Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Staffing the #eclipse IRC channel

For a long time our wonderful one of our beloved committer reps has been harassing us committers (and rightly so) in the hopes that more of us will hang out on the #eclipse channel on and help out with user questions about our various components.

This is arguably a noble goal, but in the past I had always felt that I just plain didn't have the time to devote to this. There are a lots of new user type questions that pop up on the newsgroups and mailing lists (to the point where a couple of years ago Webmaster had to tuck the mailing lists away in a corner on the website because the lists were becoming a free-for-all). This is especially true of the platform newsgroups and mailing lists. The fact that there are so many of these types of posts is a real testament to the popularity of Eclipse though, so it's not something to complain about either. But, in essence, I was afraid that there would be a bad signal to noise ratio for me, i.e. lots of basic questions about the platform and not a lot about CDT. Given that I have other things to do with the bulk of my time, I didn't figure I could keep up with the thread of conversation in a timely fashion, because it's not like I'd have the window up in front of me while I was working (sorry zx, I haven't tried ECF yet).

Lo and behold, I found something neat a few weeks ago which changed my mind. The Chatzilla plug-in for Firefox has this cool feature called "stalk words."

My previous experience with IRC was circa the late nineties, back when I was hacking away on and doing the writing for a video game total conversion that ended up, sadly, dying (but more relevantly, I was hanging out in IRC all day and night when I should have been doing my CS assignments). Back then IRC was not really state of the art, and if you wanted to do anything cool like this you had to write mIRC scripts yourself.

Chatzilla however, makes it pretty dirt simple. Basically, you can tell Chatzilla that there are certain phrases that you are particularly interested in, and when someone types one of them, Chatzilla can be set to alert you by playing a sound and/or flashing in the task bar. Particularly useful for us committers if you want to known when people are asking questions about the Eclipse project you work on.

This has been working out pretty well for me, and I've been fielding questions about CDT for a few weeks now. If you're a committer and your project is underrepresented in IRC right now, you might want to try it out too.