VID > Stewart Douglas > Chapter 2

So Who's Got Ops? Power, Control & the Undernet Virtual Community

Stewart Douglas

Chapter Two

The Enclosed Circle: Collective and Individual Ownership on IRC

Due to the interaction of a number of factors, IRC can be considered an 'enclosed circle'. By this I mean that IRC is able to consistently define and regulate social behaviour in such as way as to constantly strengthen group solidary. In effect, the continual structural reaffirmation of a sense of collective identity provides IRC with the degree of 'social capital' necessary to generate and maintain individual commitment to the group. By encouraging individual interaction with an enclosed collective community, IRC assists in the shared reproduction of particular patterns of social behaviour. Group solidarity is embedded in the structure of IRC through the production of 'registered' channels and, as will be explained later in this section, is perpetually reinforced through acts of individual interaction with the collective identity.

On IRC, the vast majority of channels are registered and it is these registered channels which possess the highest number of members and certainly the highest number of 'regular' members. Consequently, the registered channel forms the foundation of IRC. Usually, the registration of a channel involves a relatively complex process38, but it does provide users with a significantly stable environment. To be registered means that the channel always 'exists' regardless of whether or not there are members on it. Similarly, among the registered channels some are more popular than others; some appear to be able to attract significant numbers of 'regular' and 'new' members. Within the Australian Undernet39 one of the most popular channels is #quiz. Structurally, #quiz is based around a general knowledge game. (A copy of the rules of #quiz is included as Appendix A) 40 In #quiz, those members who have operator status ask a variety of questions which other members attempt to answer. Those who are able to answer three questions in a row (or who impress the 'ops') are granted 'op' status and are required to ask questions in turn. Not surprisingly, #quiz has a fluid social dynamic, with operator status changing frequently as existing 'ops' are 'questioned out', retire or leave. The element of competition inherent in the channel also combines to promote a certain degree of what may be loosely defined as either 'team spirit' or 'rivalry'.

Registered channels such as #quiz are able to generate a concept of community through their dependence on synchronicity. It is synchronicity which provides the individual member with the flexibility necessary to encourage and sustain participation in the collective process of communal construction. Unlike other forms of communication, IRC permits and promotes what has been identified as a 'flow experience', where "... action and awareness are fused."41 Through this omnipresent experiential 'flow', the individual is provided with a virtually limitless panorama of immediate feedback. There is no delay, no waiting for reward or sanction; the individual on IRC is effectively permeated with a sense of increased interactivity with the communication process. This is further reinforced due to the implicit anonymous nature of the 'Self' as it exists on IRC. On #quiz the individual exists only as a nickname,42 a symbolic identifier which may have a multitude of interpretations ranging from the totally meaningless to the carefully selected. In essence IRC is a collective 'masked ball', where the symbolic signifier of identity is effectively reduced to a single word/name consisting of a maximum of 9 characters. It is up to the individual to determine the extent of information revealed by their nickname and even then that information may be false or misleading. 'Betty35' for example may be indicative of the user's sexuality and age, or it could mean nothing at all. Even performing a 'whois' command 43 on an individual's 'nick' will frequently reveal little more than an email address, as most users freely change the personal information section of their respective IRC programs.

In a way, the individual, as s/he is conventionally constructed, ceases to exist. After all, on the Internet nobody knows you're a dog. At least, not until you tell them (and even then you could be lying). The significance of these two factors, synchronicity and anonymity in providing stability to the plethora of communities constructed on IRC should not be underestimated, for it is the interaction between synchronicity and anonymity which generate the interaction necessary for the individual member to share in the communal narrative. At the most superficial level, IRC users inhabit a community which encourages (or at least permits) participants to be other than 'themselves' and to receive instant feedback on their contribution to the narrative.

