• Tag Archives CompuServe
  • CompuServe (1984)


    Source: Compute! – Issue Number 52 – September 1984

    It seems like there has been online dating for as long as there has been an online world. This ad from 1984 is for CompuServe, one of the centralized online services that were available before the internet came along or was easily accessed directly anyway. The marriage motif seems to be suggesting that you could find your future spouse on CompuServe and I’m sure that happened many times through the years.

    This particular ad is emphasizing one of CompuServe’s services called “CB Simulator”. Essentially this was a chat area with many channels and operated more or less like IRC or group text messaging. I guess they needed something from the physical world that people could relate to for the name since there were no cell phones or text messaging to speak of and chatting online was still a novelty. CompuServe wasn’t cheap though. I’m not sure exactly what the cost was in 1984 but as I recall later in the 1980s it was something a little less than $20 per month but then you paid by the minute for your online time as well. There were non-prime hours at night where certain services could be accessed without the extra per-minute cost though.

    This ad is from the September 1984 issue of Compute!. In 1984, CompuServe was accessible by pretty much any computer of the day that you could attach a modem to since it was purely text based. All you needed was a computer, a modem, a phone line and some terminal software. I can’t quite tell if that’s a VIC-20 or a Commodore 64 in the ad.

  • Compuserve (1994)

    CompuServe (1994)


    CompuServe was the first major online service provider in the U.S. with its origins going all the way back to 1969. It reached its peak in the early 1990s when it was surpassed by AOL. Of course, both were surpassed by the rise of the Internet and more generic Internet Service Providers soon after. CompuServe peaked around 1995 with about 3 million users.

    Like all such services of the 1980s and 1990s, CompuServe was a proprietary service. Internet service started to a limited degree in 1989 with e-mail being gated to and from the Internet. Web access became available in 1995. By 1997 CompuServe started converting its forums to HTML and in 2004 the proprietary interface was finally discontinued completely. CompuServe’s forums did not cease altogether until the end of last year (2017) after 36 years. Some of the active ones have found homes elsewhere on the Internet.

    The above ad is from 1994. $8.95 got you unlimited connect time and included various features including 60 e-mail messages a month. Some services cost extra.

  • Reach Out and Access Someone (1983)

    Reach Out and Access Someone

    (This article is reprinted from the September 6, 1983, issue of ‘The Village
    Voice’ and was written by Teresa Carpenter.)

    Las Vegas in the rain is about as cheerful as Guam. So last November when the
    storms that swamped Malibu swept inland to pound the roof and glass siding of
    the Hacienda Hotel, I spent a lot of time curled up under the covers
    contemplating the Future.

    The Future seemed a pressing issue just then because I was nominally covering
    COMDEX, a biannual convention where makers of computer hardware and software
    unveil their new lines in an atmosphere of matter-of-fact futurism. The truth
    of the matter was that I was a bewildered observer tagging along behind my
    spouse equivalent, Steven, who writes a column for ‘Popular Computing’, belongs
    to a little cadre of technology writers who cover these events with the espirit
    of prospectors in a new gold rush.

    One afternoon early in the convention week we went to lunch with another
    technology writer from ‘Time’ magazine. The two were swapping industry gossip
    when Steven stopped, turned to me, and said, not unkindly, “You can add
    something if you like.” That made me so uncomfortable that I didn’t return to
    the convention. I strode off as if I had some pressing business to conduct,
    played the slots a while, and ended up back at my room burrowed under the
    covers to contemplate my place in this new order.

    The technological cleft that had been opening between Steven and me went back to
    the previous year when we had both gotten Apples for word processing. Buying
    the computers was originally my idea. Once we got them home, we both learned
    word processing. I learned it faster. But I stopped there, while Steven’s
    fascination with the technology impelled him to go further. He fussed with the
    computer as if it were a beloved toy. He talked to people, read about
    computers, wrote about them, and quietly became a lay expert.

