Jerkrooms

As anyone who has read The Big Book of Jerkcity knows, the Jerkplayers sit in a private IRC-like chat room pretty much 24 hours a day. It was Pants who originally invited me into the room in 1996? That sounds about right. This means I’ve effectively been logged into this room for seven years. During that time, I’ve had three jobs, three cars, and one cat.

The novelty of the room wore off long ago, so the question is, “Why do I keep coming back?” Well, first, it’s a known quantity. I personally know all the people in the room even though we sometimes go years before we see each other face to face. Also, it’s private, which means they are not random twits stumbling in and creating useless noise… a primary reason I tend to avoid the major IRC networks.

Lastly, and most importantly, it’s a very good place to work.

Whuuuuuuuu? Rands, did you say work?

For me, the work done in the Jerkroom is not the classical definition of work. Work is what I do for money and, as of yet, I’ve yet to see a single penny for Jerk-related adventures. Still, we do produce a product and that product is comedy. When more than one person is active, it’s almost always a free-form comedy stream. A stream which, among other things, becomes Jerkcity.

The question: is there other work a Jerkroom-like set-up might be useful for?

At the gig, one of my development teams has begun a heavy duty design phase for a product. The manager is struggling with how to keep tabs on the team while not coming off as a micro-manager. He was playing with several ideas: daily team meetings, daily status emails, or daily 1:1s.

Anyone who has worked in software will look at those three options and shudder. While there is a time and a place for daily meetings, it’s not early in the product cycle. The design stage is the creative one and, while you want collaborate on ideas, you don’t want to stifle the process with daily management overhead. So, what’s the compromise?

A Jerkroom — a private IRC room. Here’s why:

PULL, NOT PUSH: Team members who want to collaborate do so at their pace. This means that if I’m deep in design land, I don’t need to break stride to write a 5pm status email to the boss.

COLLABORATIVE: If I’m stuck, I can ask for help from people who know what they’re talking about and who I trust. “Why isn’t this building?” “Has anyone seen problem X?” “Anything thought about design Y?” “Tacos? Anyone? Anyone?”

HISTORY: When I do have a problem, ie: “The product isn’t building”, before I type anything in the Jerkroom, I can scroll back to see if anyone else has had the problem. (Note: A Wiki is probably a better tool here as the history in a chat room will be limited… A Wiki has more memory)

PRIVATE: This is obvious, but important. The folks in the room are invited and trusted. There is no banning or OPS or twits_in_general which means a good signal to noise ratio on the content. That’ll keep ‘em coming back.

FAMILIAR TOOLS: All that is needed to participate in the conversation is chat room and a keyboard. As engineers are, by definition, creatures of the keyboard, providing a Jerkroom is a natural extension of their desktop. Regular 5pm meetings downstairs in the meeting room that looks like a fishbowl are not.

This is not a new idea. There are scads of rooms on IRC that a devoted to the collaborative development idea… #mozilla is one I’ve participated in. If you are a denizen of ones of these, I’d like to hear about the experience. Did it work? Why? Did it degrade to dick jokes? I’m shocked.

17 Responses

  1. Bosko 11 years ago

    T RANDS IT ALWAYS DEGRADES TO DICKLICKING VIOLATIONS

  2. http://www.panix.com/~magister/irc/ is an example of a similar channel called #warezsex maintained for the last several years primarily on a private secure server.

  3. Ryvar 11 years ago

    I’ve been on a similar channel, Rands. The channel was much like #jerkcity both in terms of humor (you guys were our gods) and in terms of technical expertise (many major tech companies had a representative present, and in some cases a pretty senior one), but the size was about thirty people. There were also some game developers whose names most hardcore gamers would recognize.

    Was there for about . . . oh, three years – and got exactly what it is you get with #jerkcity – an invaluable resource that multiplied my efficiency in many respects while keeping me laughing.

    We kept the channel completely open, but just had a simple webpage ‘you can chat with us here’, and that kept out 99% of the rifraff. Those that did join very quickly left because they couldn’t survive the hazing/felt unable to keep up with the conversation or they became part of the community.

    After about three years various personality tore the whole thing apart, but by that time I’d gotten my fiance of 2.5 years out of it, so it was worth the shitty ending.

  4. Floid 11 years ago

    This is the point of Jabber-as-commercial-venture.

    It’s mostly a presentation/UI issue. If you use the collaboration tool as IM + meetings, you get the usual bullshit (rumor-chain-as-described-previously). If you use the tool as full-frontal-onslaught + IM (PRIVMSG) for digression, as IRC clients default, you get the “jerkroom” hive-mind, where more people are likely to be in the loop (“WHAT YOU DON’T REMEMBER THE TIME I GOBBLED ALL THE PRICKS AND YOU HAD TO PATCH AROUND IT?”) than out of it.