Indispensable to the construction of the imagined community of #quiz is the role of the member. In common with other registered IRC channels, #Quiz has a high number of 'regular', 'semi-regular' and 'new' members all of whom interact with and exchange the 'narrative' of the channel. This forms an essential part of establishing the historicity of the 'community'. In the dialectic created between the gradual merging of 'new' member into 'regular' member the channel is able to continue to produce the narrative necessary for its own existence. Similarly, the exchange of knowledge and understandings within #quiz, particularly between 'regular' and 'new' members encourages the continuance of the 'community' as a viable focus of social exchange. Thus, while a number of individuals may leave the channel permanently and fail to make the transition from 'new' to 'regular', there is still sufficient influx of potential members necessary to maintain the 'critical mass' needed to encourage social interaction. This 'critical mass' forms part of the structural component of #quiz, part of the mode of production inherent in the historical development of IRC into its present form. The development of registered channels, the use of nicknames and the synchronous nature of communication are the skeletal foundation of IRC, the result of design features inherent in the software. Nevertheless, the individual works within this design features and is 'shaped' by them. Similarly, the 'imagined community' of #quiz is also engaged in collective and individual interaction with the 'limitations' of the medium. However, it is important to recognise that for many members such perceived 'limitations' form part of the 'appeal'. In other words, how much information can be crammed into a nine character nick name? How is it possible to 'communicate' synchronically effectively through a physical (keyboard) medium, with all of the limitations that implies? The response to the structural features of IRC helps define the style of the semiotic act as it exists on #quiz. However, the interface between 'structure' and 'style', or between 'medium' and 'message' are continually refined on #quiz to strengthen group solidarity.

Stylistically, communication on #quiz can be broadly separated into a number 'threads', each of which contribute to, and extract material from, the ongoing process of social interaction. Essentially, the main 'thread' consists of the actual process of asking and answering questions: the 'game'. The 'game' to a certain extent, establishes the texture of the semiotic process. It provides the channel with a relatively fluid logonomic system of rules and expectations. A substantial amount of time is devoted to the 'game', either in the form of asking, answering, disputing or encouraging particular questions. However, a number of other 'threads' of social interaction occur parallel to the 'game', often providing a 'commentary' on a particular aspect of the 'game', or essentially ignoring the 'game' altogether. One such style can be labelled as 'threads of solidarity' and consists of ritualised 'greetings' directed towards various members as they join the channel. Such 'greetings' can often become extremely elaborate and occasionally involve the use of 'script' and sound files. I would suggest that the function of 'threads of solidarity' is to aid in the development of a collective sense of self. By expressing recognition for the individual, the group itself is able to re-affirm its own identity relative to individual members: We acknowledge you are part of this 'community' and therefore this 'community' exists.

Expressions of group solidarity are supplemented by 'threads of distraction', conversations which steer members away from full participation in the 'game'. These usually involve an initial statement regarding a topic 'external' to the 'game', such as sport, politics, music, films or similar general topic to which other members respond. These 'distractions' can often last for a considerable period and, at times, result in a temporary halt in the 'game'. 'Threads of distraction' will usually last until the topic is exhausted, until other 'ops' re-commence asking questions, or until other members start asking the 'ops' for questions. It is not uncommon for 'threads of distraction' to arise spontaneously from a particular question as the following example indicates. Here, an 'op' has asked a question about the music group the Spice Girls. Other members follow the thread, exchanging verbal banter with each regarding the relative merits of each others taste:

BearG<Overlord> hurt
<Hatter> dunno
<Womble> I do not know BearG :)
<Crash> william
<Indian> all i want , hurt
<Crash> dennehy
<Garden> Womble!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! u win
<Indian> ............
<TIMELORD> wannabe, say yo'll be there
<Crash> no
BearG A: TIMELORD!!!!! you disgust me :)
<TIMELORD> heheheh
<Crash> i reckon
<TIMELORD> you can't help but notice them!!
<Indian> Spice Girls suck
<TIMELORD> they're all over the #@$@% place!
<Garden> they sure do
Wilson Q: In which continent is Portugal?
<TIMELORD> europe
BearG Q: Who sing bullet with butterfly wings? (hint legendary superdooper favourite band :))
<Fred> europa
<Hatter> s p
*** Wilson sets mode: +o TIMELORD
BearG A: HATTER!!!!!!! tho you cheated
*** ZaX sets mode: -o ZaX
<Hatter> smashing pumpkins (suck)
<BearG> smashing pumpkins BTW
<TIMELORD> no thanks
*** Josh (_______@___________) has left #quiz
*** TIMELORD sets mode: -o TIMELORD
<Hatter> smiling politely
<Thyme> they suck
<Crash> wooooooohooo SP
BearG eyes Hatter
<Indian> TIMELORD : If spice girls rule and Beavis and Butthead suck then you've got problems
*** Hatter sets mode: -o Hatter
<BearG> haha indian
<TIMELORD> whatever you say
<Fred> and vice versa !
<Overlord> africa
*** Foreign has quit IRC (Ping timeout for Foreign [__________])
Wilson Q: where could ye find the sea of tranquility?
Garden Q: Who did Lisa get a crush for (simpsons)?
<BearG> nelson
<Garden> Moon
<BearG> muntz
<TIMELORD> nelson
<leven> beavis and butthead suck the spice girls Q: Name the 2 singles by the spice girls? <GAG>

