I was probably the last librarian on the continent to try IRC chat. A few months ago I took a dip in #code4lib, was baffled, felt self-conscious about capitalization, and backed off. Recently I noticed that ideas were coming out on blogs that had apparently already matured in discussions in the chatroom, so I rejoined.

One thing that puzzled me the first time was a character named panizzi, who was always being teased and ordered around by people whom I thought I knew to be pleasant, modest human beings. He took it all without the slightest complaint. I eventually realized that panizzi was a robot who could perform various functions. It turns out he was built with supybot, with a bunch of library-geek plugins added by Ed Summers (and others?). In addition to providing anagrams, acronyms and coin tosses, he can take advantage of REST interfaces or just screenscrape to report the latest record added to WorldCat or to Unalog. Today I learned that he can fetch the LC Name Authority record for a given name. And when necessary he can come up with elaborate insults and direct them at anyone you select.

This all makes for good ways to fill a pause in the discussion. Occasionally it’s actually useful, as when a needed url was fetched from Unalog by panizzi in response to a search command. More often it’s just a toy. But I can imagine a future for it: when we have ubiquitous computing in the home, we’ll need something for our conversational computers to do. When that day comes, the supybot plugin developers will no doubt voice-enable their code. An awkward silence at the dinner table will be filled by an amusing anagram of some phrase from the news, or the latest book added to WorldCat. “How interesting”, we’ll say, and the reinvigorated conversation will veer in some new direction.

And, like the commercial Web, none of this was foreseen by science fiction writers.