Unvanquished in the Freenode storm: status of our chat service

You may have heard of some troubles around the Freenode IRC network. You may find some summaries there and there that look somewhat fair and are not playing the clickbait game with you.

We usually have a #unvanquished channel on IRC (and #unvanquished-dev for development talks), see our chat page. IRC has suffered a huge amount of spam attacks in recent years, and now the IRC community just suffered one of its greatest splits. We still don’t want to switch to proprietary networks anyway.

On May 20th, when the Libera.Chat network was announced, we created and registered Unvanquished channels on it to prevent name-squatting on this new network. We’ve seen many people leaving Freenode and joining Libera channels on their own, so we enabled our service bots on Libera and bridged Libera and Freenode, but did not take any other decision.

But then on June 15th the Freenode network dropped all existing user accounts and channels. Some sources have said they migrated to a new IRC server software without porting existing accounts. This action had the effect of destroying the trust we can put on people’s names, turning private channels into public ones, giving channel ownership to any random people coming first, deleting channel topics (which may have provided project URLs, help information or rules), and removing the requirement for being registered to talk, which was an effective anti-spam protection. We’re not saying this was the intention, but it is the effect.

Note: As a personal experience, securing channels and bot accounts for various projects on Libera (not only for Unvanquished), bridging channels to prevent community split while people were switching on their own, and enabling bot services on Libera wasted me two complete work days I will never recover. After the Freenode reset I attempted to register my own nickname anew but it was reset once again on the following days and my registration attempts failed for multiple days, preventing me from registering channels again. I don’t have free work days to spare on such waste.

So interestingly, while we never decided to switch, you now have to be aware that you can’t trust people’s identities anymore on Unvanquished-named channels on Freenode, and there is no longer any spam protection (other than some Freenode may do itself), so we may shut down our bridge at any time without warning to prevent spam and flooding that may come back to Freenode.

IRC networks are suffering meaningless flooding for years in the form of spam that sells nothing but has the noticeable effect of making people restrict their channels to registered users only (effectively raising the entry bar for newcomers), or making them leave IRC for other (often proprietary) chat services on their own.

With the Freenode/Libera drama, that flood intensified on unprotected channels and Freenode just unprotected all channels. At the time Freenode reset everything, our Libera channels were already functional and safe. Also, when Freenode reset everything, many people just left Freenode upon discovering they lost their own account and their precious channels, and were likely to register elsewhere instead, like Libera or OFTC.

So none of what happened was related to anything about democracy, freedom, or free will. We’re like dolls tossed about in a storm. We were not involved in the Libera split and we were not involved in the anxiety build-up that led people to switch to this or that network. We had no other choice than to secure the Libera channels when people moved on their own. Then we were not involved in Freenode destroying our channels and registrations and leaving them unprotected. This experience is a reminder that everything is fragile and subject to forces that are not necessarily ours, and that we cannot assume that we will always have what we think we have.

We attempt to make the best efforts possible to ensure the best service to our users, no matter who is the new king of the hill (speaking of networks there, not people), within our own limits and available time.

At first we bridged Libera the same way we bridged Discord: because we had players from our community there. Then Freenode destroyed our channels. We still recommend you prefer an open protocol like IRC over proprietary Discord anyway, so Libera looks to be a good option in that regard.

Note: to prevent spam, we restrict our channels to registered users as well. You can register on Libera.Chat by typing this in chat (don’t forget the leading slash!!!), then following the instructions in e-mail you’ll receive after that:

/msg NickServ REGISTER <password> <e-mail>

Make sure to use the nick you want when typing the command because that will be the one registered for you.

Note: Matrix users can also use the matrix bridge, but beware that we don’t administrate ourselves that bridge and you would still have to register an IRC account and configure it properly on Matrix.

Previously our web chat allowed unregistered users to talk for quick join and easy support, but because Libera does not provide yet all the features we had on the original Freenode network, web chat users have to register as well for now. We may do custom development to work around the problem, but no estimated time of arrival is provided. Anyway, fixing that will be required to make it again for IRC to be as easy as Discord to join.

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