Here the 'thread of distraction' is relatively simple and involves a brief discussion about specific aspects of popular culture. The level of exchange remains essentially lighthearted amongst members, but at it most extreme a significant deviation can continue on over a substantial time frame. In terms of the 'game' large deviations occur most frequently during the early hours of the morning when there are comparatively few members on the channel and even then they are interwoven with the perpetual existence of the 'game'. These deviations provide members with a ritualistic 'breather', allowing them temporary respite from the 'game'. It allows members a chance to express a certain degree of 'shared' individuality, to make a statement and, in the process, encourage others to react to that statement. Distractions enable the group to symbolically re-establish a certain degree of visible 'difference' from other members, while simultaneously promoting collective social adhesion. In effect, rather than confrontation, distractions like the one above, permit the group to say: this is an environment in which I feel confident enough to make such a statement because this 'community' generates the necessary degree of solidarity and security.

Expressions of solidarity are reinforced on #quiz by 'threads of recognition'. Stylistically, this occurs when the collective group bestows significance onto a particular member. Usually this recognition is reserved for those members interpreted as being 'regular' and manifests itself in the form of group celebration of a birthday, a wedding, a birth or some other 'significant' event. At times the channel topic is changed by an 'op' to provide further recognition for the member concerned. A typical situation is outlined below, where the channel acknowledges the soon to occur wedding of a regular member:

<Candle> Hey Debbie!!!!! good for you !!!!
Wolf congrats debbie again :))
<debbie> hehe Womble
*** Wolf (_____@__________________) has left #quiz
<El-Toro> !dingo chapel.wav
Womble Q: who is getting married on April 1?
<Catboy> kez
<Stringboy> debbie
<Edward> debbie
<Blues> debbie
<Sparrow> debbie!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
<Blush> debbie
<El-Toro> duh debbie
<Candle> !dingo chapel.wav
Womble A: who is getting married on April 1? debbie!!!
<Stringboy> yay. it ain't sunk in to debbie yet :)
debbie blushes beetroot
<debbie> lol
Puter wonders if Debbie will quiz on her wedding day ??????
<Puter> debbie3
*** debbie changes topic to "3 in a row for ops, only ops ask q's. No swearing or flooding. Please ask questions when you earn ops."
*** singer^ has quit IRC (Leaving)
<Panda> congrats debbie, i'm getting married in august :)
<tracey> Nod-E...cool :)
*** Panda (__________@________________) has left #quiz
*** Blush (___________@________________) has left #quiz
Womble Q: what are the last three words in the typical wedding ceremony spoken by the oath-giver?
<tracey> man and wife
<Womble> congrats Panda

In this situation, the 'thread' continues over an extended time period, with the questions themselves all exploring a wedding theme and runs parallel with a collective discussion on weddings and marriage in general. Through processes like this, the group is able to generate its own historicity, to attribute a sense of historical permanence to the collective identity. Debbie is not only recognised because of the contribution she has made to the 'game', but also because she provides a conceptual 'link' to the 'past', a bridge connecting the current 'game' to the historical 'reality' of the 'past' game. Regular members exist within what may be considered almost an 'oral' perspective of history, they are a living memorial to the continuity of collective existence.

