Who Are freenode Staff? (Part 2 of ?)

It’s been a while since we posted Part 1 of our series on “Who Are freenode Staff?” – which makes it about time to post a bit more.

Gary – Since today is Gary’s birthday, it’s only fitting to discuss his deep-seated desire to be helpful to others! Although he has been on numerous irc networks since he first discovered irc in the late 90s, he found himself on freenode and wrangled into doing what he does (and loves) best – helping others. Luckily, freenode staff had no need to brainwash Gary when he joined up – he was already completely sold on the network and its philosophy. Gary was, however, christel’s biggest proponent in painting the network pink! If he had his choice, Gary would paint all the network trolls pink and then put them on display for others to laugh at them, rather than allowing them to bog things down.

LoRez – LoRez has been on staff nearly as long as Santa Claus has been making rounds. Although he was formerly considered immortal and omnipotent, he had to come to terms with having had “normal” roots – he first came to freenode via openprojects. He’s never lost his edge though; he once wrote perl code and had hippie hair, now he’d rather quit his job and sell gas to everyone for $1!

wimt – Though some may think of wimt as being somewhat pathological, don’t hold it against him – it’s his degree that causes him to be that way. Though he seems to consider himself somewhat uncreative, he considered throwing the contents of his desk across the room when he left his last position. wimt first came to freenode via wikipedia and has stuck around due to the friendliness of people on the network.

The Beauty of #freenode

#freenode channel, as it currently exists, is a veritable work of art – people who come to the channel are nearly always provided help or referred somewhere for the answer. The really beautiful thing about #freenode, though, is that at least 50% of the help provided comes from network users (rather than freenode staff).

Almost two years ago, the channel #freenode was recreated with new guidelines and philosophy consistent with freenode’s. The ideas weren’t that new – they had already been (somewhat) in use in the old #tapthru channel. The activity in #freenode is generally within the channel guidelines, which may be found at http://freenode.net/poundfreenode.shtml and is highly recommended for anyone planning to participate in the channel.

Whilst many help channels utilize specialized staff to answer questions, one of the most refreshing things about #freenode is that anyone who knows the answer to a question can, and often does, provide the answer or help to the user in need – regardless of status or staff-ness. Numerous users lurk in the channel, either to learn from others’ questions, help other users through their queries or generally just to take up space :)

Some of the more common questions can be, and are, answered by a multitude of people. Keep in mind that being on staff is not a prerequisite to having the correct answer to your question! Here are some common questions:

  • How do I register a nick? A: http://freenode.net/faq.shtml#nicksetup
  • How do I register a channel? A: http://freenode.net/policy.shtml#channelnaming /msg ChanServ help register http://freenode.net/group_registration.shtml
  • How do I set auto-ops on a channel? A: http://freenode.net/channel_guidelines.shtml
  • What is a cloak and how do I get one? A: First set your nick up this way (http://freenode.net/channel_guidelines.shtml), and then message a staff member. Some users whose accounts have been registered recently may be asked to wait a short time before being eligible for a cloak. Cloaks are privileges, not rights – they may be removed in the event of misconduct on the network.
  • There is someone trolling my channel! What should I do? A: freenode strongly encourages the idea of catalysing and has gone so far as to make it part of its policy for staff and official network channels, as well as encouraging others to use the same principles. For two helpful guides on freenode’s catalyst policy, please see http://freenode.net/catalysts.shtml and http://blog.freenode.net/2007/02/the-heart-and-mind-of-a-catalyst/. Part of dealing with trolling is understanding the motivations of the troll. Feel free to read this blog post on the subject or catch a staffer for more ideas: http://blog.freenode.net/2007/05/silence-is-golden-handling-trolls-and-spammers/
  • I’ve lost my password! Can someone help me regain access to my nick? A: If you set your nick up properly when you registered, staff is able to send you a password reset key. Ask in #freenode and when a staffer is available, he/she will be happy to do so.
  • I would like to use a nick that is already registered, will you drop it for me? A: again, staff can assist you. However, try running /msg NickServ info $nick – be sure it’s at least 60 days unused. Then /nick to the nick. Staff will not drop the nick unless you are using it when you ask for the drop. There are situations where, even if a nick is unused for at least 60 days, staff cannot or will not drop it. Be prepared to find another nick if that is the case.
  • I’ve been banned from a channel! Let me back in! A: #freenode is not the place to ask. If you have been banned from a channel, you need to contact the operators of the channel and request to be unbanned. May I suggest doing so politely? No matter how indignant you are, demanding to be unbanned is likely to not serve your goal. To find channel operators, try /msg ChanServ access #channame list
  • How do I find a specific channel if I don’t know the name? A: You can try using ALIS. /msg ALIS help

These are just a few of the many and varied requests in #freenode. Please feel free to feel free to hang out, learn, help and listen!

