If you were lucky enough, as I was, to go to a technically-advanced school or work for a high-technology company in the 70s and 80s, you had Internet access. For most of us though the only way we had to go online was via an online service like CompuServe. Recently, after 30 years of service, CompuServe closed down. I'll miss it.
I was fortunate to be on the Internet starting in the late 70s, when I was at school, West Virginia University, and later at my jobs at Goddard Space Flight Center. But, when I was at home, I had to use a 300-baud Hayes modem like everyone else in those days to go online. So, I became an early user of online services And, by the early 90s, I was writing a column about them for Computer Shopper, back in the days when that publication was a 1,000+ page giant on magazine stands.
In those days, everything that we now think of as being part of the Web, was only available in far smaller, text-based portions on online services like AOL, BIX, CompuServe, Delphi, GEnie, and Prodigy. Today, only AOL remains in a form that any time-traveling user from 1992 would recognize.
I liked all these services. Well almost all, it was never easy to warm up to Prodigy with its slower than slow speeds even by 1200-baud bound standards and its clunky interface. But, of all them, I liked CompuServe the best.
Long before social networks like Facebook and Twitter enabled us to keep in touch with each other, many of us were being talking with each other all the time on CompuServe's Forums. To this day, I think CIS' (CompuServe Internet Service) Forums were the best online discussion areas I ever had the pleasure of using.
In no small part that was because while the online software itself usually worked well, it had an open API (Application Programming Interface) so that you could use off-line readers like TAPCIS and Golden Compass. These made it possible to maximize your online conversations without running up huge telephone and online service connection bills.
One of the invisible changes that the early 1990s switchover from online services to the Internet brought was the end of hourly connect time charges. If you didn't watch out, you could easily run up hundreds of dollars in connect charges a month. CompuServe made it possible for savvy users to get the most from the service for the least amount of bucks.
Today, the Internet is much cheaper than the online services ever were. And, you can do things with the Internet, like watch televised baseball; play elaborate games and videoconference, that we never dreamed of in those days. You know, though, both then and now I get more done and more pleasure out of 'talking' with people online in e-mail and in online discussion groups.
So, good-bye CompuServe, your day is done, but your core virtue, enabling people to form communities and make and maintain friendships over the miles, remains in a thousand different forms today.
This is 72441,464 signing off for the last time.
This story, "Farewell, Compuserve, R.I.P. " was originally published by Computerworld.