    My ignorance was most conspicuous in an area called “telecommunications” – that
    is, using the computer to reach and talk to other people. It had not occurred
    to me that I might ever want to do that until in perusing the small library in
    Steven’s suitcase I came across ‘The Network Nation’, written by a pair of
    social theoreticians named Starr Roxanne Hiltz and Murray Turoff. The book,
    published in 1978, slightly preceded popular interest in computer technology and
    didn’t receive much attention. Yet it contained a fascinating vision. In it
    home computers are as common as the telephone. They link person to person,
    shrinking, as the authors put it, “time and distance barriers among people, and
    between people and information, to near zero.” In its simplest terms, ‘The
    Network Nation’ is a place where thoughts are exchanged easily and
    democratically, and intellect affords one more personal power than a pleasing
    appearance does. Minorities and women compete on equal terms with white males,
    and the elderly and handicapped are released from the confines of their
    infirmities to skim the electronic terrain as swiftly as anyone else. What the
    Network Nation promises is so sensible and humane that it leaves one embarrassed
    to be living among contemporaries who take meetings.

    Hiltz and Turoff tended to speak of this society as if it were already a
    reality. And it is true that over the past five years hundreds of networks have
    spring up pocked by subcultures. There are massive governmental webs to
    accommodate the needs of military analysts and artificial intelligence experts.
    There are commercial networks like the Source and Compuserve, which sell canned
    information and let users talk to one another. There are research and
    development networks, which study the way users talk to one another. At the
    most rudimentary level there are hundreds of electronic bulletin boards run by
    amateur astronomers, gardeners, computer enthusiasts, and Marxists – anyone with
    a home computer, one inexpensive piece of software, and a “modem.”

    The modem, I knew, was critical to the enterprise. It dials up what is known as
    a digital network to put your computer online, in contact with a “host”, a large
    computer called a mainframe. As modems are fairly expensive, we got one Hayes
    micromodem – a black box about five inches long – which we agreed to share.
    From the beginning, however, it had been clear that Steven was Keeper of the
    Fire. Having exhibited more initiative, he had laid claim to it. And during
    the months after Las Vegas, as I expressed oblique curiosity in the modem, he
    protected his prerogatives. He needed it for work.

    I should explain that at any time I could have announced I needed the modem and
    gotten it. But I didn’t. This passivity was less a result of the
    inaccessibility of that black box than my suspicion of it. That I would have to
    learn how it worked was inevitable, but to say “I’ll do it today” meant
    admitting that some familiar things were on their way to oblivion. By midsummer
    I was still at a standoff with the technology in my own home. The modem was not
    going to make the first move. I decided that to deal with it, I would have to
    whip up some artificial urgency – by writing about it. When I told Steven I
    would be needing the modem for work, it sounded so reasonable that he just
    shrugged and said, “Sure, call Art Kleiner in the morning.”

    Art Kleiner is editor of ‘CoEvolution Quarterly’. More recently he was
    recruited to help edit ‘The Whole Earth Software Catalog’, Stewart Brand’s
    newest New Age venture. I had found him, on the couple of occasions we had met,
    an uncommonly gentle apostle of the New Technology. Long before it was
    fashionable, he wrote articles explaining networking to ordinary people. He
    seemed a little more realistic than most of the gold rush writers, actually
    admitting the possibility that all of this enthusiasm about telecommunications
    might be hype.

    He was, however, personally passionate about it. As a student at Berkeley in
    the late ’70s, he had been mightily impressed by the work of Murray Turoff, who
    was operating, under the auspices of the New Jersey Institute of Technology in
    Newark, a network called the Electronic Information Exchange System. It was
    known to its afficianados as EIES (pronounced “eyes”). Art went on a pilgrimage
    to the East Coast to meet Turoff, who gave him a trial account on the system.
    Art spent so much time there that he was made a “user consultant” charged with
    guiding writers onto EIES.

