To many of you reading this, the headline of this article will cause you to stay “Duh.. What is that?” However those who do not know what a CompuServe Forum is, you are unaware that much of your online experience from message boards to live chat rooms to booking airline tickets and reading the latest news all had its origins in the CompuServe Information Service.
Beginning in the late 1970s before the Internet and before AOL there was an online service called CompuServe. It was owned by H&R Block as a way to generate revenue for unused time on computers. CompuServe was sold to AOL in 1998 and as the Internet grew, both CompuServe and AOL faded into the background.
It cost $5 per hour to use CompuServe but there was nothing else like it at the time. I began using it in 1981 and got involved in a forum called “NIPSIG”. In those days didn’t call them “formes” or “message boards”. They were called “SIGs” or Special Interest Groups. NIPSIG stood for “National Information Providers Special interest Group”. It was a gathering place for writers, journalists and other articulate educated people who discussed politics, religion, and all sorts of interesting issues. It was later renamed “Issues Forum”. My particular area of interest was a section for Disability Issues.
The forum administrators in those days were known as “sysops” or System Operators. The sysop of the Issues Forum was an amazing woman named George Griffith. Her day job was transcribing music into braille for the Library of Congress. I learned shortly after I met online that she was totally blind. However it wasn’t until after I had known her for many months that I also learned she was deaf as well. It was a great shock to me.
I had experienced the fact that online people were unaware that I was in a wheelchair and had been so for my entire life. I discovered what a great equalizer the online experience could provide for someone with a disability. People got to me for who I was, and what I believed and thought rather than how I looked physically.
Georgia gave me the opportunity to be sysop for the disability section which earned me a coveted “free flag”. It meant that I could access CompuServe without paying the $5 per hour cost in exchange for my work there is a discussion leader.
A few years later I moved over to another CompuServe Forum called HSX Forum or more formally “Human Sexuality Support Groups” where I was sysop of a section about the sexuality of disabled people. HSX was the brainchild sexuality authors Howard and Martha Lewis. That forum also included discussion groups LGBT issues, fetishes, survivors of abuse, and a variety of other topics related to human sexuality. It was a unique safe place for people to have serious online discussions about such issues.
Eventually I migrated to the “Graphics Forum” where software developers exchanged code and ideas on a newly emerging format for storing graphic information. CompuServe developed this format called the Graphics Information Format or “.GIF”. To this day people debate on whether it is to be announced “gif” or “Jif” with a hard G or soft G. But we didn’t care how you pronounce it. We were just trying to develop software to decode it. The original standard was published 1987 but the real excitement came in 1989 the advance standard allowed for overlapped sub images. These are the foundation of GIF animations that we see today.
Although I cannot prove it, I am certain I was responsible for creating the worlds first pornographic animated GIF ever developed. I took a GIF of a nude woman using a paint program and some other multi-image GIF encoding software that I developed and I painted on a bikini. Then I animated it so that the bikini dissolved.
One of the subsections the Graphics Forum was devoted to creating an open source graphics rendering program called the Persistence of Vision Ray Tracer or POV-Ray. Eventually that project spun off into its own forum where software developers from around the world collaborated to create a remarkable photorealistic rendering engine that is still in use today decades later.
CompuServe Forums were also maintained by major software development to provide technical support for their products. And if the manufacturer’s themselves did not provide such support, community knowledgeable users were always available to assist you tips and tricks and advice.
Friendships which were forged in the CompuServe Forums in the 1980s have lasted to this day. However today we stay in touch by email and Facebook. I hate to admit that I’ve not logged into a CompuServe Forum in 15 years. So the closing of these forums will not leave a hole in my life yet their passing is still bittersweet. To me it’s sort of like your favorite fast food hangout that you visited in high school is closing down even though you haven’t been back in years. You still hate to see it pass away.
This is only a fraction pioneering features that were offered by CompuServe years before the Internet was invented and probably years before many of you were born.
— Chris Young a.k.a. cyborg5 a.k.a. 70136,62
Click here for article from Engadget about the CompuServe Forum closing