For those who remember Prodigy, CompuServe, AOL
May 12, 2014 5:03 PM   Subscribe

Memories of a Bette Midler Message Board Childhood: Reminiscences from the early days of talking to strangers online.
posted by mudpuppie (30 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Comcast is working hard to put their customers into a new Prodigy.
posted by ocschwar at 5:20 PM on May 12, 2014

I don't remember what I did last Thursday, but I still remember my Prodigy ID. Also, I seem to vaguely recall that emailing was extra, or super limited, so people from my message board would take an E ID that no one in the family was using and small groups of us would have the ID and password and send emails to our own ID so we could work around whatever limit prevented us from emailing each other.
posted by Ruki at 5:37 PM on May 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm going to have to use “This is Bette’s day. Stop making it about you" everywhere.

That being said, my friends and I started the Homer Simpson Fan Club on a Usenet in the mid 1990s. Our e-mail addresses from when we were 14-15 are still out there on the internet somewhere.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 5:43 PM on May 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

Even before AOL and Prodigy there was the BBS. It had some protocol, I can't even remember the name, that ran on a batch basis. Every 5 minutes or so new messages would come in from places like Australia and you would answer, and 5-10 minutes later the replies would show up. It was like magic, near real time chat all across the globe.

I kind of miss those innocent days when all this was so wondrous and new.
posted by COD at 5:51 PM on May 12, 2014 [7 favorites]

Funny, also, when I was 14-18, I used to post on a message board for people who watched All My Children. I would say everyone else was an adult, but they totally respected what I thought of the show. When I was 16, I convinced my mother to take me into New York to go to a get together of these ladies. I assume it was incredibly strange for her, to be spending the day with her teenager and her teenager's middle aged friends. But I have to tell you, they were great, and I am still friends with some of them 20 years later.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 5:56 PM on May 12, 2014 [14 favorites]

COD: Do you mean FIDONET?
posted by I-baLL at 6:00 PM on May 12, 2014 [5 favorites]

My Prodigy memories are mostly playing MadMaze and Carmen Sandiego, and reading some illustrated books (Secret Garden is the one I remember most, but I'm pretty sure there were some others). And asking game questions on Sierra games. And.. I have this image in my mind of -some- conversation thread, but can't imagine what I would've been talking about.

CompuServe is mostly white, in my mind. I think I played some MUD on it. And downloaded games like Mordor and Castle of the Wind.
posted by curious nu at 6:01 PM on May 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

COD: "Even before AOL and Prodigy there was the BBS. It had some protocol, I can't even remember the name, that ran on a batch basis. Every 5 minutes or so new messages would come in from places like Australia and you would answer, and 5-10 minutes later the replies would show up. It was like magic, near real time chat all across the globe. "

FIDONet. Some nodes connected to others quite often (there was even a real-time satellite feed for receiving messages at one time), while others connected to their zone controller nightly or even less often if long distance charges were involved.

First time I ever met someone IRL that I had first met "online" was in the 7th grade when one of the older kids who ran a BBS I used regularly outed me. It would have been quite traumatic if my reluctance to talk to people had something underlying it other than plain-jane social anxiety. Happily, it was not and I ended up meeting some pretty neat folks. Philip was kind of a dick, but his neighbor Brian was one of the coolest cats evar. It was kind of funny when Trade Wars would leak into real life.
posted by wierdo at 6:06 PM on May 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

I distinctly remember my early forays into forums. Not AOL, but in high school I started out on a local FreeNet and later, when we got access to netnews (thanks, Prairienet!), was part of a group that took over for a while, as it was deserted and we were bored weirdos who needed a place to crack Monty Python jokes at each other. I was always mostly a lurker, like I am here, but I wound up following a number of groups. And one time I Had! Had! Enough! of those losers crossposting to, overcame my natural lurker reticence through the power of Internet Rage, and posted something that grandly concluded with a brilliant crack that at least I knew how to spell the object of my fandom's name correctly, unlike the "Alannis" idiot I was responding to.

On cold, lonely nights, I can still hear the echoes of their humiliating flaming responses in my dreams.
posted by sldownard at 6:10 PM on May 12, 2014 [5 favorites]

Also, you can tell that my nick (if properly spelled) is quite apropos because one of my favorite things to do on Prodigy was to play with EasySABRE and see where I could go, how I could get there, how much it would cost, and imagine what it would be like in Miami or London or wherever. Oh, the things kids will do for a good time.