Finally, there are 'threads of disruption', or deliberate attempts to fracture the game. Such behaviour is interpreted as anti-social and provocative, a threat to the collective 'well being' of the channel. Disruption can assume a variety of forms ranging from excessive 'flooding', 'takeovers', to personal attacks on other members and 'stupid' questions. Reaction to 'threads of disruptions' is usually relatively severe and frequently involves the offending member being 'kicked' off the channel and, at its most punitive, in being 'banned' from the channel. In the following extract, two members are reprimanded for 'being annoying', thereby disrupting the 'flow' of the 'game':

<:{^Twig^}>: we want q
<:{^Twig^}>: we want q
<:{^Twig^}>: we want q
<:Swarm>: zeppo
<:toby>: i hate lagging
<:toby>: heheh
rpm waves bye to all :)
<:womble>: stop that Twig
*** rpm (___@____________) has left #quiz
<:Sagan>: *** Annoying behaviour detected from {^Twig^}
*** {^Twig^} was kicked by Z ((Sagan) Annoying behaviour is NOT allowed on #quiz)
*** 911 (_____@___________) has left #quiz
<:Tuesday>: cya rpm :)
<:toby>: more q's
<:toby>: more q's
<:Sagan>: *** Annoying behaviour detected from toby
*** toby was kicked by Z ((Sagan) Annoying behaviour is NOT allowed on #quiz)
<:womble>: toby be polite and patient
*** York (______@________________) has joined #quiz
*** toby (____@__________________) has joined #quiz
<:Tuesday>: Trin :))
*** {^Twig^} (___@____________________) has joined #quiz
Puterboy q : Nmae the Marx Brothers ( All 5 of them )?Groucho
Harpo Zeppo Chico &&&&&& Gummo
<:York>: hiya all

In this situation the disruption consists of 'annoying' behaviour and a mild case of 'flooding'. The punishment consists of being 'kicked' from the channel, although most software comes with an 'auto-rejoin' function built in. Should the inappropriate behaviour continue, then the member will be 'kicked' and 'banned'.

Interestingly, both Twig and Toby were kicked not by an 'op' but by other members who have 'z access' Access to 'z' is a powerful element in #quiz, and on IRC in general, in terms of maintaining 'control' of a channel. This aspect of #quiz will be examined in detail in the next section.44 Commonly, other members will show support for the member responsible for handing out the punishment or will warn the offending member to change their behaviour if it is only a mild offence. Severe offences can extract a more immediate response:

|Taco| Q: whats a fucking swear word?
*** |Taco| was kicked by Z ((HarryH) umm dont think so)
** |Taco| (curtly@dialup1-04.camtech.net.au) has joined #quiz
<:brandy>: shit
*** |Taco| was kicked by Z ((debbie) No swearing allowed in #quiz)
*** |Taco| (curtly@dialup1-04.camtech.net.au) has joined #quiz
<:crabby>: ooh aah
<:alias>: :)
<:Detal>: brandy!!
<:debbie>: in line for a ban, Taco
<:Detal>: u will b next
alias Q: Name 3 vodka brands
<:|Taco|>: kick brandy the bastard!
<:Detal>: watch the rules!
*** Z sets mode: +b *!*____@_________________
*** |Taco| was kicked by Z ((Cool) Being a wanker)
*** Z sets mode: -b *!* ______@____________________
HarryH congrats himself cool and debbie for not overreacting NOT :)

Again, in this situation, the offender is 'kicked' and 'banned' as a result of actions taken by members who have 'z' access. In fact Taco was 'kicked' by several members and finally banned, although there is a certain irony in being 'kicked' and 'banned' for swearing when you are finally called a 'wanker' by the member doing the kicking. Control of 'threads of disruption' enable #quiz to establish the parameters of appropriate 'social behaviour'. Control of behaviour has two functions. Firstly, it brings a fairly quick halt to any behaviour likely to severely fracture the 'game'. Secondly, it aids in the transmission of the code of expected behaviour to the collective group and provides an important function of ritual reinforcement of what is considered 'appropriate'. Consequently, the punishment of severe behaviour is rarely queried in #quiz and is usually supported by other members. It is generally considered that the individual concerned 'deserved' it and any 'kicking' or 'banning' is their 'own' fault. In this way, the elimination of 'threads of disruption' also serves to strengthen collective solidarity.