    Also, calling them ‘rooms’ is fucking queer.

  5. They need a name and COLLABORATIVE WHITE BOARD is equally lame… anything CYBER* is HOOP HURRR I’M NEO AND THIS IS SNOW CRASH AND HUBNBHAGHUBHUAG.

  6. This Jerkcity comes to mind:

    http://www.jerkcity.com/jerkcity407.html

    Also: what’s up with your href filter?

  7. i’m a denizen of #warezsex, and i thought i’d expound a bit on what b said.

    we moved to a private server because of the aforementioned twits_in_general and for the added privacy and stability. most of us now log in to a shell on the server and use a terminal-based client to connect to localhost. an automated client (we call him gato) stays logged in 24/7 for the purposes of logging. i keep the logs, surf them for humor, and add quotes to my embarassingly bad website once every eon or so.

    the channel name is sort of a holdover from when we were on EFnet and were intentionally luring the twits in for the purposes of trolling them in some way. of course, we’re MUCH more mature now. cough.

    a couple of the guys started working on involved programming projects, and the channel became a collaborative tool, alongside some other programming tools installed on that box. it seems to serve the purpose pretty well, as well as being a place for scattered high school buddies to chat, crack wise, share links, and yes, make the occaisional dick joke.

  8. There have been a number of such places in my immediate memory, though I’m not sure about places that I’d keep going back to. Only so much as it seems pertinent, I suppose.

    There have been private endeavours, even things that produced Quality not unlike Jerkcity, which have had similar IRC situations, and that has always worked out fairly well. Now and then someone would get annoying and get kicked out, but that’s what happens. And over-all, the mood would eventually fade-to-black.

    Then there are the FreeBSD channels. There’s one on EFnet, which is fairly well known, which has accumulated so many losers over time, that I can think of one person who will repeat news articles that were the subject of conversation approximately 2 days after such becomes old, boring, and annoying. Random people come in now and then, and while the environment is friendly at times, it sucks major asshole a lot of the rest of the time. Stuff gets done, but only using a very hot knife to cut through the bullshit and noise.

    Then there’s at least one private channel that comes to mind, it once was just secret, but now it has a key (much like the afforementioned channel, however with one major advantage…) which was added before many people knew about it. I’ve been in and out of there for what’s almost a year now, I seem to recall, and a lot of really good work has come out of there.

    But these are disparate persons in a semi-casual hacking situation, and not necessarily all the best-of-friends. Moreover, a lot of Important People are involved there, and so when a troublemaker is discussed (one such person springs instantly to mind), and they’re around, one can wonder if it’s awkward. But as if to get things resolved for the better, seldom do such issues arise.

    But again, these aren’t necessarily friends, though it is somewhat of a loose-knit friendly club. I’ve left before, and stayed gone for a few months, in an effort to accomplish things without having to deal with some of those personalities. But you learn that people wax and wane in that regard.

    The particular personality involved was someone whom I considered a friend beforehand, and consider a friend again, though for a while he bordered on being psychotically asinine, probably due to work-related stress. Something which I lack so severely, that I often am overly flippant, or silly. But there are people whom I meld with well in that regard, so the quandry is effectively nil.

    I know when the time for friendly noise is, and when it certainly isn’t, more or less. You can misjudge that, and you can mmisjudge people, which is the moral more or less.

    These things work well, as long as the chemistry works. Keeping it working is like nurturing any relationship. It’s easiest with people you already like or consider friends. It can fail, miserably, however.

    I have a very recent example in mind, wherein I had felt very glad to be part of a certain small-knit community, or rather, that central part of the Venn-Diagram of “culture” which was closely tied to segments of my life. Good friends, and friends of good friends that I wanted to get to know. But all it took was one person in there whose desire to be unfriendly knew no bounds, and I felt it was time to leave.

    I think said person has changed their position, I deal with them now and then anyway, but it’s easy for two random people to impact in an existing community, have some pre-existing baggage, and the one who fights more stays.

    But that’s another big part of the earlier moral: you have to decide whether you want to fight, and risk an unfriendly environment, or leave an environment to prosper on its own, going off to a less stressful set and setting, to accomplish much the same goal, accepting that maybe you won’t get to talk to a friend so much. And also accepting that maybe some day you go back, and try again, and see old people again, and new people. Do it for the joy it brings, as it were.

    That’s more or less the sum of my experiences, and I think it’s pretty much aligned with what you said. I guess my main point is that Private and Exclusive only help to a point, you still have to deal with people, and they are always a volatile variable.

    Unless they’re cool, like me. Honest.