    When I called Art in San Francisco in the middle of July to tell him I wanted an
    account on EIES, he uttered a beatific sigh. He would send an electronic
    message, a sort of letter of introduction, to Turoff. There would be three or
    four days’ wait until I received an account number and password. I would be
    billed $75 a month plus connect time that runs between $3 and $8 an hour.

    During that waiting period, I began to play around on other systems. Steven had
    to make another trip to California, and this time left me not only the modem but
    his password on Compuserve and a set of cursory instructions. One evening, I
    settled in front of the terminal to make my first solo excursion into the
    mystic. I took a floppy disk containing a piece of software called “Z-term,”
    slid it into the slot of disk drive A, and closed the door. The computer hummed
    and the screen suddenly came alive with glowing green letters. I typed “ZPRO”
    to ready the modem to dial. Typed out the number of Telenet. Within the modem
    a tiny red light began twinkling to dial the network.

    The terrain at the border of Compuserve was more familiar to me than I expected.
    I spotted, with relief, the “menu,” which displays a set of choices. I had used
    it on earlier occasions when, after Steven had signed on, I would try to pull up
    information. Never with very much success. The information services, for all
    their taunted diversity, seemed to me cluttered with novelties like biorhythms
    and airplane schedules. Steven professed to have run across one pocket of
    esoterica which provided the floor plans of Czechoslovakian hospitals. The only
    consistently useful data seems to exist for businessmen. Compuserve, which has
    about 69,000 subscribers, recently conducted a user survey. More than 96 per
    cent of those queried were men, 50 per cent of whom have household incomes of
    more than $30,000 a year. This is a comparatively privileged world.

    From the menu I selected “Home Services” and entered its number, “1,” after the
    waiting prompt, an exclamation point that means the computer and its formidable
    resources await your command.

    Pressing the return button pulled up a more specific menu, which included news,
    weather, sports and – “COMMUNICATIONS.” Entering its number at the prompt, I got
    the communications menu, which included “electronic mail.” In this heavily
    trafficked feature, users send what resemble teletyped messages to one another’s
    electronic mail boxes. More intriguing, however, was option two, the “CB

    The simulator is, as the name suggests, a “citizen’s band” on which users across
    America and Canada communicate in rapid one-liners fired in succession. The
    CBers use handles – Loo Loo and Gandalf and Super Scooper. This sprawling
    discourse is conducted with the abandon that anonymity affords. And late at
    night these elfish identities convene to chat and play mind games. This
    generally occurs on Channel 1 – reserved for “adult conversations.”

    I signed on as “Sapphire.” The name had no particular significance, but it
    apparently telegraphed something provocative for I was beggared by overtures.
    One of these came from Lucky Lori. After the initial stir of a new persona on-
    line had died down, she asked if I wanted to join her in private conversation by
    entering the “/talk” mode. Lori, who I believe mistakenly took “Sapphire” to be
    a variant of “Sappho,” was bisexual. After cordial preliminaries, during which
    she confessed to being a little high, she asked if I had ever heard of
    “Compusex.” I hadn’t. How is it different from an obscene phone call, I asked.
    “More fantasy,” Lori said. But you’re missing sound, I noted. “Written word is
    better,” she replied. I signed off on Lori but the following day fidgeted in the
    full regret that follows any adventure one declines out of cowardice. A couple
    of nights later I got on the board looking for Lori but was promptly hit on by
    the Deadwood Kid, who lured me into the private mode. Deadwood was a
    blue-collar worker (he said) and a sweet guy. When he asked if I knew about
    Compusex, he was so unassuming, I asked him to go on.

    Compusex did not unfold quite the same as an obscene phone call, although I
    imagine it could have. Deadwood, it turned out, was a sensitive scenarist who
    transported us to his living room in Northern California where we danced a while
    to Barry Manilow before easing in step toward his bedroom.

    It is worth noting that nothing, least of all a seduction, proceeds inexorably
    in this medium. Although the CB operates in real time, there is always a couple
    of seconds delay between responses, which meant that at one point while
    ensconced in an imaginary bed we both claimed to be on top. The encounter was
    furthermore plagued by technical interruptions, not the least of which was an
    incoming telephone call which knocked me off-line.