On #quiz, the expressly personal semiotic acts of the individual are continually woven through the process of asking and answering questions and the personal acts of others, producing a complex multi-layered weave of discourse. Nevertheless, such discourse always remains directly accessible in the immediate sense. If a member misses anything, then all the have to do is 'scroll up' on the screen to review the missed section. Consequently, the communication process within the channel always remains, in its simplest form, at the explicitly public level. On the channel at least, information becomes and remains community property. By sending it to the channel any statement becomes 'accessible' to all due to the simple fact that all members (potentially) can share any statement. The communication process on IRC is conditioned by synchronous access to the information of others: all information is available and all can respond to particular statements, or not, according to personal desire and to the current nature of the 'game'. This 'accessibility' provides a powerful means to express solidarity regardless of whether a 'response' in the conventional sense, actually occurs. Through this process, the collective narrative remains expressly accessible either directly or potentially: anyone can contribute to the collective 'weave' or elect to introduce an individual 'thread'. Within this context, communication cannot be 'ignored' in the conventional sense because IRC does not encompass such a notion. Members can decide what aspects of the weave they will directly contribute to, but are still 'aware' of the contributions of others. Failure to respond to a particular statement or thread simply means that you did not respond and has no other implied significance of a negative nature. Indeed, a lack of response may be taken as a gesture of understanding by other members. This is particularly relevant when applied to greetings directed at people joining the channel, members recognise that a sufficient number of direct responses have been made. To continue on, would be redundant 'clutter' and would detract from the shared 'flow of experience'. Naturally, there is a very thin line between 'contribution' and 'clutter'. However, for the purposes of #quiz, those individuals who did respond are doing so not only for themselves, but also collectively. In this way, the statement of the individual becomes owned by all members and provides de facto articulation of group solidarity, rather than the reverse.

The production of the 'narrative weave' forms an essential component of the imagined community as it exists on #quiz. The relationship of the 'individual' to the 'group' is perpetually defined and established. The 'self' becomes both permeated and sublimated with the character of the 'game' and a process of social fusion occurs, blurring the separation of 'self' and 'group'. This deconstruction of an easily established sense of 'self', as defined by the 'real' world, and its replacement by a virtual 'self' encourages the participant in the community of IRC to cooperate in the symbiotic production of shared 'playfulness'. In practice, this frequently means the mutual construction of what can be termed 'shared understandings' and it is the sharing of these understandings which contribute to the production of a communal identity. Similarly, such 'shared understandings' are potentially open to all members; they are inclusive, rather than exclusive. This inclusive 'playfulness', so indicative of IRC, helps define the boundaries of the enclosed circle. Within #quiz, such play can manifest itself in a variety of forms, such as displays of affection:

* Dorothy glides from person to person giving everyone monstrously huge,
body shaking, heart breaking, quaking hugs..... hello!!!!!!
* Monk gives Dorothy a Super Tight Hugging Really Super Erotic Groping
Fondling Earth Shattering Sonic Boom Oh Gawd If You Stop I'll Kill You
Better Than Heaven Yet Hotter Than Hell Watch Where Ya Stick Yer Hands
Super Huge Oh Gawd Oh Gawd Oh Gawd Don't Ya Dare Stop Touching Me
Knees Are Shaking Earth Is Trembling My Heart Has Stopped Beating Knees
Shaking Was That The Ground Moving Passionate Wet Deep Lingering
HUG
<SuRfWaVE> Get away WOMAN!!
<Monk> mine was a bigger hug
<Dorothy> mmmmmmmmm, Monk.... you big sweetie
[Monk SOUND]
<Monk> i'm a sweetie *grin*