Who Are freenode Staff? (Part 1 of ?)

As you have undoubtedly noticed by now, freenode recently changed services. Along with this new look, we thought it would be a good time to formally (and perhaps not-so-formally) announce the addition of new staff. You’ll find below a list of all our current staff, and in this post and some that follow, we’ll give you a tiny snapshot of the new (and some of the old) members of our circus^Wteam.

Current freenode staff:


And now, for a little insight on a couple of individuals:

  • christel: If by now, you don’t know christel…well, where have you been?! For the last couple of years, she has been the head of staff of freenode and has seen it through many changes. No, freenode is not yet pink (though if she had her way, it would be entirely pink – you can thank some of the male staffers for preventing that so far). She did once say that if she were to leave a job in a flamboyant manner, she’d simply go to work in pink body paint. Her secret desire has always been to become a Russian spy…however, being from Norway, she’s had to settle for being self-employed and an irc mogul in her spare time. She got her start on irc nearly half her lifetime ago, creating havoc on EfNet and running up her dial-up internet bills.
  • vorian: One of the more recent additions to staff, vorian’s first experience on irc was starting up a Local (Ubuntu) Community team in 2006. Though married (for 10 years!) and with four children, he clearly wasn’t busy enough. A long-time wolf-bot addict, vorian has announced his goal for the future of freenode – creating a unified wolf-bot game where everyone plays by the rules, pays strict attention, and always has a minimum of 8 players per round (this replaces his former goal of becoming a jet pilot AND nurse for the navy).

Communicating with the irc Community

For most of my professional career, I worked in the international arena. I’m not sure why I have always enjoyed that so much – perhaps as a result of having lived overseas for a portion of my life. There are, as a result, a lot of things that I take for granted in dealing with others, and I’ve recently become more aware that others often don’t think or don’t realize there is a bit of an art to dealing with folks from other cultures, countries, backgrounds and who speak other languages. On irc, there are so many different people, languages, cultures, it’s important to realize the need to do things a bit differently than we normally would, even though many of the traditional issues that arise when you’re face-to-face don’t exist.

The most obvious example is, even though the vast majority of us communicate on irc in English, a good number speak a different native language. This can cause all sorts of interesting (and sometimes humorous) miscommunications. Regardless of your native language, below is listed a few things that might help you to communicate more clearly with others.

To avoid causing miscommunication:

  • try speaking in full, clear, concise sentences. Due to the nature of irc and the speed with which some time, it’s often tempting to write quickly, abbreviating, using acronyms and partial sentences. However, this can be, and is often, confusing to a non-native speaker.
  • realize that “geek speak” is confusing enough for less technical native speakers and can be impossible to decipher for non-native speakers (even if they are technically inclined)
  • remember that not all irc clients use the same commands. This is especially important if providing assistance to another user. For example, some clients will accept “/cs” for “/msg chanserv”; some will not.

To avoid misunderstanding others:

  • if you don’t understand another person, ask them to state what they said in another way. Often if they repeat themselves with different words, formatting, etc., you can decipher what they want/need/said.
  • assume the best possible meaning. Sometimes someone will say something, that might seem harsh or offensive – realize that it may be that the person simply doesn’t know the words (or syntax) to state what he/she means.
  • look at the context. By looking at the channel you are in, or the topic that was discussed when the other person started speaking, you might be able to glean what the person intended.

Finally, there are a lot of resources on freenode – many people are more than willing to translate when necessary. Ask what language the person speaks, and then try to find another who speaks the language. If all else fails, come to #freenode and ask for help or message a staffer (“/stats p” lists all staffers on duty).

The fact is, irc is a fantastic way to get to know other people and to learn more about other cultures – and at a great price! I challenge and encourage each of you to up your level of communication.

