IRC, Still the Best Support Around
If you haven't gotten our subtle hints during the past year or so, IRC certainly is not dead. It really is the best way to get knowledgeable support from the folks who know best. There are a few caveats, however, that may not be obvious to people new to this old-school chat protocol.
Get a Good Client
If you just want to stop into the #linuxjournal channel for some quick banality, a Web-based client like the one at linuxjournal.com/irc is fine. You can drop in, request a !coffee from JustinBot, and chitchat with fellow geeks. If you're looking for something a bit more useful for the long haul, a native client makes more sense. Many people (myself included) like X-Chat. There are plenty of other options, like the command-line-only Irssi, but X-Chat offers a nice balance between features and usability.
If you look back at Kyle Rankin's Hack and / articles from the past year or so, you'll find easy ways to integrate your entire lifestyle into IRC. Kyle does everything from chatting to twittering inside his terminal window, and he shows us all how to do the same.
The opposite approach, which is actually what I do, is to add IRC as another instant-messaging protocol on my IM client. Although Kopete and Empathy may be slick-looking for instant messaging, none come close to Pidgin's elegance with IRC. Check out my video tech tip on how to set up IRC inside Pidgin if that makes more sense to the way you work during the day: linuxjournal.com/video/irc-chats-pidgin.
Every channel you visit will have a different "personality" to it. The #linuxjournal channel on Freenode, for example, is really a goofy, easy-going channel full of geeks having fun. If you come visit us and say “Garble bargle, loopity loo”, no one will find you odd. In fact, you'll fit in quite nicely. On other channels, specifically channels where developers hang out related to a specific application, the atmosphere might be a bit more stuffy. My suggestion: hang out in a room for a while before you post questions. There may be links in the channel pointing to FAQs or information about how to conduct yourself without making anyone angry.
IRC is the sort of thing most geeks leave running but don't monitor constantly. If you pose a question, but don't get a response for a while, just wait. If you have a question for a specific person, typing his or her name in the channel often will alert the person (I have Pidgin set up to do that, and many folks do the same with their IRC clients). And finally, don't forget, it's a community. If you see a question you can answer, do it!