Tuesday, June 30, 2009

CompuServe Classic: So Long, Old Friend

No, your monitor won't blank out, your Internet connection won't stall and your PC won't crash, but a major event is about to ripple across the Internet today: CompuServe Classic is closing.

After 30 years the plug will be pulled on what was once the finest online service on the globe. (CompuServe 2000, a newer iteration of CompuServe will continue.)

And the saddest part is that it ends not with a bang, but with a whimper. Ask anyone about CompuServe today and the response will probably be "Are they still around?"

And that's not fair for a service that once meant so much to cyberspace--long before we started calling it cyberspace. It dates to a time when most home PCs didn't even have hard disks, just floppy disk drives, and when most PC users never went online.

CompuServe, the corporate entity, dates to 1969 but the CompuServe Classic online service for consumers debuted in 1979. In 1987 it was the flagship of online services with 380,000 users. A 1991 TV commercial trumpets CompuServe as the only online service with more than a half-million members.

Unfortunately time, and its acquisition by AOL, has not been kind to CompuServe. In recent years it has barely been marketed. Its Web site looks like a throwback to the (gasp!) 20th century. The "build" date on version 4.0.2 of CompuServe for Windows NT, the latest version of the access software for CompuServe Classic, is January 11, 1999.

CompuServe Classic's demise will come six years to the day after MCI Mail, another once-dominant online service, went dark. The text-only service had a Spartan interface but was terribly reliable. Many major corporations used it as their default e-mail service.

CompuServe Classic was home to forums for every profession and special interest imaginable. For example, the old Journalism Forum attracted journalists from around the world and was a hotbed for some of the most lively flaming sessions (that means trading insults, young folks) as well as many intelligent debates.

CompuServe Classic introduced many of us cyberdinosaurs to services we now take for granted.

Online shopping? Stock quotes? Worldwide weather forecasts? CompuServe was providing all of that in the 1980s. Who needs color graphics, music and streaming videos? CompuServe could provide users with what they needed with plain text on a slow dial-up connection.

Today there's Orbitz, Expedia, Travelocity and dozens of other travel sites on the Web, but in the 1980s it was the American Airlines EAASY SABRE service on CompuServe that introduced many of us to online airline ticket booking.

I still remember the joy of watching those first characters crawl slowly across the screen of my Tandy 100 laptop at 300 baud when I opened my CompuServe account in December 1985. How slow is that? Most of us can type faster than a 300-baud connection can send characters.

Even as newer services like America Online began to attract more users and overtake it, CompuServe managed to maintain an air of dignity. Its forums were more professional, its users were more cyber-savvy and the depth of its services and software libraries were far deeper than those of other services.

For example, when AOL started offering unlimited dial-up access in 1996, it didn't have enough modems in service to keep up with the spike in traffic. The result? Constant busy signals. Some users would go to sleep with their AOL connections on so they would have access to it in the morning.

CompuServe, on the other hand, always had the data capacity it needed. AOL's woes led to a memorable CompuServe TV commercial which ended with the punch line: "CompuServe: Get On with It." That bit of cockiness was short-lived, however, as AOL absorbed CompuServe in 1997.

So who will care when when CompuServe Classic goes dark today? I will as I retire my 23-year-old user ID : 72407,3343.

So long, old friend. And thanks.

NOTE: If you're a CompuServe Classic member and you haven't converted your e-mail address to the new system, put this blog down and do it now. You won't be able to do so after today.

Copyright 2009 Stadium Circle Features

52 comments:

Anonymous said...

CompuServe accessed on a CP/M Kaypro a 300 baud served me well from 1984-1992.... and I still have the Kaypro!

pkalina said...

I've had my CI$ account since Jan 1, 1989. Of late, I only used it for dial-up access to the Internet.

I'd stopped checking my 76106.ddd@compuserve.com email; so my first indication that things had changed was when I tried to connect this morning and got this unhelpful message: "?? LOGSTU - System CHK is temporarily unavailable" [Emphasis added]

I understand that it becomes hard to maintain legacy systems -- still if I were AOL I would have found a way to keep me as a $9.95 per month customer. As it is, I quickly got new access for $2 less.

Jim Cameron said...

As founder / Sysop of JForum, The Journalism Forum, I am sad to hear of CSIS's passing. At our peak we had 10,000 members... reporters, editors, photogs and flacks... who were willing to pay $25 an hour to post messages.

The AOL acquisition was the beginning of the end. And of course the growth of the web spelled disaster.

JFORUM closed in 2000 after a nice run of 15+ years. I never made a ton of money running the forum, we did pioneer online journalism.

JFORUM was also the genesis of a ground-breaking lawsuit, "Cubby vs CompuServe" which set the precedent that online services could not be held liable for postings on their service.

Farewell JFORUM... farewell CompuServe!

BillF said...

I was there in the '80s, on a Commodore SX-64 (that big suitcase of a Commodore 64). Wow, seems like eons ago. You wrote a nice piece to close out an era, Robert.

76122.2555 said...

Where would Foxpro be today without Compuserve?

Well, there is no more Foxpro, so there is no more Compuserve...

Kevin said...

I had to do some research to remember the name of the other timesharing service at that time - it was 'The Source', and it started, and I joined, in 1979. (TRS-80 Model I with a 300-baud acoustic coupler modem). CompuServe bought out The Source in 1989. Wikipedia has a good history on CompuServe.

Mijohn said...

I was there on my Commodore 64 and 300 baud modem.

Cool thing was, I was working nights on the copy desk at the Boston Globe and I could check the wires from home. That was hugely convenient.

CompuServe is credited with publishing the first newspaper online, the Columbus Dispatch, in 1980. I assume that happened because CServe was headquartered in Ohio.

RIP, CompuServe. Some of us remember...

Anonymous said...

"Most of us can type faster than a 300-baud connection can send characters"? 300 baud = 30 cps = 6 wps = 360 wpm. Nobody can do 300 baud. World record for typing speed is around 212 wpm, or roughly 177 baud.

Ah, CompuServe. Good times.

Aardvark said...

IIRC, my CompuServe ID was 70541,435 but it has been a very long time!

Meyerson said...

Alas, poor 71047.1221@compuserve.com, I knew it.

Eric said...

I actually performed product support duties for Microsoft on CompuServe long, long ago. (1991-2?)

Regrettably, too many bits of information have gone through my head to remember my old ID. I haven't been on there in at least 15 years.

There are some good memories there. I'm frankly surprised to hear it was still in action, not surprised that it's being shut down, and sad all the same.

BillF said...

Yes, Mijohn, Compuserve was based in Columbus. I was at the newspaper in Sioux Falls, S.D., back in the '80s, checking out the wires from home, too. I also remember using Mosaic through Compuserve as my first exerience on the "World Wide Web." I remember "controlling" a model train in Germany --- making it go and stop by pushing keys. The site would queue up the Internet users. Never could've foreseen what the Web would become.

Robert S. Anthony said...

Thanks for chiming in Mr. Cameron. Compuserve's Journalism Forum was such an interesting place to be long before newspapers and magazines figured out what to do with cyberspace. A lot of today's cyberjournalists owe you a bit of gratitude. It's been a long time since I've used the word "sysop," but you were a mighty good one.

Lynn Kendall said...

Ah, that is a pity. I was sad four years ago when I gave up my account (75152,3640).

AG said...

There was and perhaps never will be, a more vital, engaged community. I treasured my old Ziff ID (72241,1444) for years; one of the best things about being an PC mag alum. (And one of the others is reading work from a much-respected former colleague; hi Bob!)

Chief Light Bulb said...

This is sad, but in some sense it's way past due.

I worked at CompuServe from February, 1990 until December 2002 (almost 13 years). I was there for the rise, fall, and short recovery under AOL before things started heading permanently south.

CompuServe was in so many ways far ahead of its time. I chuckle - and get a bit frustrated - by all of the marketing / PR types who think that social media (chat, instant messaging, user generated content such as messag boards) is brand new. It's old hat to us veteran CompuServe users and employees!

Ray E-C said...

I accessed CS using my Commodore 64 and a Hayes 300 SmartModem jerryrigged into the printer port, circa 1983. Almost a decade later, I helped my employer at the time, a professional association, create its own forum on CS. We flogged memberships to the service and I learned to program forums and menus using their internal process, which I *think* was called Framer... Good times!

George Brickner said...

I joined CompuServe in 1979 as a beta tester. My paid account started on 1 July, '79.
In 2004, when they converted the forum software to Prospero (a mutant form of DelphiForums) and I didn't need a paid account to access the forums, I terminated my Classic account with extreme prejudice.
My old PPN was 70040,104.
It's dead, Jim.

Grace Cha said...

Calling from Hong Kong at the time, I was able to find my way to various forums at CompuServe in mid-90s, made a number of good friends & enjoyed so many cool discussions & hot debates. Then suddenly one day, Internet became more accessible to the public and the community had to change face. A lot more commercialization. I miss those days still.

bowerbird said...

"the source" was better, but
i was on compuserve as well.

i'm shocked it was still online.

-bowerbird

Bob Friday said...

"...long before newspapers and magazines figured out what to do with cyberspace."

Unfortunately, good friend Bob, they/we still haven't, which is why we're in the shape we're in.

But I enjoyed your airtight post.

dre said...

used a VIC-20 with a 300 baud modem to access compuserve.

74345,171

wow, a long way we've become

Anonymous said...

How many Compuserve users ever noticed that all the IDs were octal? No 8s, no 9s.

Anonymous said...

@BillF, you probably mean http://rr-vs.informatik.uni-ulm.de/ (no longer active resp. a redirect to its new home) later relocated to http://rr.informatik.tu-freiberg.de/ and finally shut down not too long ago, see http://rr.informatik.tu-freiberg.de/index.php?con=home&sel=&lang=eng&js=0&

Well, at least they still show some pictures in their gallery...

Louis Epstein said...

I got onto CompuServe because when I got a new computer in the spring of 1986 I got an expansion card that promoted using CompuServe for tech support.I was active to various degrees over the years,and from the end of 1990 to the middle of 1993 was the day-to-day manager of the Showbiz Forum.After I started my own ISP in late 1995 I only reached CompuServe by Telnet,which now generates "System BHC is temporarily unavailable" messages.So anyone who reached me at 73167,2506 or 76702,1562 can say hi at le@put.com.

Amando said...

Not offline at all, at least the time I am writting now.

Just telnet to:

gateway.compuserve.com

And will get the famous login process that amazed us for many years.

User ID:

Hope they will throw it as Open Source as the guys from Guelph University did with BIX (CoSy)

Regards,

Amando
Spain

mike3k said...

I was 70375,350. I first used an OSI Challenger 1P (with a terminal program I wrote myself), later an Apple II, and finally a Mac. I used to check MAUG (the Mac forum) several times a day.

Sharon Bond said...

While the Classic addresses are kaput, the Forums live on at CompuServe, under the Netscape umbrella.

Most of them are shadows of their former glorious selves, but one of the liveliest and most interesting is the Books & Writers Forum, which has been around since the early 1980s.

br0adband said...

Just read about this at [H]ardForum and made this post, so I thought I'd share it here also:

Oh the fun times those were when CIS first went online. I was one of the first 1000 subscribers back around ~1979 (I'm old, specific dates don't matter to me anymore), and my original account ID was 71000,992 so I just got in under that cutoff...

I actually had some CIS engineers in 1984 contact me and ask how I was connecting at 450 baud - and I honestly told them I was using a 300 baud modem with some alterations to the timing (because it was somewhat software controlled, an original Commodore 300 baud modem attached to my beloved C64...). Seems something alerted them because one particular connection node kept showing "higher than normal" connection bandwidth - that's because I showed several friends how to make the mods with the VIDTEX software we were using to connect to CIS and we were all connecting at 450 baud... but I was the first... in the whole damned world, apparently. My "first" claim to notoriety I guess, but not the last.

