For the first time, I’m giving you a joint review between me and a listener, Joe LaGreca. You may remember Joe from his great review of the application Wire for secure messaging and before that he’s the one who told us about Authy. This week Joe showed me a cool service called IRCcloud, and we did a bunch of experimenting with it together. He explained the benefits to me and why he went looking for a solution in the first place (a problem to be solved).
After a while I suggested he do a review, but he was hesitant. That’s when we got the idea to collaborate on the review. Joe started an outline in a Google doc and I added some questions and additional observations, and moved things around to get it to flow better. So Joe gets credit for the majority of the content, while I made it into the blog post and podcast segment. I’ll let you decide whether this collaboration was a success!
The Problem to be Solved
Let’s start with the problem Joe wanted to solve. Joe was looking for a way to join the live chatroom for the NosillaCast (5pm Pacific Time at podfeet.com/live) using his phone. The live chatroom is an Internet Relay Chat, or IRC and while there are several traditional IRC clients for mobile, you have to keep the client active in order to remain in the chat. Many chatrooms are active even when the shows aren’t live, which gives the community a place to hang out during off hours. Keeping a chat client active at all times uses battery and data (albeit small amounts data) even when not using the app.
That’s when Joe found IRCcloud, at irccloud.com/. IRCcloud is a combination web service and local client. When you join a chat room using the local client, the chat stays active on their web service, even if you close the app on your device.
I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that the free tier does disconnect you after two hours, unless you have the website or app open. Joe simply keeps the website open in a tab on his computer so he stays connected. We’ll talk more about the paid tier in a bit, but it does let you stay permanently connected to all of your chat rooms.
If you’re a chat room moderator, you need to enter your credentials, which means that they are being set up to irccloud.com. I did it but it gave me pause. No reason to believe this could cause a problem but I like to think about these things before proceeding.
Syncing is magical on IRCcloud. If you run the app locally on your iPhone, iPad, or Android phone, all of these devices are always in the same state. This means you can pop in and out of your client and your connection is active. It also means that you can jump from your phone to the web on your computer and you’re right back in with all the same history showing. Since the real activity is on the IRCcloud servers, each of the clients are just windows back to the same state. Joe explained it to me by saying it’s like the
screen command Bart taught us about in Chit Chat Across the Pond where you can launch a screen sharing session to a server, close out but the session is still active.
If your mobile device isn’t running the app, how are you going to get notifications? IRCcloud has solved that. There’s a preference where you can choose to get notifications even when you’re not in the app. You probably don’t want to be notified every time someone types, but maybe you want to be notified if someone calls out your IRC handle. IRCcloud lets you have these notifications without the battery and data drain you would get if you kept the client active.
Clean and Easy Interface
IRC is a very old protocol and many clients show their age. They’re kind of “open sourcey looking” if you get my drift. IRCcloud is very pretty and clean, and allows you to choose from 9 different theme colors, choose fonts, and even font size. There’s a plethora of options in how IRCcloud works – some of them geeky, some not so geeky but I’ll leave most of them to you. I tested VoiceOver on the IRCcloud iOS app and with the exception of the Settings button being unlabeled, everything else worked great.
File Uploads & Images
The strength of IRC is in text, but these days we love images and videos and other file formats. With my desktop client of choice, Textual, it’s a huge effort to share a file, especially images. I have to find a place to put it first, like upload a photo to Imgur and then copy the link, go back to Textual and paste it in. With IRCcloud you can simply upload an image directly in the interface from either the desktop or mobile app. On mobile you see a link to usercontent.irccloud.com where it has uploaded our file, (you can change it to imgur btw) and if you click the link you see the image. In the web service, you actually see the image right in the browser window. I know the purist will say IRC wasn’t intended for images, but I like it.
Completely accidentally, I discovered that there’s a REALLY easy way to upload files to your chat room of choice in the web interface. I was dragging an image for inclusion into a blog post and I happened to drag past the window that was open to the NosillaCast chat room. As I went by, a HUGE circle popped up in the browser window. It was bright blue and took up probably 30% of the center of the window and invited me to drop any files there I’d like to include as a post to the chat. It looks like you can drop in any file type this way. I tried an Excel file and a PDF and they both worked.
Bart always says to follow the money when you get something for free. You want to know whether your data is the product, and if the provider is in danger of going away because they have no revenue stream. The good news is that IRCcloud does have a paid tier and Joe did some research to explain it.
With the free tier, you can only connect to two servers. Joe is in a bunch of different chat rooms, but luckily most of them are on freenode, and that only counts as one server. He uses his second slot for the NosillaCast which runs on my own private IRC server. Like I mentioned earlier, the free tier also only lets you stay connected for two hours unless you keep a web browser running with a tab set to irccloud.com.
The paid tier is $5/month or $50/year. It lets you stay permanently connected to IRC, even while you’re offline. You can connect to as many servers as you want, and you can get access to password protected servers. You also get unlimited access to your chat history.
If you love IRC and wish you could stay more connected, you might want to check out IRCcloud at irccloud.com. Thanks Joe, for the great idea and doing all the heavy lifting on this review.