into an IRC server. Later, Windows Messenger stole ICQ's crown. IRC lives on, but predominantly as a file sharing system.


Akin to a global message board system, Usenet was host to thousands of themed "newsgroups" where folks could post messages and have heated debates about any topic. You can still post to Usenet and follow discussions using your favourite email client, but you'll be one of the few doing so these days.

Killed by: Web hosted message boards like phpBB, which offer users an easier way to meet like-minded people and be rude to them online. Google's acquisition of newsgroup search tool Deja News sounded the final death knell.


Shortly before the web took off, Gopher was the only graphical way to access the internet. Gopher sites hosted data – image files, text, audio clips – using a directory based browsing system similar to Windows Explorer.

Killed by: Gopher was launched in 1991, just months before the World Wide Web. Though naysayers claimed it wasn't as intuitive to build or navigate web sites, history shows that web browsing won the battle. Amazingly, Mozilla Firefox still has Gopher capability built in. Check out gopher://gopher.floodgap.com for a list of live sites.

Anonymous FTP

The File Transfer Protocol's not quite dead, but we no longer have the abundance of anonymous sites that once littered the net. These gems helped distribute free and trial software – as well as material of more dubious origin...

Killed by: The web must shoulder most of the blame for bumping off anonymous FTPs legitimate usage, while BitTorrent and similar P2P initiatives are now the chosen method for less legal software distribution.

MUDs, MOOs and Talkers

Multi User Dungeons (or "Dimensions") were the Matrix made out of text. Virtual environments, where the landscape was described rather than displayed, these server based worlds enabled users to chat in real time, build their own environments and get up to all sorts of ASCII mischief.

Killed by: The old fashioned MUDs and MOOs (standing for MUD, Object Oriented) fell out of favour long before modern 3D equivalents like Second Life and World of Warcraft came along. Simply and sadly, the advent of the web and instant messaging enabled less fiddly methods of real time conversation.

Bulletin Boards

Before the web – before many of us even had internet access – bulletin boards allowed us to directly dial-in to the online world. Often hosted on bespoke software, Bulletin Boards combined real-time chat, file hosting and message posting.

Killed by: The BBS craze declined as accessibility to the internet improved. Bebo, MySpace and Facebook are their natural descendants. You can still access many old school BBS documents at www.textfiles.com – and surviving bulletin board system Monochrome can be found at www.mono.org.

Now over to you – which other forgotten net technologies belong in our hall of fame? Let us know in the comments.