    The encounter was pretty arousing. Amazing when you consider that it was devoid
    of sound, touch, and expression. This strange game illustrated how intimate the
    expression of disembodied essences can be.
    The elves who disport themselves on the channels have created an entire society
    on-line. “CBland,” it is explained somewhere on the system, “is a town, a club,
    a clique, a fantasy world, a dating service…or anything one wants it to be.”
    What Compuserve and the Source apparently didn’t realize when they first put
    together their potpourri of consumer goods is that people are not crying for
    airline schedules and biorhythms or even stock quotations, but to talk to one
    another. The one truly revolutionary thing that telecommunication offers is the
    ability to transform time and space between human voices. The possibilities for
    twisting the boundaries of conventional communication became clearer when I
    finally got on to EIES.

    It seemed eerily silent by contrast. Stepping through the menus of the
    commercial services is like strolling anonymously through a Turkish bazaar.
    Logging on to EIES, however, was like having crossed the threshold of a
    monastery where monks, consecrated to the cause of research and development,
    glide along the corridors out of reach of the novitiate.

    There are about 1200 inhabitants in this little world. It is a neutral host to
    groups of scientists, peace activists, executives, philosophers, and others.
    Alvin Toffler and former FCC commissioner Nicholas Johnson are among the
    notables who have tuned in from time to time to observe various scenarios of
    future communication unfold under the ubiquitous guidance of Murray Turoff.

    Turoff is known as “the father of computerized conferencing” for an idea that
    grew out of work he did in the early ’70s for the Nixon administration. He was
    an apolitical eccentric who, after receiving a doctorate in physics from
    Brandeis University, had been recruited by a private think tank called the
    Institute for Defense Analysis to design systems for playing war games by
    computer. Turoff later went to a new operations research group of the Office of
    Emergency Preparedness. In his free time there he designged an unauthorized
    conferencing system. His superiors, when they discovered the experiment,
    threatened to sue him for misuse of government property, but scaled down the
    punishment to confiscating his terminal. Turoff regained his terminal and the
    upper hand when the administration asked him to dust off his system to implement
    the Wage-Price-Freeze Guidelines of 1971.

    During the mid-’70s, when he was teaching computer science at the New Jersey
    Institute of Technology in Newark, he received a grant from the National
    Science Foundation to create an ideal system – one that offers three basic
    “modes of interfacing,” or communicating.
    The simplest to imagine is “electronic mail.” It is like sending a teletype
    message. After composing a message in a “scratchpad,” you assign it the user
    number of the party to whom it is to be sent, then dispatch it with a keystroke.
    The other two formats represent a more radical departure from the conventional
    communications. “The notebook” is a workspace where people who are
    geographically scattered can co-author or edit manuscripts. Further out on the
    fringe is “the conference,” where people can convene and make decisions without
    occupying the same space or even the same period of time.

    I had learned about these things from ‘The Network Nation’; using them was quite
    another matter. Though I had applied myself diligently to the users’ looseleaf
    manual sent me by the EIES office in Newark, it was dense with lists of
    commands. So arcane is this system, I learned, that *nobody* knows all of the
    commands on EIES. I surmised that rather than proceeding logically, I would be
    better off just slopping around on the system and working backward from my
    mistakes to some guiding principles.

    In fumbling about the keyboard trying to compose a plea to Art for help, I
    accidentally – and quite inexplicably – opened a conference with myself as
    moderator. Sort of like ‘WarGames.’ *More* disturbing was that my wailing
    missive – “I am running into brick walls. Cannot seem to contact another human
    intelligence” – was posted prominently there as the first entry. This left me
    anxious thereafter that my messages might misfire, landing in the box of a
    meditating monk.

    A few days later, when I was composing in note, another novitiate crash-landed a
    one-liner into my scratchpad, “I’m just getting used to this thing! Whe