While spending a weekend at Hopkins Marine Station, where my girlfriend is studying this quarter (it’s a bit of a drive!), I was introduced to Rurouni Kenshin, an incredible anime series. The weird part was that we didn’t watch the episodes on a TV. We watched them on her housemate’s computer.
When I asked to see his collection, he showed me something on the order of 100 CD-Rs, each of which contained 12 anime episodes. It blew my mind. He told me that he had got all of this with late-night sessions with Mirc, an IRC chat client. I returned home that week, determined to see what I could find.
I installed Mirc, and spent that day checking out the networks. You see, with IRC, groups of servers are clustered together over the Internet. If you connect to any server in a given cluster, you can talk with anyone who’s connected to any other server in that cluster. Each of the major server clusters has different rules and runs different server software. The one that I found to have the most people and information was DALnet.
On the DALnet anime channels (just look for channels containing the word “anime”), I saw several chat bots: participants that weren’t people, but intelligent scripts, periodically posting information as to what kind of files they had available, a “trigger”, and how many people were currently downloading files from them. They all were using an Mirc script known as Polaris, which helps you set up and run a file server. At any rate, when you’d see a server that looked like it might contain some interesting files (like, say, the first year of episodes of some anime series), you’d type in
<strong>!<em>trigger</em></strong> – if the trigger was
luv that anime, then you’d type
<strong>!luv that anime</strong> – kapiche?
The chat server would then request a DCC (Direct Client-to-Client, namely a conversation going directly between you two instead of through the IRC servers) Chat session with you, at which point you are presented with a DOS like interface to the server’s files. You can type “dir” to list the files in a direction, “cd” to different directories, etc. The other interesting commands are
get <em>filename</em>, which requests a given file;
sends, which shows what other clients the server is currently sending files to; and
queues, which shows the users that are queued up to grab files after the sends complete. If the queue is full, you can’t request files any more. You’ll have to find another server.
After another day of lurking around on these channels, I scored several Kenshin episodes, Princess Mononoke, a Japanese subtitled version of American Beauty, and the first year ofRanma 1⁄2 (a story about a guy who can change into a girl; some fascinating gender commentary!).
I setup Polaris on my own (it was a little complicated!) and started serving on those channels. I was instantly noticed by an IRC bot on the channel who upped my status to “+v” (voice mode), and several people messaged me to ask to exchange other files. I only ran the server for an hour and a half, after which I saw that I had transferred over a gigabyte of information from my computer to other people. Wow.
I was amazed by the sheer quantity of video content available on IRC. Napster is great for audio, but I had generally assumed that it would be very difficult to find video content; my excursions with Hotline had not been very successful; the servers all wanted me to join porno mailing lists just to access their content (this is how they’d make money!), but I obviously didn’t want to sign up for porn spam! I also have issues with people profiting / restricting access to the distribution of material that they obtained for free.
Although the initial learning curve is a bit steep (people aren’t happy if you take up too much of their time or say stupid things on a channel), within 3 days I went from never having used Mirc to being an active server on the network with several hundred megabytes of files for trade. It’s pretty amazing what’s out there; IRC has been around for decades. If agencies think that by shutting down Napster they can control the distribution of information, they haven’t even begun to see the tip of the iceberg.