A Re-/De-focus

freenode is pleased to announce a few changes effective May 12, 2007 at 12:55 UTC:

  • the (re)formation of #freenode, which will be an official help channel for the freenode network. For more information, please review the #freenode channel guidelines.
  • the closing of #freenode-social. While#freenode-social has served its purpose for the last couple of years, it has really outgrown itself and is being closed.
  • the opening of #defocus, the new social channel for freenode. #defocus is being launched with anticipation of more to come in the near (or mid-) future. It will differ from #freenode-social in a number of ways, including: (1) like #freenode, has its own set of channel guidelines, which should help clarify what is on/offtopic in the channel, and (2) unlike -social, #defocus will be -m, which means you won’t require voice to talk.

We truly hope you enjoy these changes and look forward to serving you under this new structure.

Silence is Golden: Handling trolls and spammers

The Issue

Over the last few months, it’s occurred to me that many people aren’t quite sure how to react when a spammer or troll joins their channel. There is always a tendency to react, to do whatever is necessary to get someone’s attention to kick the spammer or troll. As a channel op, many of us face challenges in that even if we know how best to react, our peers on the channel tend to get riled up anyway. The result? The troll or spammer has done significant damage to the channel – disrupting “business” or conversations, changing the focus of discussions, etc.

First it’s important to understand what motivates most trolls/spammers. Simple: attention. They want your attention – whether it’s “good” or “bad” attention is unimportant. They simply want to change your focus from your customary topics to one thing: the spammer/troll. Consequently, reactions to trolls and spammers (other than a simple kick/ban, as may be necessary) tend to do one thing – encourage the troll/spammer to continue his/her behavior.

So what is to be done? There are really two groups of people to address at this point – channel operators (people who have the ability to kick/ban someone from the channel) and channel users. Since users vastly outnumber operators, I’ll address them first.

Channel Users

As a user of freenode, let me first say thanks! freenode is unique because of its users! We appreciate all of you and rarely get a chance to say so. So how can you help freenode and your favorite channels deal with the issue of spammers and trolls? The key is your reaction (or better, lack of a reaction). Since trolls and spammers are seeking to disrupt business and get your focus on them, the best thing you can do is NOT respond to them. Do not respond to their spam. Simple? It seems to be so – and in theory it is. In practice, it can be a bit harder – especially when a spamming or trolling attack is going on. Think “Catalyst“.

Here are a few ideas of how you might be able to express your frustration or communicate necessary information without encouraging the trolling or spamming behavior:

  • Take conversations to a private forum, channel or a private query message. This is true even if you’re trying to get the attention of someone who might be able to kick/ban the troll/spammer. Your lack of reaction on the channel is quite boring to the troll or spammer and will only make them lose interest more quickly.
  • Don’t discuss the situation for hours after the situation occurred. Many trolls have “legitimate” or alternate identities and will sit on a channel, not disrupting things, but watching the carnage they caused.
  • There are many ways for channel operators to address the issue of a troll or spammer, including changing the channel modes. If your favorite channel has suddenly gone +m (moderated) or to some other mode you’re not familiar with, don’t make a big deal of it. Ask one of the operators in a private message if you simply can’t stand to not know what happened. But again, keep it off the channel.

Channel Operators

As a channel operator, you have a tougher job when your channel is attacked by trolls or spammers. You have a responsibility to the channel to block/stop/end the attack, as well as keeping everyone else calm! Remember to catalyse throughout the process. Take heart – a little forward thinking will help a lot!

Dealing with the Troll or Spammer

There are a number of ways to deal with trolls and spammers. Of course, you have kick, ban and remove available to you. But you also have the ability to set some channel modes:

  • +r requires people to be identified with NickServ to join
  • +R requires people to be identified with NickServ to talk
  • +m moderates a channel, requiring +v to talk
  • +q is similar to a ban in that it won’t allow you to talk or to change nicks, but you are free to join the channel
  • +z will make ops (+o) able to see what a person that is neither +v nor +o says in a channel that is +m

Dealing with the Channel’s Reactions

First, remain calm. You set the tone for your users. If you get upset or excited, they will too. Secondly, you can help a lot by educating your users before any attacks occur. Let them know how trolls/spammers work and what they are seeking. Provide them with a clear understanding of what they should do and who they should contact in the event of an attack. Inevitably, people will react to some degree. Use the attack as an opportunity to educate – but do it in private; you want to keep reactions off channel and you also are more likely to be successful, avoiding embarassment by discussing the issue privately.

NickServ Is Your Friend

UPDATE: This is outdated. See here for up-to-date instructions. Note that some commands in this entry have been renamed or have different syntax. If you need help with your NickServ account and can’t find information on our website, please ask in #freenode.