This brief example raises an important issue in terms of group perception of 'shared understandings' as they exist on IRC. This issue involves the relative importance placed on 'verbal banter' and the freedom accorded to its use. The rules of #quiz would technically preclude such deviations from the 'game', yet these 'deviations' are rarely sanctioned and instead are frequently appreciated. In a sense, such exceptions are regarded as part of the important process of membership affirmation. Dorothy's gesture is interpreted as an inherently inclusive one. The 'virtual hug' forms a ritualistic recognition of the existence of a 'community'; the stylised endorsement of a 'family' formed through common purpose, whose individual differences are semiotically marginalised in order to intensify group cohesion. In other words, who the individual members are is of lesser importance than the simple fact that they exist and that they can be 'hugged'. Other members are able to respond to the 'gesture' or not, but all participate through the mutually shared process of 'being' on the channel. This concept of 'being' on the channel ensures that the gesture is regarded as shared and divided equally amongst all. The same sense of 'being' is also attributed to any direct response other members may make.

Within IRC there is little or no assumption made about the degree of attention a member is giving a channel. The simple fact you are 'on' a channel means you are automatically participating: even if you do not respond directly, you are still assumed to be participating. This central tenet of IRC is reinforced by the fact that if you are actually away from your computer for some reason, then all you have to do is 'scroll up' and catch up on what you have missed. IRC depends on the ritualisation of interaction. Monk's response is not spontaneous in the conventional sense of the word: there was insufficient time for Monk to type in the response s/he made. This time constraint has meant that Monk has used a 'script', a pre-configured response selected as appropriate to Dorothy's original gesture. Monk's response has no 'conventional' spontaneity, but does have a high degree of synchronicity. Within the dimension of IRC synchronous 'time', Monk's response is 'spontaneous' and is regarded as such. The channel embraces Monk's response, not as empty ritual, but as a re-affirmation of one of the conditions of membership. IRC is a community predicated on the 'quick response', on the immediacy of reaction. Monk's response becomes the actualisation of this shared process of understanding, an example of appropriate 'speed'. Users on the channel would be unlikely to regard Monk's response as an automated reaction lacking a 'human touch'.45 In contrast, the communal narrative is strengthened through the degree of originality allocated to the prepared response.

Monk's originality is further enhanced through the sending of a sound file to the channel. Such sound files consist of short excerpts of sound, usually of a humorous nature, which will play automatically if other users have the same sound file on their computer. Users who do not have a particular sound can 'ask' the sender to 'dcc' a copy of the file to them for further use. Technically, the use of sound files is restricted on #quiz, but they are tolerated and shared among members with relative frequency.46 In #quiz, sound files are used to enhance the narrative, with some users sending the sound of applause or cheering on being awarded the first correct answer, or a 'doh' sound on getting a question wrong. Sounds can also be used to identify regular members or to express displeasure. In #quiz it is not uncommon for one of the 'operators' to express dissatisfaction with the behaviour of other members by sending a low threatening 'growl' sound followed up with an appropriate comment. Actions and gestures fulfil the same function and should be considered as ritualistic embellishments of the verbal process. Such embellishments form part of the 'shared understandings' which promote communal solidity and maintain the flux of social interaction. They can also be regarded as an 'inside joke', a recognition of shared understandings which help to define communal 'boundaries': you understand the significance of this action, because you are part of this community. Parallel to the inclusive function is an implied exclusive one: you do not understand this action because you are not part of this community. Within IRC the 'virtual community' is constructed through the shared exchange of ritual knowledge embedded in 'verbal banter' or symbolic 'winking'. There is a tacit understanding of the communal significance of particular forms of expression and behaviour. The following excerpt from #quiz provides an example of this process. In this excerpt, a 'regular' member has joined the channel and announces his/her presence to the rest of the community:

*** Wolf (~Wolf@__________________) has joined #quiz
Wolf leaps from the bushes...Hi to you all :)
<Toto> hi Wolf :)
<cyberbob> hi Wolf :)
<Mrslick> arrrrgh!
<fred> wolf :)
<SuRfWaVE> excat defination A drink , especially a hot one you have
before going to bed!
<fred> can tell i've been to the pub :(
<Wolf> well I know a couple of faces here at least :))

'Wolf' has decided to 'announce' his /her presence to other members on the channel by making a comment appropriate to the meaning attributed to his/her selected nick. Technically, this is a redundant statement, as his/her presence is already covered by the automatic announcement which occurs when members leave or join the channel. Nevertheless, the additional statement is made and the 'Wolf' ".. leaps from the bushes." This semiotic 'winking' is a typical feature of IRC and can be considered as a 'metasign'. Such metasigns provide a means to "... define what constitutes group membership. That is, they declare a specific version of social relations."47 The community uses such metasigns to define and circumscribe the conditions of membership and to re-affirm group solidarity.

