When people get bored of chatting on IRC, they usually inform others that they're leaving and leave the client (the program they IRC with) open. This can be done the right way or the wrong way.
The away nick is the worst choice of all. The idea behind it is to modify your IRC nick to state that you're not there, for example:
*** stoop is now known as stoop|toilet
The disadvantages are quite obvious:
Conclusion: away nicks are definitely bad and should never be used. In fact, on many channels you immediately get kicked/banned for using it. (The easiest way to get banned is when you get kicked and you have autorejoin on).
A public away is a way to definitely announce to everyone that you're away, for example:
* stoop is [AWAY]: rEaSoN[picking nose] tImE[8.10pm] mAiL[firstname.lastname@example.org] iCq
As you might have guessed, this is not a good choice either:
Many scripts enable public away by default. You should think twice whether you want to use such scripts, or at least remove the misfeature in the settings. In an emergency, you can bypass the script's /away command by typing /quote AWAY :the reason here.
No need for despair! IRC already has a working mechanism to state where you are. This command was named, maybe even too creatively, /AWAY.
When Cathryn Casual goes, say, eating, she gives this command to her IRC client: /away eating. Thus, her away-message is "eating". When she comes back, she takes the away-status off simply by typing /away without parameters.
When Sam Surfer wants to talk to Cathryn, he can check Cathryn's away-message by typing /whois cathryn. Then he gets a response such as this:
*** Cathryn (email@example.com) *** realname : Cathryn Casual *** channels : #nallukka *** server : irc.song.fi (Song Networks, Finland) *** away : eating *** idle : 0 days 3 hours 31 mins 5 secs *** End of WHOIS
If the user you are trying to do a /whois on is on a different IRC server then you have to give the nickname twice to the /whois command in order to see both the idle time and the exact reason for being away. If you don't specify the name twice, you will only see "Gone" and no idle time. Many clients have the alias /wii for this, so you won't have to type the nickname twice.
When /away is used properly, you can see a nice, simple listing of the channel status by typing /who #channel.
*** #nallukka Miika_ H@ 2 firstname.lastname@example.org (Miika Aittala) *** #nallukka StarFire G@ 2 email@example.com (Jussi Knuuttila) *** #nallukka Mutru H@ 0 firstname.lastname@example.org (Otto Hilska)
In the example listing, Miika_ and Mutru are present (H stands for here) whereas StarFire is away (G stands for gone).
Otto Hilska, email@example.com (2002-09-09)
Last updated: 2002-09-09
From http://nallukka.net/~mutru/away.html, translated to English by Joel Yliluoma, http://iki.fi/bisqwit/ (2003-10-06)