Nickserv, unbeknownst to many, has many useful features. In addition to handling nick registration, it allows you to change your password, hide certain information about your nick and online status, recover your nick from another user who is using it (or a dead computer connection), turn on/off the ability to receive and be notified of new memos. Here are some of the major features of nickserv. Don’t be afraid to poke around with /msg nickserv help.

Nick Setup

Many people on freenode have spent the time to register their nicknames. If you are planning on spending much time at all on freenode, it makes sense. However, it appears that many stop short of the optimal configuration. It’s a little more time-consuming, but not much. It’s rather simple and perhaps if we were to explain why we suggest a particular configuration, more people would complete the entire process.

The most obvious bit, of course, is to register your nick, which is done simply with /msg nickserv register $password (from the nick you want to register, of course). Next, /nick $altnick to another nickname and register this nick as well, again with /msg nickserv register $password. Then, link the two names by doing /msg nickserv link $originalnick $originalnickpassword from the secondary nick. This will document that both nicks are owned by the same person, and will allow services to leave you identified if you switch from your primary nick to your alternate and vice-versa. We encourage you to set your nick up in this fashion because, if configured correctly, it allows you to connect from your secondary nick in the event that you try to connect to freenode when your primary nick is in use. If you generally auto-identify, you will still be able to identify, receive your cloak and other relevant settings. Traditionally, the secondary nick is master_ (note the trailing underscore), but feel free to use whatever you like.

Next, freenode recommends setting an email address. First of all, why… No, we are not planning to send you spam or sign you up for spam lists. The email address protects you in the event you lose your password. If you do not set an email address and you lose your password, then you’ll be unable to retrieve your nick – instead will have to wait until the nickname is droppable. If you want to to set your email address but not not want it visible to others, then use the /msg nickserv set hidemail on feature.

The final step in freenode’s recommended setup is to set your client to auto-identify to nickserv when you join freenode. The easiest approach is to specify your nickserv password as a server password. It’s less likely that you’ll connect to the network without being identified to nickserv this way. Additionally, it reduces the chance that you might accidentally type your password where others might see it.

In the event you want to change the nick you are using as your master nick, rather than changing each link individually, just /nick $desiredmasternick and type /msg nickserv set master $nick $password. This command will automatically set that as the new master for your entire chain of linked nicks.

Regaining Control of a Nick

There are three commands that allow you to regain control of a nick, for whatever reason – ghost, recover and release. The first, and most commonly used is “ghost”. From time to time, you’ll lose your connection to the net and/or freenode, but your nick will remain online as far as the network can tell. In this case, a ghost command is effective: /msg nickserv ghost $nick $password. This command will “kill” your nick, allowing you to change to that nick (/nick $nick) and identify to nickserv (/msg nickserv identify $password).

In the event your nick is being used by another person or from a machine that autoconnects when disconnected, you may need to use the recover command (/msg nickserv recover $nick $password). Recover performs a nick collide on your nick. Once this command is employed, the nick will be held until you use the ‘release’ command or until the release times out. If you are identified to a linked nickname, you do not need to supply a password. Otherwise, you have to supply the correct password.

The release command simply allows you to regain control of your nick after performing a recover command. To release the nick, type /msg nickserv release $nick $password.

Privacy & Security

Turning on the “secure” feature (/msg nickserv set secure on) requires anyone using your nick to identify before being able to recover/release your nick, among other things.

If you have set your nick to “private” (/msg nickserv set private on), then if anyone performs a “list” command, your nick will not be listed.

There are a number of things you can “hide” relating to your nick and online information. When you use “hide”, others will not be able to see certain information when they do an “info” on your nick. Hide email was covered earlier. In addition, you can hide your URL, your last seen address and your last seen quit message. Alternatively, you can hide everything. To hide your information, simply type /msg nickserv set hide all|email|url|addr|quit on|off.


Nickserv will help you find nicks that utilize a certain string. For example, if you wanted a list of any nicks on freenode that contain “chick”, you could type /msg nickserv list *chick*. Nickserv would then return a list of all non-private nicks that contain the string “chick”.

You can obtain basic information about a nickname if the owner of the nick has not set the nick to privacy. By using /msg nickserv info $nick, you can see when a user registered, when he/she last identified to nickserv, what address/hostmask the user last connected from, the user’s last quit message and what nickname options the user has set. If you run the command on your own nick, you’ll also see what cloak you have set (if any), any linked nicks you have, a listing of any channels you’ve registered, and a listing of any channels on which you are on the access list (and your access level for the channel).

