What is ZAnet?
Once upon a time, many, many Internet-years ago, there was only one world-wide network of IRC servers. In August 1990, a "political" upheaval caused a split in this proto-network. The result was two IRC networks, quite distinct from each other - the EFnet and the Anet. The Anet has withered away with time, while the EFnet remains as the major international IRC network. It has over 130 servers connected to it, and at times 15000 to 20000 users can be found on it.
Early in 1993 a smaller alternative network was formed by individuals who were disillusioned with the EFnet. This net, known as the Undernet, has become securely established as the EFnet's main "competition".
This trend to form splinter IRC networks has since continued, and today there are a great number of smaller, yet stable and thriving, IRC networks. It is now especially fashionable for country to have its own local IRC network. This is not difficult to understand. The EFnet has grown far beyond the size that the IRC protocol was originally designed for. So-called "netsplits" - a rare occurrence in the good old days - are now so common on that network that it is sometimes difficult to have an uninterrupted conversation with another user! It has therefore become reasonable - logical, even - for users who share not only a geographical area, but also have the same interests, language, culture and so forth, to band together and form smaller localised networks of IRC servers.
The ZAnet is such an independent network.
Why was ZAnet formed?
The South African IRC network was formed out of necessity, long before localised IRC networks became "fashionable". The IRC servers in South Africa were originally connected to the EFnet. In the latter half of 1993 it became apparent that the 64Kbps (kilobits per second) line which connected South Africa's Uninet to the rest of the Internet was becoming too heavily utilised to support the IRC link to the EFnet. Often, "lag" of up to half an hour was experienced to the rest of the EFnet! The EFnet link was therefore severed, leaving South Africa's few IRC servers to operate as an independent little network. This has been the status quo ever since, even though individual servers have come and gone.
What is the story about ZAnet's various names?
This subject has in the past evoked a disproportianally large amount of negative emotions. What follows is a (hopefully) impartial account. (Though probably not entirely... ;-)
As early as late 1993, soon after what is now ZAnet split from the EFnet, the debate started as to what the new network should be called. One of the names which was tossed around, and which found favour with what appeared to be the majority of regular users, was "Differnet". At around that time a mailing list was established to discuss the IRC scene in South Africa, and for lack of a better name it was called the differnet-list. This apparently innocuous issue evoked such a torrent of emotion from individuals who were opposed to the name (and who had up to that point remained largely silent) that the name was dropped, the mailing list renamed to "zanet-talk", and the network referred to by all but the most obstinate simply as the "South African IRC Network".
In September 1996 the above was shortened simply to "ZAnet" in order to facilitate the choice of a sane domain name for the servers of this network.
Will ZAnet ever be connected to EFnet again?
It is highly unlikely. Even though South African connectivity has improved to the point where it might be viable to reconnect at least certain servers to the EFnet or to some other international IRC network, the prevailing feeling amongst both server administrators and ZAnet users at present seems to be that ZAnet has formed a unique identity of its own and should maintain its independence. Other servers can be (and indeed, have been) set up locally and connected to international IRC networks, but ZAnet remains an entity in its own right.
Tell me a bit more about the history of IRC in South Africa.
It's hard to say who the first South African IRCer was, but certainly people like Edid, Gaspode, MHolmesIV and KnightOrc were around since the very early days. During the period from late 1992 to early 1993, South Africa's total IRC population was probably no more than a dozen or so. In fact, typing "/who *.za" on the EFnet was a common - and moreover viable! - way of making new acquaintances.
Legend has it that Simonfish was at least partially responsible for the creation of a semi-regular channel, known somewhat disingenuously as #SouthAfrica, during the early part of 1993. However, Quetza lays claim to having been the first person ever to type "/join #za". According to Quetza, he, wotaday and Fingwe (from Austria) created the channel in order to have a quiet refuge from the EFnet's rather busy #talk.
#za soon became the favoured meeting place of South Africans on the EFnet. It even gained its own bot, PeaceBotZ (run by TimeWiz). During the latter part of 1993 the lag situation to the rest of the EFnet went from bad to worse. Things were further disrupted by the fact that the Uninet's Powers That Be at the time decided that IRC was an Undesired Activity and firewalled port 6667 on the international routers, thereby limiting users to the local servers with their by then tenuous link to the outside world. Frequently, only the local servers would be accessible, and those who liked to IRC on other EFnet channels were forced to sulk in #za while waiting for the net to reappear. And over time, a few of them defected...
When the local IRC servers were officially severed from the EFnet by Edid, the situation therefore didn't change drastically. South African IRC users were already used to having #za as the only available channel on the local servers, and had to resort to use one of the few EFnet servers which provided access on a non-standard port in order to chat on that network.
So what is the DALnet, and what is its link to ZAnet?
The DALnet is yet another international IRC network. It is
This enhanced version of the IRC server software offers a number of distinct advantages over the "plain vanilla" version used on the EFnet and most other IRC networks, and hence it was adopted (with a few slight changes of our own) by ZAnet.
The enhanced IRC servers also offer a number of features which can be exploited by end users - long nicknames and the ability to leave a channel with a message, to name just two.