The forgotten social network that existed even before the Internet |

The Internet has changed the world in just three decades. But before every computer in the world with a connection could fully access all that the web had to offer, there were closed systems which, after being implemented in large corporations by connecting to the same machines or servers, began to give first glimpses of communication. potential that the network of networks would have years later. And the largest representative of these closed communities, which ended up being very open, was the one promoted by CompuServe.

CompuServe opened in 1969 as part of Golden United Life Insurance of Ohio. Its purpose was to provide a time-sharing service for businesses. In other words, large companies had contracted servers to support their local connections, very expensive services at the time, and the purpose of time-sharing solutions was to share hourly contract surpluses with third parties when they were not in use. That is, outside working hours: for the private public.

The idea of ​​offering a similar service to consumers seemed a little risky in 1979, when personal computers were still owned by very few people. However, it worked. The arrival of devices like Radio Shack’s TRS-80 Model 100, a very basic but affordable early computer, helped.

Those early computers were simply typewriters with a connection, and CompuServe began using a technology called “videotext” that allowed text to be sent over the phone. This helped provide information, including the latest news. A precedent was born for online newspapers.

In its early years, CompuServe attracted only a thousand users who lived near the offices of its parent provider. The next year he was purchased by H&R Block, Inc.. who provided the necessary financial support for the rapid growth of the network.

By using videotext, CompuServe enabled users to access a wide variety of information from home. Users can access databases that provide current information, buy concert tickets, read weather forecasts, sports scores and stock quotes. However, the rate of use of many of these services has not met the company’s expectations, as it has proved difficult to change consumer behavior; many simply preferred to use the telephone or other conventional channels to purchase their goods and services, a common practice at the time.

The first date of “e-mail” and the first forums.

The CompuServe logo

CompuServe is also the first time anyone wrote the word “e-mail,” a contraction of “electronic mail.” CompuServe users subscribed to its service and could pay per hour connected or per text sent, which gave rise to the term.

Over time, forums, bulletin boards appeared. In the early 1990s, CompuServe became famous for its over 450 technical support forums; all major software developers and computer manufacturers, such as IBM, Microsoft, and 3Com Corporation, have started hosting their own bulletin boards to share information and answer questions from their users. Apple too, with Steve Wozniak answering user questions himself.

Over time, CompuServe has made these unique communities its marketing base. They ran magazine ads, like the one you see below, claiming that “last night” all classical music lovers and Apple users gathered on CompuServe.

He also created a kind of Netflix information at the time, which is recovering after the arrival of paywalls at many newspapers. By 1982, at least 10 major newspapers offered online editions through CompuServe, including The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and San Francisco Examiner.

This video shows how this information system worked in the early 1980s:

In early 1981, CompuServe executives boasted that they had 10,000 subscribers. By the mid-1990s, subscribers numbered in the millions and consumer services accounted for more than half of the parent company’s revenue.

But, of course, we all know how the story ended.

From its acquisition by AOL to its dilution with the advent of the Internet.

CompuServe began to face increasing competition as the cost of servers fell. However, she still sticks to her hourly rates. And, of course, the advent of the Internet was the final nail in his coffin.

Its online consumer service was eventually sold to AOL, which discontinued it soon after. today, his website is still open as the news aggregator of Yahoo!, which in turn acquired AOL in 2021.

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