IRC (Internet Relay Chat) is one of the main communication channels for Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) projects. You can freely join a channel that suits your interests if you are looking for help or interested in contributing. A page about contributing to any FOSS project will typically have its IRC channel listed. Outreachy's IRC channel is #outreachy on GIMPNet server (irc.gnome.org).
Lurking is perfectly fine on IRC. Don't hesitate to join an IRC channel. The etiquette of IRC is such that you don't even need to say "hi" when you join and you can lurk in the channel for as long as you'd like unless you have a specific question or want to share your view in a discussion. So just joining a channel is pretty non-committal.
Provide all the information when asking a question. You can always ask a question on IRC and you don't need to ask if you can ask a question. Instead, go ahead and provide all the details relevant for your question. For example, if you have a build problem, you can put the error message into an online pastebin and post the link in the IRC channel, asking for help.
It's not you, it's the IRC channel. Don't be put off if no one answers your question. It probably means no one knows the answer and no one feels responsible to say that they don't. It's possible that the one person who would know the answer is not online or is busy. Stick around for a while. Get a sense of the channel's activity. Try asking your question when the channel seems livelier. In the meantime, look for an answer on the web an extra time.
Stick around. If you ask a question, make sure to stay continuously connected to IRC for a least a day. People often work in different timezones, and it's frustrating for them to see a question they can answer, only to find the user has left the IRC channel.
Use a consistent nickname. Many clients will use the nickname Guest with random numbers if you don't pick a default nickname. You can change your nickname through the GUI on most IRC clients. Some IRC servers will let you register that nickname so that you're asked for a password when you try to use that nickname on a server. If you feel comfortable, you can set your real name in your information settings for your IRC client. This allows Outreachy mentors to understand which applicants are engaging with the community to ask questions, and may help increase your chances of being selected.
To use IRC you need an IRC client. The following applications provide IRC functionality:
XChat IRC client
Polari IRC Client
Konversation IRC Client
HexChat IRC Client
Smuxi IRC Client
Empathy IM and IRC Client
Pidgin IM and IRC client
Thunderbird email client (since version 15.0)
Alternatively, you can connect to IRC from a browser. Users connecting though web proxies like KiwiIRC and Mibbit might be banned in some channels, because these allow joining anonymously, and have enabled channel spammers in the past. If you are getting a message that you are banned from joining, try a different way of joining. Use one of the following options to join from your browser: