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America Online The Internet Technology

Online Services: The Internet Before the Internet 387

jfruh writes "The Slashdot readership is probably split pretty evenly into two groups. There are those for whom full-on Internet access has been available for their entire computer-using lives, and then there are those who wanted to use the Net from home before 1991, and who therefore had to use a BBS or an online service. Here's a tour of some of these services, including Prodigy, Compuserve, and of course AOL. This should be a nostalgic trip for the oldsters among us, and a history lesson for Gen Y readers."
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Online Services: The Internet Before the Internet

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  • by dbc ( 135354 ) on Thursday April 05, 2012 @09:58PM (#39593647)

    Third group: Those who had Apple II or C64 or TRS-80 or some such.

    Fourth (my) group: Those who carried boxes of punch cards across campus.

  • by icebike ( 68054 ) * on Thursday April 05, 2012 @10:07PM (#39593713)

    I remember the daily ritual of signing on to Compuserve to get the daily email from our customers in Europe, as well as telex orders.

    It was pretty much useless as far as I can recall, but it was a boat load cheaper than phone calls for tech support issues.
    When we first started, there was just beginning to be interconnection between Compuserve and a few other providers. Customers would send us Compuserve mails to let us know they were having problems dialing into our BBS system from India, and Britain.

    The internet came along in our part of the hinterlands, and we hopped on that as fast as possible. We were only too happy to be free of these other services. Even if Email did take a day to arrive (I kid you not, it took a day to get an email from India, and it was routed through the most amazing places).

    So, no, not nostalgic. Nightmare perhaps. Trying to type an answer to a tech support question into the glass tty screen with the minute meter clicking in your head, because copy/paste hadn't really been worked out yet. Being charged by the message length!! Arrrggggh.

    No thank you. I'm not taking the tour.

  • by Georules ( 655379 ) on Thursday April 05, 2012 @10:26PM (#39593881)
    The first time you "logged in to the Internet" was to make a Facebook account? Also, I'm not sure how walking to your friend's place to get Visual Studio taught you anything more about programming -- certainly less than experimenting with example code you find on a website, usually provided from other developers attempting to solve similar problems.
  • Revisionism. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by queazocotal ( 915608 ) on Thursday April 05, 2012 @10:27PM (#39593887)

    There seems to be a general assumption by many that the internet was predestined to win out over these other pre-existing nets.

    It wasn't.
    Things like the much derided Al Gore 'invention of the internet' - he was instrumental in securing some funding for non-educational use.

    If the existing services that were taking off when the internet came along from behind had gotten their acts together - and gotten for example inter-provider mail working, the internet in its present form may not have happened.

    It could so easily have been that if you wanted to make a page to advertise your business, it wasn't a case of simply sign up to one of the many thousands of hosting providers - but three or four large companies dominate.

  • by conspirator23 ( 207097 ) on Thursday April 05, 2012 @11:00PM (#39594095)
    The REAL prototype for today's Internet can be found on the single-line, amateur, free Bulletin Board Systems of that era. You won't find anything comparable to the steaming, frothing orgy of human id we have today in the archives of those online services. European software piracy boards? Check. White supremacists? Check. Crappy low-fi porn? Check. Illegal seizures by federal authorities? Check. The hijacking of discussions by socially maladjusted teenage boys? Check? The ham radio loving middle-aged pedos who stalked them? Check.
  • by Technician ( 215283 ) on Friday April 06, 2012 @12:17AM (#39594501)

    Not all BBS'es went to 9600 baud. I only went from 300 to 1200 baud before closing my Wildcat BBS. Wildcat is the BBS software, not the BBS name. Fidonet took most BBSes offline in the wee hours for forwarding mail. This store and forward of email is the roots of the modern email and mail relay. It became much faster with always connected machines with more than one line.

    For nastalgia, I still have my original 300 baud genuine Hayes Smartmodem. They were rock solid.

  • by 0111 1110 ( 518466 ) on Friday April 06, 2012 @01:37AM (#39594833)

    And they're better left alone. Let's be careful with those rose tinted glasses. In terms of technology things sucked back then. Things are much better now. I'm old enough to remember 8" floppy disks and all I can say is "good riddance". I hated those BBSs. What a pain that was. And downloading files even with zmodem was so painfully slow.

    I will admit however that I have never been able to find a suitable replacement for the cRPG forum on Compuserve or some of the usenet discussion groups. But pretty much everything else sucked. Technology is one of the few things in the world that get better with time.

    One thing that does seem to have changed for the worse however is the discussion level in forums. I remember discussion forums in the 90s as being a lot more polite and deep, with walls and walls of text and no one complaining about it and well thought out, intelligent replies. Nowadays if a message is too long to have fit in a cell phone text message it is considered a lengthy, impossible to read, wall of text.

    Even on slashdot, I remember the discussions being better 10 years ago. There was a time when the majority of slashdotters even used Linux and knew how to write code. Maybe even assembly language (gasp). It used to also have a high percentage of Libertarians, which was interesting. Now Slashdot seems to be dominated by liberals, socialists, and greens. There was a time when any mention of Democrats vs Republicans was responded to with "What's the difference?". There are still replies like that but they are overwhelmed with hundreds of replies from genuine Democrats and Republicans bickering with each other about their petty differences.

Disraeli was pretty close: actually, there are Lies, Damn lies, Statistics, Benchmarks, and Delivery dates.