Travelocity was pretty nice when it finally brought airline bookings to the open Internet some years later, but couldn't do complex routings among a lot of other useful things. (It was originally little more than a frontend for the more basic functions of EasySABRE)

The other thing that was kind of neat about Prodigy was how it used mainly vector graphics, akin to the (later) RIP protocol on BBSes. Not like AOL and its crappy low res raster graphics.
posted by wierdo at 6:14 PM on May 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


oh my god I had completely forgotten about this
posted by curious nu at 6:16 PM on May 12, 2014 [3 favorites]


Ahh, the good old days in CU. I remember Prairienet, too.
posted by professor plum with a rope at 6:24 PM on May 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

This may be weird but I feel like an important turning point in my life was the first time I talked to a gay person, on an AOL message board about (I think) Final Fantasy Tactics. I was probably 10 or 11 at the time and probably hadn't thought about gay people much at all, so the fact that the first one I "met" was just a normal person who also liked this video game probably cemented in my mind that queer people were not whatever the teachers at my Catholic school would tell me they were a few years later.

Also it was weird to revisit that game a few years back, look up a walkthrough on GameFAQs and recognize the AOL screen names of a bunch of the contributors.
posted by dismas at 6:57 PM on May 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

I loooooove this piece. Thanks!
posted by stoneandstar at 7:00 PM on May 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

One weekend when I was in high school he carefully re-covered my remedial math book in clean brown paper and titled it, in his trademark, all-capitals handwriting, “MATHEMAGICS.” I was seventeen years old, I was learning to divide, there was nothing magic about the math in my life.

posted by maryr at 7:32 PM on May 12, 2014 [4 favorites]

BTW, I googled my old Prodigy ID recently and to my absolute horror, it brings up my old Tripod page. Which is still there. Last updated 2/22/98.
posted by maryr at 7:35 PM on May 12, 2014 [5 favorites]

Starting in '79, I spent most of my time on PLATO. Better conversations in the notesfiles, and crazy conversations in the chat rooms (talkomatic) and instant messaging (TERM-talk).
posted by brianstorms at 10:27 PM on May 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

My original online "handle" was based on the name of the protagonist of Wolfenstein 3D, "BJ" Blackowitz.

My dear father apparently decided not to convince me to use a different name, so I wandered the BBSes (and Prodigy, and CompuServ) discussing the X-files and trading video cassettes of the first season with a wildly inappropriate username for a 12-year old.
posted by beerbajay at 10:40 PM on May 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

I messed around on a few local BBSes in the late eighties, including one maintained by a friend that was sort of an online "secret headquarters" for our little group of pals.

Then at the end of 1988, I got an account on CompuServe. I used it to read news and do online research - there was a surprisingly large amount of info online even then, if you knew where to look - and mostly lurked on some of the message boards for scifi, music and sports fans.

I still remember the first time I ran across an email address for a semi-famous person - a jazz bassist who I'd heard on several albums - and I wrote him a message asking if he was indeed *that* Joe Bassplayer. He wrote back and confirmed that it was him, and we had a brief, pleasant exchange of music-related emails before going on our respective ways. It seemed kind of cool that I could write to somebody whose name I'd only seen on album covers, and have him write back and actually carry on something of a conversation.

I kept the CompuServe account active for a number of years, but also tried both Prodigy and AOL to see how they compared. I didn't keep Prodigy for too long, but held on to the AOL account for quite a while, as my email address there somehow became the one that family members and friends who also were online all seemed to remember.

There are things I miss about those days, but paying an hourly fee for access sure isn't one of them!
posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 12:30 AM on May 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

OBEN. The Oingo Boingo Electronic Network. At least, I think that was what the acronym stood for. Where I made electronic pen pals and talked about Oingo Boingo.

This was 1993 - it was a big time for them. New album, Nightmare Before Christmas, the Halloween show (oh god, the Halloween shows!)... And there I was, 16 years old, fond of skeletons and too nerdy for even my nerd high school.

And since we were on a college campus, we had that relatively high-speed internet access, which meant that even though I didn't have a computer at home, I could spend hours trolling GOPHERs and use that new Mozilla to look up bands and find Oingo Boingo stuff.

