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Back in the late 90s, I used to frequent the virgin.net IRC server (chat.virgin.net), hanging out in channels such as #VTeenFlirtV (renamed to #VTeenChatV), #VAdultsOnly (not at all saucy…shame!) #DaGrungery and a few others to boot.

These were actually great days of IRC with the added bonus that the users tended to be from the UK, although a lot from abroad did also come on, but was not like placed like EFNET which tended to have millions of rooms and was hard to form those online friends. The main reason that Virgin.net IRC (Vnet) had so many users was because if virgin was your ISP, a preconfigured IRC client was installed on your computer if you set up the connection using the CD provided by Vnet. Now this software was pretty lousy – if my memory serves me correctly, it was called ‘GlobalChat’ or ‘GlobaChat’ and had little or no flood protection, causing you to crash out when such activity was taking place.

Seasoned Vnetters sought out other IRC clients, namely mIRC, pIRCh98, XiRCON (plus others) which allowed the use of color and also came with flood protection (nice). Oh yes, and you could slap someone with a large trout.

Like anywhere, users came and went, but there was a nice sense of community that was built up and provided a lot of people with connections to new friends (including myself). As a teen, this was the place to come – yes it seemed odd to people who didn’t have a computer or thought that the internet was for losers, but the people on these channels were not typical geeks, some were far from it. Possibly their parents had an internet connection and  they were supposed to be using it for homework (remember, this was the 1p/min era!) and decided to have a bit of fun or investigate what this ‘chat’ software actually was. Either way, it’s hard to define the users motives, but we all generally had a lot of fun.

Fun could be defined (if you were bored) as seeing how far you could push the ChanOps until they kicked you. Yes, that guy called Saint-iP3 (rik), people used to moan about him as I guess we all did, but really he was fair and not exactly a power hungry beast most thought he was.

As they say, nothing lasts forever, and in 2001 Vnet announced that it was shutting down the IRC server and would be opening up a java, browser based IRC service. This was basically so they could show adverts and collect revenue. This upset a lot of users as it was clear the majority would not use it because it was browser based. It was requested that both services were available and linked, so newer people could use the browser, but Vnet also rejected that idea.

So, when the final day came and everyone had sent their pleas in begging them not to turn off the service, the switch was thrown and Vnet IRC was no more.

Some users had already come up with an escape plan which was to migrate to lineone’s (later Tiscali) IRC service, some did, some probably couldn’t be bothered and some that only logged on every month or few weeks missed the information, resulting in a very nice community being fragmented overnight. Some people had email addresses of friends they had made, some didn’t, they just assumed that the server would always be there.

Incase you are wondering about how well the browser based IRC did…..not very well at all. When logging in to check how many people were there, the most I saw was 6. Eventually due to lack of use, Vnet pulled the plug on that too.

If anyone is around from those days, leave a message. Saint-iP3….what happened to you? SopH ? I guess we all move on, but it will still be nice to hear back from the old Vnetters =)

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