You can reset your password. However, you must first identify to nickserv using the existing password. Once you have identified, simply type /msg nickserv set password $newpass.

Finally, freenode has a memo service (through memoserv). You can set certain things relating to memos through nickserv. The default settings for each of these options is “on”, so unless you wish to turn something off, you need do nothing. To allow yourself to receive (or not receive) memos on a particular nick (or their linked nicks), simply type /msg nickserv set memos on|off. If someone does send you a memo and you have memos off, they will receive a notification that you are not accepting memos. If you have memos set to “on”, then you must decide whether you want to receive notification that you’ve received a new memo. To receive notification when the memo is sent, /msg nickserv set notify on. You will also receive notification about new memos whenever you identify to nickserv.

The Heart and Mind of a Catalyst

As the staff has so recently begun this blog, I’ve been carefully thinking about freenode and what make it different from so many other networks. Ask 10 people and you might get 10 different answers, but I have my own theory, which I thought I’d share with you here. The difference is, quite simply, the people that populate the network – and their heart and drive to make it something better. For a long time, though I was operating a channel of my own, I never realized that freenode officially encouraged the sort of behavior that I often employ – self-mediation, moderation, arbitration, catalysing, or whatever you want to call it. But indeed, freenode has an entire section on its website about the importance (and role) of a Catalyst!

What is a catalyst, you might ask? “Catalysts try to resolve problems, not through the use of authority and special privilege, but by fostering consensus, gently nudging participants in the direction of more appropriate behavior and by generally reducing the level of confrontation rather than confronting users with problems…[while] Channel and network administrators may be catalysts…[a]n important characteristic of successful catalysts is the infrequency with which they wear authority or invoke special privilege.”

The freenode section even goes so far as to provide some key functions/skills of a catalyst: to remain relaxed, open-minded, responsible, unobtrusive, realistic, careful, attentive, minimalistic, courteous, cooperative, in a problem-solving mode, and humble. Reading through that list and digesting what is described/suggested can be intimidating, but in fact, it makes a lot of sense. For example, how could I possibly, as a catalyst, help to calm a situation down if I am not relaxed myself? Nor could I ever hope to help resolve a disagreement or situation if I have pre-conceived ideas of what is happening and what the resolution should be (as opposed to having an open mind and hearing out the parties involved).

As I mulled over the role of the catalyst and considered its application not just to freenode, but to daily life, I realized that even if someone were not “naturally” endowed with the demeanor of a catalyst, the skills can be learned. Becoming a catalyst is a choice – one must demonstrate a willingness to put aside things like pride, indignation, blame, annoyance, frustration. Instead, focus on identifying the issue and helping to resolve it. I have found in many situations that diffusing a situation is most effective when done in /query. When you have an opportunity to discuss something in /query, you can avoid embarrassing the person you’re speaking with. Also, frankly, showing that you care enough to find out what’s going on and how you can help is often a large part of the process.

Be aware of cultural and language differences. Not only may there be differences between disputing parties, but there may very well be differences between you and the person you are speaking with. It is extremely easy, particularly in the flat, toneless text of irc, to misinterpret someone’s intentions or even the actual words they use. Don’t be afraid to write in complete sentences. Determine whether you and the person you are speaking with share the same native language. (That is not to say that if you don’t, you should avoid catalysing – but merely that you should be aware of how easily you will (mis)understand one another). Age differences, perspectives, it will all have an effect on your ability to communicate clearly with the person you are talking with.

Each opportunity to catalyse will be drastically different from every other. I encourage you to learn from your mistakes (we ALL make mistakes – whether large or small). Don’t hesitate to go back over a conversation after the fact and look for areas in which you can improve your skills. Read the Catalyst section of the freenode site periodically – use it as a “refresher”. Be self-critical but not critical of others. Realize that you won’t be successful catalysing every situation and don’t be discouraged from trying.

In short, become the person you would want to have available to help resolve a dispute that you might have – impartial, attentive, open-minded, courteous, and humble. Catalysing is a thankless job in some respects – you often won’t have a lot of people saying ‘gee, thanks for taking care of that’. On the other hand, your channels will be much more effective and enjoyable places to spend your time. Help keep freenode the wonderful place that you, the user, have already made it! Become a catalyst today!