  9. I run a jerkroom style hotline server and it only degraded to cocksucking once we were introduced to Jerkcity.

    We all know this kind of thing is a good thing for those involved, but sometimes a thing is too good for its own good. Eventally everyone will find out that it’s good, and ruin its reputation (#teenchat), and that’s when the real cocksucking begins.

    An aside: when I read the word Jerkrooms in the syndication box over at Jerkcity, I thought rands was writing an article about glory holes or beatoff closets or something, but I clicked instantly anyway. Hug-a-lug-ah.

  10. /join #jerkshitty

  11. Tim Moore 11 years ago

    My company has a private IRC channel inhabited almost entirely by us in software engineering. It’s turned out to be incredibly useful, especially since some of the team works remotely. The best part, though, is the bot we have on the channel that performs useful tricks, like remembering useful links and info to spit back later, “noticing” and announcing new builds, etc.

  12. brevity 11 years ago

    Several years ago a friend of mine set up something similar to what you describe — a private IRC chat room for engineers, but with a few extra features.

    The extra features were all piled into a bot that hung out in the channel and did two things:

    - provided an interface to in-house tools like the local bug tracking system

    - passively “learned” facts spoken on channel and repeated them on demand

    I attended his talk way back in 1998? 1999? and if I recall correctly he concluded the introduction of IRC into the workplace — even IRC meetings — wasn’t a total success. It definitely changed the balance of power in favor of engineers, but managers were really at sea.

    On the other hand IM is so ubiquitous today it might be a different story if one were to try it again.

    Informal description:

    http://www.phreeow.net/bjm/ade.html

    I don’t see a link to the paper he presented — maybe he’ll cough it up if you ask. He’s a Jerkcity fan and even owns the book, so he might do it if you promise him hot throbbing cocks.

  13. /msg eliza DO U WANT 2 CYBER??!? (ONLY IF U R HOT)

  14. Here’s an insightful example to mit’s zephyr system as of 96. You can loosely compare it to IRC. It’s still around, of course, but this is the best (non-technical) write-up I know of regarding it.

    http://www.ics.uci.edu/~ackerman/pub/96b20/zephyr.chi96.html

    It’s sort of a “channel” based instant messaging system, much earlier than AIM and other comparable services. It fills all the definition of your jerkroom.

  15. dhalgren 11 years ago

    Yeah, I’m on one of these, too. About fifty people, about twenty frequent denizens. Started in 1994-ish, as a MUD, for refuge from Usenet’s ‘September that never ended.’ Most of us are old talk.bizarre posters, for God’s sake.

    Overrepresentation of computery types; lots of Apple employees and users, some game coders, some graphic design and HTML-factory types; but other professions represented two – there’s a lawyer, a law student, I’m a practicing physician. Since we started out as a sarcastic, self-critiquing online writing seminar (basically), we have that in common. Similar tastes, enough open-mindedness that new ideas get heard.

    When the guy who runs the thing (“as a virtual extension of my living room – behave accordingly”, he says) recoded it in Perl, he was wise enough to put in a ‘@gag’ feature to accomodate the fact that some of us, temporarily or permanently, can’t stand each other; and to incorporate chat topics, which can be @joined or @left, which came in handy during the Iraq war (our politics are tutti-frutti and don’t concord well with others.) The idea of self-management to avoid conflicts is interesting and works pretty well – we’ve only lost 4 members over the years, and one recently got back on. (The others: one was a manic airship designer who enjoyed taunting; one was diagnosed bipolar and hacked someone else’s account; and one was diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic, we got to watch his cognitive abilities slowly dissolve. very sad.)

    As for dick jokes – that’s not an inevitable endpoint. That is YOU GUYS. You guys are a meme virus. I can trace the point at which jerkcity entered our collective unconscious (unconsciousness?) by our chat logs.

  16. Stonewall Jackson 11 years ago

    I use irc for lol and jo only

  17. This project I’m on has a couple mailing lists, a bug tracker, a wiki, and an IRC channel. Nearly all the collaboration and feedback happens in IRC.

    It got to the point where we’d discuss stuff on channel and promptly forget it. “Somebody’s logged it, so *pft* who needs to think about that again?” Six months later the same topic would come up, and we’d hash it out almost identically before remembering the last time.

    So I wrote this thing called ircxom, an IRC to blosxom gateway. Speak to the bot, and it goes up on a web site (http://poe.perl.org/plog/). Interested people can graze it with RSS, yatta-yatta. In practice, it means we’re just logging on the web now, and *pft* who needs to think about that again?

    Yeah, I’m late posting. Someone from the aforementioned MUD said, “Hey, Rands might be interested in that!” so here I am.