Now, to everyone that today has multi-megabit connections (and some Gigabit, lucky folks they are), while going from 300 to 450 baud might not seem like much, but that's a 50% speed difference, across the board. And because the entire service was text-based, with some of the compression available in those days (MNP levels, typically with 2:1 so it worked well), it was most definitely noticeable.

Overclocking a modem... in 1984... who woulda thunk it. And because it was still "connecting" at sub-1200 baud speeds, I only got charged the at-the-time price of $.10 a minute, aka $6 an hour for access during primetime evening hours. 1200 baud for those incredibly lucky bastards that could afford the modems (they were like 6x more expensive than a 300 baud) was double that, at $12/hour. During the daytime both doubled...

But those were the days, most definitely. The CB Simulator, the original form of instant messaging, even predating IRC by almost 11 years, was a blast in those days, and where I got my start with "chatting online." The CIS forums predate "Internet forums" by almost 15...

Geez I'm old.

google said...

Thank you for your post, Robert. lots of fond memories about CompuServe. I joined in 1980 when connecting from Italy meant connecting through Infonet at a rate of $48/hour at 2400bps.

I'd been with CompuServe for 12 years, first as a member and then as sysop of the European Forum, and later on as the founder and wizop of the Italian Forum.

CompuServe forums were the top of online communities back in the '80s, with a very dedicated user base. We had people coming from North America to attend our "cisnicks" in Italy, as we used to call our meetings back then.

So long, CompuServe.

Kevin said...

I was 72727,46

Goodbye old friend. Thanks

Robert Roth said...

Nice job, Bob and nice to see some old names here. (Hello Jim Cameron!)

I joined Compuserve in 1983 and JForum was my first forum. (AVSIG was my second.)

While I enjoy having ultraportable high resolution lightweight gear like my Sony TT series instead of my Commodore 64, I will always miss the camaraderie of CIS.

Paul said...

Thanks for the obit Bob.

My first "grown-up" job was as a computer operator at CompuServe in 1973 when we had 3 PDP-10 computers in a converted hardware store in Columbus, and sold timesharing services.

Twenty-seven years, thousands of friends, and innumerable war stories later, I retired as CTO/VP Technology of our Network Services Division.

It was the ride of a lifetime. Thanks to all of you who were CIS members and commercial customers during those golden years. The opportunity to serve all of you made for a dream career for those of us on the other end of the modem.

Paul Lambert

Anonymous said...

70257,2427 says goodbye

Rick Hein said...

106115.3662 says farewell. It was an amazing introduction to the online world.

TinyHunter said...

100022,662 says Good Bye too

Ed Perry said...

73476,1725 bids a fond adieu. I was a doctoral candidate at Stanford when I first accessed CS from my Menlo Park, CA garage with 2400 dialup and an Atari 400. Met Tom Jones (yes, THE transplanted son of Wales) in a US-UK Forum - which resulted in my wife's initial enchantment with online svcs (LOL). Wonderful memories.

pdxdenizen said...

74405,1527 says thank you and goodbye for all the wonderful hours.

Scott said...

I remember beta-testing the offline read-and-post program, Compuserve Navigator for Mac... great program... made one's $12.50/hour go a lot further. "Met" lots of good people there, and read lots of good posts which, I imagine, aren't archived anywhere (though I have an awful lot of them on an old drive somewhere). Goodbye from 73717,1162.

RLM said...

I used the Dos version of compuserve on a green screen 80286 machine as late as 1997!

Stupid AOL, they killed off such an asset. They should have binned the AOL brand and relaunched themselves as CompuServe.

RIP Compuserve, I loved ya.

Rebecca MacGregor
Birmingham, England.

Enzo said...

73447,3667

Since 1986.

RIP CServe, Mike Hollander and the Motorsports Forum.

John said...

71635,1544

Didn't have to look it up my userid, though I hadn't logged in for >10 years. Thanks for the memories!

Lots of good user fora and financial data, pre-Web.

Anonymous said...

