# Chapter Six: Real-time Tribes
Internet Relay Chat (IRC) has enabled a global subculture to construct itself from three fundamental elements: artificial but stable identities, quick wit, and the use of words to construct an imagined shared context for conversation. For a student of virtual communities, IRC is an opportunity to observe a critical experiment-in-progress: What are the minimum elements of communication necessary for a group of people to cocreate a sense of community? What kinds of cultures emerge when you remove from human discourse all cultural artifacts except written words?
IRC is a stream. Many people who work for long hours in front of computer workstations-- college students, computer programmers--leave a small "window" on their computer screens tuned in to IRC while they go about their day's work. They have their own automated programs, known as bots, to greet newcomers and say goodbye to people who leave. When they see something interesting going on, from the corner of their eye, they jump in.
In computer technology, playgrounds often are where real innovations emerge. Playing around is not considered constructive in our societies. Yet the history of CMC reveals that people often use the new medium to do just that. And some educational psychologists, most notably Jean Piaget, claim that play is the way humans learn best.
Violating the sanctity of nicknames is a taboo because it attacks one of the fundamental forces that holds the IRC culture together--a minimum certainty about the identity of all participants in discourse. The IRC culture's most powerful positive mechanism for maintaining solidarity is peer recognition.
Soon attempts were being made to build virtual environments with graphics, users would represent themselves with avatars. In such systems, Howard mentions Habitat, "detailed central planning is impossible; don't even try."
> Create the tools for users to build their own society, Morningstar and Farmer concluded, and let the users tell you what they want to do, because that is what the users of an online communication system will do, no matter how hard you try to structure some other purpose into the tool.
> We could influence things, we could set up interesting situations, we could provide opportunities for things to happen, but we could not dictate the outcome. . .
Graphical or not, the behavior of the users is fascinating. Normally shy people react by speaking up, and people who would never shout at others or hurl insults in a physical gathering sometimes behave that way online.
In the Japanese environment Populopolis 45 percent of the total number of utterances contained sign language. Howard underlines that it's important to look beyond the US in order to understand the emergence of virtual environments and communities.