Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Online Messaging Systems of Yesteryear

Jeremy Reimer (via Adam Engst):

PLATO was an educational system that began in 1960 and was nearing its fourth iteration. It was responsible for many computer firsts, such as the first flat-screen plasma display, which launched in 1972 with PLATO IV. These touch-enabled, 512×512 graphical displays looked like they came from the future. And while it couldn’t talk to ARPANET, every PLATO user at every terminal could communicate with each other all over the world.


CBBS was instantly popular and spawned dozens of imitators. Since long-distance charges applied for calls outside one’s hometown, local BBS sites bloomed in cities all over North America, Europe, and Japan. BBS systems at first delivered only text, which was fine since that’s all personal computers could offer. In later years, support for the ANSI standard added color and special characters like those found on the IBM PC and clones. But when you called a BBS, it didn’t matter what computer you had or what computer the BBS was running on. An IBM PC user could call up an Amiga-based BBS with no problems.


Meanwhile, ARPANET had merged with PRNET and SATNET in 1977 to form what was increasingly being called the “Internet.” Other networks joined in the fun, like the Unix to Unix Copy Protocol (UUCP) network, which was eventually renamed the Users’ Network, or simply Usenet.


The “Eternal September” arrived in 1993, when American On-Line (AOL), the most popular online service in the world at the time, with 1.25 million subscribers, added Usenet access. Along with an estimated 60,000 BBSes in the US alone, with an estimated 17 million users worldwide, a lot more people were getting online. But it was a mere foreshock of what was about to come.

AOL, CompuServe, Prodigy, and others also had their own communities, distinct from Usenet and the Web. It’s hard to believe given Ping and Apple’s other recent efforts, but eWorld was actually really good.


Update (2024-05-22): Ron Amadeo (via Nick Heer):

Google Talk, Google’s first-ever instant messaging platform, launched on August 24, 2005. This company has been in the messaging business for 16 years, meaning Google has been making messaging clients for longer than some of its rivals have existed. But thanks to a decade and a half of nearly constant strategy changes, competing product launches, and internal sabotage, you can’t say Google has a dominant or even stable instant messaging platform today.

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Although I only saw ads for PLATO back in the day, I have played with it now thanks to Thom Cherryholmes over at [IRATA.ONLINE]( There are clients for retro and new computers.

Although the commands take some getting used to, the service is pretty amazing for what it does. I wish I would have using it back in the day for a taste of some of the things we take for granted today.

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