Although I was a Compuserve member until the end, I haven't used the Classic software in years. I've been logging on using OE and my internet provider. But just knowing that Classic will no longer be around makes me very sad.

Here is the final farewell from 102421,1641. Good-bye Compuserve Classic, my old and trusted friend.

Ralph D. Wilson II said...

My first venture into the realm of part-time travel agent was via CompuServe. I booked travel reservations on airlines, at a couple of nice B&B's (one in Edinburgh and one in London) and BritRail tickets for 6 of us traveling for 10 days in the UK. I am now an IATA card carrying, part-time travel agent and having fun at it.

My CompuServe ID dates to the early '80's and I shall miss the old CompuServe . . . although, I have to confess that I thought it had passed on shortly after AOL took it over (mostly because I had more and more trouble getting connected to it ;-).

I must go visit the new version!

Karen said...

Hi! 75253,1747 here. I can't believe it's the end of CompuServe. Wow! I was first exposed to a computer in the fifth grade, in 1980. They let us play a simple number guessing game called pico-fermi-bagel. When I realized it was actually reacting to my choices, I was hooked! Early CS was the same type of amazing thing. Using the forums, trying out this thing called "Mosaic", and later laughing at the new upstart, AOL! Good times indeed!

71101,2454 said...

Ah yes, the memories. I first signed up when I bought my first "real" computer around '86 or '87. A 8 MHz XT with 30MB hard drive, CGA and color monitor all for $1100 - a great deal at the time. That and a 1200bps modem from DAK got me on-line.

Navigating the text command lines and later DOSCIM.

CompuServe should go down as a monumental case of mis-management by neglect. How else do you explain going from leader to nothing in a industry that changed America?

Of course, AOL itself is largely a relic now, so I guess they got their reward.

Authentic Connecticut Republican said...

Jim Cameron
>> who were willing to pay $25 an hour to post messages.

Yup! Had my wife ever seen the bill, she would have shot me!

>>The AOL acquisition was the beginning of the end

No kidding. Once pseudonyms were allowed, decorum flew out the window.

I was 73507,1747 and for a time one of Shel Hall's asst. sysops at HOM-62 better known as the CARS Forum.

AOL tossed Shel under a bus and sold the forum to some nut-case.

One by one the better forums fell, massive libraries, some still irreplaceable elsewhere (LAWSIG) are all gone.

Joe Cassara said...

AOL put QuantumLink to sleep under the same circumstances: no fanfare, just a whimper.

CompuServe, GEnie, Delphi, and Prodigy -- what fun those days held!

casino en ligne said...

After I started my own ISP in late 1995 I only reached CompuServe by Telnet,which now generates "System BHC is temporarily unavailable" messages.

Anonymous said...

I was 106522,1172. I loved it. Good community, best "online" time of my life. No lew end comms. I've been connected via an Olivetti M24 with Nec V30 and 1200 bps. I miss this good olf fashioned ID. I miss that good old time with MFM-Disks, checking any interleave, looking for drivers and so on. A part of me has gone...

cjm said...

74176.3204
OMG it popped into my head like remembering my own name/birthday.
You know whats funny... I don't remember when I actually STOPPED using Comp-u-serve, it kida just faded out of my life... WOW,

goodbye old friend, we hardly knew ya!!!
:)and :(

Anonymous said...

Hi, I used to be 100024,1572 -The first one in our company being online and able to get into life concact with developers or customers in the States or Asia. -No need to wait for Floppies being shipped by Air Mail to get Updates or to send document translations to the manufacturers.
Yes it was streightforward to be "online" in 1990 whe I was lucky enough to live in one of the few high speed access port areas in Germany. 1200 Baud! Increditable speed!
Later, when more and more forums were closed, the "internet" got increasing attention and the price politcs let me cancel my membership short before the end of the sevice. Lot of concentration went on "homepages", -well I also changed the company I was working for...
But it´s still a little crack in my heart thinking of. -I still have some of my old business cards with my CIS-ID on it.
Farewell! -It was a funny time!