WebTV and Internet Relay Chat

By Ngan Bui (Ariell), Joseph Lo (Jolo), and Josh Rollyson (dracus), with help from lots of people
last updated Jun 24, 2000
The original version of this page is at <http://www.irchelp.org/irchelp/misc/webtv.html>

WebTV opened the world of the Internet to many people through an inexpensive computer that uses your existing TV. While WebTV is generally adequate for web browsing and email, it's harder to do more complicated things, and you can't take advantage of specialized programs designed for those tasks. For example, while you can use WebTV to chat, you must use their web interface. Compared to using a dedicated chat "client" program on a real PC, WebTV is very limited in its abilities. We developed this chat guide specifically for WebTV customers so you can make the best use of your service.

WebTV does have its own chat help pages, which cover the most frequently asked questions (FAQs) each on a separate web page. Our goal here is to present everything all in one place, hopefully in a way that is easier to understand.


  1. Getting started
  2. Networks And Servers
  3. Commands for WebTV Chat
  4. Limitations of WebTV
  5. Finding More Help

1. Getting Started

IRC (Internet Relay Chat) allows you to communicate live with people from all over the world. Sometimes IRC is referred to as "chat rooms" but actually they are called channels. IRC consists of many separate networks of IRC servers, machines that allow users to connect to IRC. Each network has a different set of people and channels. The largest nets are EFnet, Undernet, IRCnet, and DALnet.

On IRC, people know you by a nickname. At the present time, you will always have the same name as your username. However, on WebTV, you can create up to five secondary users and use any of them to chat on the Internet.

Group conversations occur on the thousands of channels on each network. Channels can be open to everyone or only to friends. For a list of channels, see #IRChelp's channel listing page. Channels are dynamic because anyone can create a new channel, and a channel disappears when the last person on it leaves.

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2. Networks And Servers

By default WebTV users can chat on Talk City, one of the largest web-based chat servers. Note that as of April 2000, Talk City no longer supports "IRC scripts" for WebTV users to connect. You can see their recent decision to force everybody to use their customized client which forces banner ads on you, all due to some unconvincing excuse about warding off "hackers". If you still want to chat on Talk City, you must go to their home page or WebTV page. Many people have abandoned Talk City for a real IRC network after this debacle. Indeed, Talk City is like the tip of the iceberg when it comes to chatting.

To reach other IRC networks, you need to know the address of a server on that network, the port number, and the channel name. You may not be able to access all networks or servers due to restrictions placed on each server to limit the kind of people who can connect. After you have this information, do the following:

  1. Return to the Home page
  2. Select Community
  3. Select Chat
  4. Select Go to
  5. Enter the following:
  6. Select Connect

Note that all channels names begin with a # symbol, but using the Go to feature you can optionally type the # or not (such as #IRChelp or IRChelp). You do not type the # when using the /join command mentioned below.

See the list of servers and networks for some suggestions. If you're new, you might want to stick to smaller networks at first to avoid being overwhelmed.

Once you have connected successfully, you may talk by just typing into the text field at the bottom of the chat screen. Then choose Send (or hit the Return key on your keyboard). See the next section for specific commands you can also type.

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3. Commands for WebTV Chat

Each command begins with a slash character (/) at the beginning of the line, and you just type them into the same text field at the bottom of the chat screen.

/join coolness
Command to join the existing channel #coolness. Note with this command, you do not enter the # before the channel name. If the channel did not exist before, by joining it you will create it and also have ops on that channel. You can only be on one channel at a time.

This gives you the nicknames of people in the current channel only, with some information about them.

Hello everybody!
Once you join a channel, you can speak to everybody on the channel by typing any line without a leading slash character. Everybody else will see "your_nick> Hello everybody!"

/me is a pink bunny.
Everybody in the channel sees "* your_nick is a pink bunny." This is called an action.

/whois jack
You get some information about that jack, such as "jack is jk1@some.host.name." If jack is also a WebTV user, the answer will not include the hostname, just whether or not he is on-line at the moment.

/msg jack text
Sends a private message to jack only. This is sometimes called "whispering" since nobody else can hear you except jack.

/ignore jack
Ignores all messages from jack, such as if he is annoying you.

/topic Dalmatians are spotted.
Sets the channel topic to "Dalmatians are spotted." - but note that not all channels allow anybody to change the topic.

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4. Limitations of WebTV

In addition to the commands described in the previous section, you also have the option of making a private channel. When you create a new channel, check off the option to create a private, unlisted channel. Unfortunately that's about all you can do with WebTV. Below we will list just some of the many things you cannot do. There's no way around this since WebTV has chosen not to improve their software (almost no changes since they started more than 2 years ago), or unless you get a "real" PC which would allow you to run a "real" IRC client program (such as mIRC for Windows or the many Mac clients).

Channel maintenance
You cannot be on more than one channel at a time. You cannot exercise the powers of a channel operator, such as change channel modes (make it secret, invite only, etc), grant or remove other people's ops, kick and ban abusive users, etc. If you are trusted by the operators, they might allow you to do these things indirectly through their clients or bots, but that is only by private arrangement.

If you see the error "WebTV can't use that service" it is because WebTV does not support the "identd" user verification protocol, which is required by many servers, including most of EFnet and all of DALnet. Short of complaining directly to WebTV to implement this very simple feature, you're pretty much out of luck and will have to chat on other servers. If you're trying to get on EFnet, see our EFnet connection problem guide. Otherwise just find another network to chat on.

Colors, Fonts, and Sounds
You cannot change text color, size, font, etc., while chatting on WebTV. You cannot play sounds, nor can you hear sounds played by others.

File Transfers
You cannot use DCC (Direct Client Communication) to send or receive pictures, sounds, software programs, love letters, or any other type of files. There are third party web sites out there that offer you free storage of files, so that may be one effective but tedious workaround.

Script/Bot Running
You cannot run automated programs like scripts or (ro)bots to help you maintain a channel, provide shortcuts for commonly typed commands, etc. As mentioned before, you may be granted access to other people's scripts or bots, but that's like getting around by bumming rides from others - you are totally dependent on other people.

Third Party IRC Clients
There are many IRC clients that you can use now other than WebTV's built-in IRC client, but so far we still do not recommend any of them. They usually contain very annoying automatically sent messages and offer little or no added functionality. We still can't find one that offered even basic channel operator commands without the use of existing bots.

There are many other things that WebTV users cannot do. I don't think it's necessary to list everything. Accept the limitations and enjoy IRC with what you have. IRC is still primarily for "chatting", and you can still do that as a WebTV user. Of course, one day when you get a real personal computer you'll be amazed at what else you can do with IRC and many other things.

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5. Finding More Help

Here are some ways to get more help.

World Wide Web
Definitely check out WebTV's own help site, which includes a FAQ (frequently asked questions list) just for chat. In additioin, we have many general help guides. (Just remember the limitations of WebTV when you're reading those guides.) We particularly recommend the short general introduction to IRC called The IRC Prelude. There are also lists of networks and channels there.

Another way to get your WebTV-specific IRC questions answered is to email wecare@webtv.net.

The most popular help channels for WebTV are on TalkCity. The channels include #New2WebTV, #WebTVhelp, and #WebTVtech.

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