One of the most immediate ways to communicate with others via the Internet is to participate in live chat. Chat doesn't refer to people actually talking to each other and hearing each other's voices. Instead, it means that you hold live keyboard "conversations" with other people on the Internetthat is, you type words on your computer and other people on the Internet can see those words on their computers immediately, and vice versa. You can hold chats with many people simultaneously all over the world.
A number of ways are available to chat on the Internet, but one of the most popular ones is called Internet relay chat (IRC). Every day, thousands of people all over the world hold conversations on many topics via IRC. Each topic is called a channel. When you join a channel, you can see what other people on the channel type on their keyboards. In turn, everyone in the channel can see whatever you type on your keyboard. You can also hold individual side conversations with someone. Channels live on various servers around the world. Some servers have only a few channels, and others have many of them.
IRC has facilitated communications during natural disasters, wars, and other crises. In 1993, for example, during the attempted Communist coup in Russia when Russian legislators barricaded themselves inside the Parliament building, an IRC "news channel" was set up for relaying real-time, first-person accounts of the events taking place.
IRC follows a client/server model, which means that both client and server software are required to use it. Many IRC clients are available for many types of computers, so whether you have a PC, Macintosh, or Unix workstation, you can use IRC.
Your IRC client communicates with an IRC server on the Internet. You log on to a server using the client and select a channel on which you want to chat. When you type words on your keyboard, they are sent to the server. The server is part of a global IRC server network. The server sends your message to other servers, which, in turn, send your messages to people who are part of your channel. They can then see and respond to your message.
You can chat on the Internet in other ways, as well. Many websites, for example, use proprietary chat software that doesn't use the IRC protocol but enables you to chat when you're on the site.
Another type of chat is called instant messaging. In instant messaging, you communicate privately, one on one, with another person. You can create special lists so you're informed when your "buddies" come online ready to chat, and they're informed when you come online.