And then I found mailing lists. And there was the X-Files Teen mailing list, and the They Might Be Giants mailing list (where we interpreted lyrics and I suddenly became cool because I knew what "Pencil Rain" was about), and it was very good times.

So whenever I ended up over at a friend's house, and they went "We have AOL!" or "Here's a BBS!" I would go "This isn't very exciting - how can I get into my email? We were just trying to figure out how to best arrange 'Fingertips' on our CD players!"
posted by Katemonkey at 1:58 AM on May 13, 2014

I was in middle school when we had Prodigy, and my strongest memory of it is that one time I mentioned it to someone as we were waiting for a class to start, and a girl in the class who was kind of a know-it-all overheard me, leaned in and said, "It's pronounced protégé."
posted by doctornecessiter at 4:19 AM on May 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

GEnie represent!
posted by Foosnark at 5:27 AM on May 13, 2014

maryr: "BTW, I googled my old Prodigy ID recently and to my absolute horror, it brings up my old Tripod page. Which is still there. Last updated 2/22/98."

Oh God, it never occurred to me to google my old AOL handle before. LUCKILY, someone who plays full-tilt poker is using the same handle and that has flooded google results. PHEW.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:30 AM on May 13, 2014

I had an ancient IBM PC from 1982 that I was able to run prodigy on. The cga graphics adapter was supported, albeit in black & white.

I look forward to the day when I can pick up my walker and tell the kiddies of when the internet was in black & white. And we LIKED* it that way.

* Not really. Spending four hours downloading a gif from a bbs that may or may not be a vagina requires a patience that no longer exists.
posted by dr_dank at 7:09 AM on May 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

Oh man, those days. I was so stupid back in those days. I had boyfriends in North Carolina and California that I'd "met" on The Sierra Network. CA boy and his mother flew out to where I lived once, and I met up with him (and his mother, she was always there) at the barn where I boarded my horse. My parents never knew (and 20 years later, still don't, because I don't have the nerve to tell them). Looking back, I have no idea what his mom was thinking. He met my friend whose parents ran the stable, and she later let slip that I was going with a high school boy to homecoming or something and had been going steady with him for a while. There were emphatic negations from me (all lies), via whatever passed for email back then, and then things spiraled down from there. God, it's embarrassing. I was mostly a nice girl, but ugh, this was just so awful of me.

I had no idea at the time how terrible meeting up with him could have been. I could have exposed the folks at the barn to who knows what, but it never even occurred to me to question whether he was what he said he was. Those were innocent days, I suppose. About the only good thing that I can say about that whole debacle is that CA boy mailed me a massive mix tape that introduced me to a bunch of non-country, non-60s/70s oldies music for the first time, including Oingo Boingo, NiN, and Toad the Wet Sprocket, which had a huge impact on my musical tastes.
posted by ashirys at 8:24 AM on May 13, 2014 [5 favorites]

BTW, I googled my old Prodigy ID recently and to my absolute horror, it brings up my old Tripod page.

I'm pretty sure telling us that without sharing the link to said Tripod page can get you banned here. Or at least it should.
posted by COD at 9:23 AM on May 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

Ha ha, yeah, I just looked around and it contains my advice for how to build an online RP Sailormoon character, so, no, I am not linking that.
posted by maryr at 12:01 PM on May 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

I frequented a handful of BBSes in the greater Worcester, MA area in the late 80s, but my main hangout from 1989-1991sh was Q-Link, the national Commodore 64-centric precursor to AOL. Predictably, there was a Monty Python chat room where nerd kids & nerd grown ups could hang out & play "who can come up with and recognize the most obscure quote." I spent a lot of time there.

From time to time I think how cool it would be to host a telnet-based BBS somewhere. Then I realize that even if I gave a bunch of nerd friends accounts, nobody would ever actually use it.
posted by usonian at 12:11 PM on May 13, 2014

Ctrl+F "excalibur logotype"

0 of 0

Boo! :(
posted by stenseng at 1:35 PM on May 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

I was 15, ran a Judy Garland fan site, & wondered why everybody thought I was gay.
posted by broken wheelchair at 6:10 PM on May 13, 2014 [4 favorites]

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