This stylised 'winking' reinforces the shared tacit understanding of patterns of social behaviour deemed suitable according to the requirements of the community. There is an implied expectation of others making a response to the symbolic 'leap' and, indeed, several members do react directly by returning the greeting. This is responded to in turn by 'Wolf' who expresses pleasure at the recognition accorded to him/her by making an inclusive statement which encompasses those who directly responded and those who did not. Wolf also says 'Hi to you all'. Naturally s/he would not expect 'all' to respond directly to the greeting as such behaviour would significantly 'clog' the 'game'. Wolf's greeting is explicitly inclusive and embraces a shared understanding that not 'all' will respond to the inclusive gesture. Such an apparent 'lack' of response by 'all' is embedded within the stylistic nature of the semiotic process as it exists on IRC. To 'ignore' a generalised greeting on #quiz does not necessary imply a sanction, but an understanding of the processes involved. Indeed, greeting all who do join #quiz is often considered irritating and disruptive to the 'game'.

Additionally, Wolf, in common with Monk, has used a 'script' file to announce his/her presence to the community. Such 'pre-prepared' scripts or 'pop-ups' are a frequent feature of IRC and form an important part of the 'flow of experience'. Software such as mIRC for example comes ready packaged with a limited number of 'scripts' for the user to use. The most common involves slapping another user about '...a bit with a large trout.' The use of this ritualistic 'insult' provides other members with the opportunity to suggest variations and alternatives and to use it at all is to indicate to others that the user is a 'newbie' and has had insufficient experience to 'compose' more original alternatives.

Slash slaps Slash around a bit with a large trout
Sound request: can't find [fisheads.wav]
* Fizz snatches the trout from Slash, then runs away and hides it behind his CPU
***song (___@____________) has left #quiz
<Toto> carpenter?
*** Blob has quit IRC (Leaving)
<York> Don't forget its there, Fizz. They go a bit smelly
<Kent> john cleese eric idle terry jones terry gilliam
<Shark> initial, Womble?
<aardvark> not the trouts
* Jerry Q: apollo 13, the movie. tom hanks played the part of WHICH astronaut? HINT: Jim L.....
<Slash> Fizz, want a trout slappin!
<Bunter> baker
<aardvark> keep away the trouts
<Fizz> i have a whole rotting pile of them York. Cant forget they're there.

Here the use of a cliched 'script file' provides the members with an opportunity to briefly diverge from the 'game' and to further engage in symbolic 'winking'. Slash has implicitly identified him/herself as a 'newbie', firstly, by using the 'trout' insult and secondly, by applying the 'slap' to themselves. Such procedural errors are common on IRC and, in general, #quiz is possibly more tolerant of such faux pas than other channels. Certainly, within this example it provides the opportunity for collective 'winking' between members. Within #quiz, this 'winking' represents a significant aspect of the collective culture of the channel: an opportunity for the community to express difference while simultaneously maintaining solidarity through the celebration of a stylistic feature. IRC 'culture' places considerable importance on the ability of the individual to express themselves through dry humour, puns and irony: through the 'inside joke'. The ability to 'get' the joke only serves to encourage the 'flow of experience' towards greater cohesion. To be able to 'get' an 'inside' joke, to be able to understand the finer nuances of the 'language' such as 'lol', 'rofl', 'brb', or more obscure items such as 'infocons' like : ) and : ( means the member has successfully internalised the 'code' of the community. In effect, they have become a member of an 'imagined community'.48


New: 16 March, 1998 | Now: 8 May, 2015