Open source architecture, engineering, and construction chatroom

Dion Moult


The architecture, engineering, and construction industry does not have a large online chatroom culture, unlike the traditional open source software communities. Whereas thousands of open source enthusiasts would connect traditionally to chatroom protocols like IRC to discuss technical topics about software 24/7, these terms are largely foreign to the AEC crowd.

Nowadays, more people are familiar with chatrooms like Slack, Discord, or Microsoft Teams. The culture across these chatroom platforms are very different, and it would be a shame to have a future where the culture of IRC chatrooms didn't exist or weren't available for the AEC industry.

What is IRC?

IRC is an online chatroom system. Just like there are many email providers out there, there are many chatroom providers, providing rooms (called channels) where you can chat about various topics. It is usually community moderated and managed. It is heavily used by open source enthusiasts, with popular providers being Freenode, and now, Libera.Chat.

It is very old and very simple - these are strengths, not weaknesses for those who enjoy the "KISS" principle or love no-frills, text-heavy interfaces. Don't expect emojis, image attachments, video calls, games, or other gimmicks.

That said, IRC is not for everyone. It's downright scary to many, especially those brought up in graphical environments in the AEC industry.

Growing a small community

I used to lurk in the hopes of meeting another architect in the #architect IRC channel hosted by Freenode. Occasionally someone would come but never stay, and the original channel founder left and hasn't been back for a year or so. In October 2013, I registered ##architect (the double hash prefix due to Freenode's channel rules) and lurked yet again. I wrote a blog post, and hoped other architects might notice and pop in.

A few trickled in but this never really grew. In 2019, the Open Source Architecture community was launched (OSArch), and along with it a forum. The channel was renamed to #osarch and the patronage grew to about 20 people or so.

Growth of an organic community is a bit difficult to measure. It's not really about the number of people, but about the quality of contribution. There are a number of channels which exhibit behaviours like people joining and leaving as if it were a free helpdesk, or only asking for help but never helping in return.

In 2021, the Freenode IRC server experienced a community schism. We re-evaluated which chatroom system we would support, and ended up migrating from the IRC system to another open source chatroom system called Matrix. In contrast, Matrix is a lot more complex than IRC, but also a lot more friendly. It offers all the modern features of emojis, images, and more that people might expect.

This was a great decision. One of the biggest advantages of Matrix is that it retains your message history. In IRC, if you left the chatroom then joined again, you would not be able to scroll up and see your older messages. The beauty of open source protocols is that they can generally be connected to one another. For example, we also migrated from Freenode to Libera.Chat and supported both Matrix and IRC concurrently. This allowed users to choose what they preferred - a modern, rich interface, or a simple, no-frills interface.

In August 2023, the main community-hosted bridge joining IRC and Matrix was shutdown. This was unfortunate and meant until we were able to provide our own bridge, users had to choose between IRC or Matrix. Matrix won :) It wasn't until mid-2024 that a new bridge was setup.

The user count grew to well over 200 users. But more importantly, I can speak from experience that the culture that has emerged is one very reminiscent of traditional IRC chatrooms - helpful, community-driven conversation, (not helpdesk support or heavily corporate-moderated), and full of life 24/7.

How do I join and begin chatting?

The easiest way to join is to launch the chatroom at OSArch/Chat.

I recommend installing Element on your phone or computer to chat using Matrix. If you want to use IRC instead, I like using Weechat.


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