Grove, a new hosted IRC chat service for teams, launches today. It's IRC without the fuss, providing hosting, account management, access controls and fully searchable chat logging, as well as a sparkling new Web chat client.

It supports all the great IRC client apps, of course, but Grove takes care of the fiddly parts of setup and hosting. All that's left for teams to do is sign up and start using it. Starting today they can do so for free at Grove.io.

Grove is the latest effort from Leah Culver, CEO and co-founder of Convore, and Convore developer/designer Jori Lallo. Culver was a co-founder and lead developer of Pownce, which was an early challenger to the Twitter way of communicating that also allowed attachments and events. Pownce was acquired by SixApart in 2008, and the service itself was shut down.

She got into real-time chat in 2009 when she and Defunkt built a Web-based IRC client called Leafy Chat for the Django Dash that won second place. The popularity of that client and her experience with Pownce sparked her interest in figuring out chat. "Actually, most of the content sent was replies to other people's content," Culver says of Pownce, "because people really want to talk with each other."

Insights From Convore

That insight led to the creation of Convore, which splits the difference between real-time chat and forums. It allows users to create topic-based forums, but replies are posted in real time. It works like chat if you're present, but it logs conversations like a forum. Culver says the Convore team thought its open-ended appeal would be an advantage, but it ended up making it difficult to identify a clear use case.

Several different use cases emerged: liveblogging, conference chat and internal team chat for businesses. The team chat was the part that piqued Culver's interest. She decided to create a new solution for that using everyone's old favorite chat protocol, IRC, but taking the effort out of it by hosting the service, offering a Web client, and providing all the logging, archiving and search. That's Grove. It launches today, and it's free.

Why IRC?

Geeks love IRC, but it comes with a few hassles, mainly having to host it, that have led teams away from using it in favor of easier IM solutions. As an old protocol, it also doesn't support user accounts in the way we've gotten used to in the Web 2.0 age.

But IRC has advantages over proprietary tools. It's a stable, open protocol - "like email," Culver points out - which means users can use whatever client application they want, on any platform, most of which are open-source and free. Without having to build apps for every platform, Grove can concentrate on eliminating the fiddly parts of IRC, and what's left is an easy, real-time, logged chat service for teams built around a trusted protocol.

Grove provides its users hosting, user accounts, channel access controls, and searchable archives, as well as a swanky Web-based client. But it still allows all the benefits of an open protocol like IRC, so team members can use whatever client app they desire on any device. Grove lists a few recommended apps on different platforms, as well as the easy instructions for connecting, at grove.io/help.

Chat For 21st-Century Teams

"We're moving towards a more distributed workforce," Culver says. "People are working remotely. You want to stay on the same page. Not everybody's always going to be at the office." Grove can help 21st-century teams keep in touch, and by handling the tricky parts of IRC itself, the barrier to entry is gone. And since it's open, teams who so desire can build their own custom clients, or modify existing open-source ones, so Grove can be a backbone for chat that's tailored to its team's exact specifications.

As of today, Grove is open for anyone to sign up. It's currently free.

Culver is speaking today at the Keeping It Realtime Conference about why Convore uses long-polling over websockets for moving its real-time data. She'll be talking about Grove as well. We'll post the video here as soon as it's available.