#3[T1:Al Gore) i'm gonna make a sandwich and invent the internets ... brb
November 29, 2007 12:43 PM   Subscribe

Before instant messaging, before chat groups, before IRC... there was Diversi-Dial. As the eighties became the nineties, the internet grew, and DDial died. Or did it? More than 20 years later--still at 300 baud and on an original Apple ][e--DDial lives on!

Back in the early 1980's, the movie "WarGames" was played repeatedly on cable. Home computers, such as the Apple ][ and the C=64, were becoming affordable, and had ports into which you could plug a modem. Put the peanut butter in the chocolate, and soon, many socially angst-ridden or isolated teens were made aware of each others' presence in surrounding towns and counties via the various BBS's (Bulletin Board Systems) of the time.

But a single BBS where many users could congregate together at the same time was rare. (Compuserve had a multi-user online chat feature at the time, but their rates--around $6/hr--were exorbitant, especially on a kid's paper-route budget.) Enter DiversiDial, written by Bill Basham of Diversified Software Research, which took advantage of the ability to plug seven modems into an Apple ][e at once.

The result? Thousands of teenagers (and some actual weird-ass adults) across North America wasting spending millions of teen-hours talking about everything and nothing, trading wit, barbs, phone numbers, and generally scooping themselves out a social niche where none had existed before.

Meet-ups? Well, imagine a house packed full of intelligent, often nerdy, no-longer-alienated eighties teens, and Budweiser (among other intoxicants) purchased by someone's older sibling. John Hughes would have been proud.

Before AOL. Before the internets. Way, way before MeFi.

If you were a DDialer, nostalgiacize here.
(My local DDial was #5150 in Reveeah, MA, formerly DDial 2112 in Lynnfield.)
posted by not_on_display (38 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Let's play Global Thermal Nuclear War
posted by iamabot at 12:48 PM on November 29, 2007

Curses, thermo :(
posted by iamabot at 12:51 PM on November 29, 2007

DDial got me laid.
posted by Nelson at 12:52 PM on November 29, 2007 [2 favorites]

All my multi-line chat experience came from Galacticomm systems in the 90s. Late to the ball, I guess.

Also, that BBS documentary is quite good, though lacks *desperately* for narration.
posted by absalom at 1:07 PM on November 29, 2007

Awesome. I had the pleasure of being a pre-teen with an Atari computer around 1986, and dialed into an online multi-user BBS regularly.

It was populated by college students, and a couple of kids like me, and a surprising number of cute girls my age whose fathers thought it was safer having them doing this than going out on dates.

So, like Nelson above, multi-user BBS chatting got me laid. Heh.

Funny thing, though; when AOL came around, I moved over to that, and the level of social discourse plummeted. The folks I knew from the BBS were awesome and supportive, and my parents let me hang out with them without any concern (they even drove me to the first meetup I attended.) I grew a lot in a very positive way having met them.

But on AOL, it was all people who came to it as a novelty rather than something their school or their parents introduced them to, and it was like transferring from a college to a high school in another town. Foolish, stupid people for the most part, mostly trying to find people to hang out with and sleep with.

However, it was still early enough in the cycle of things that there were still some attractive, decent people, and by then I had a car, and so AOL also got me laid.

Nowadays, though, you'd be hard-pressed to find a chat room somewhere worth logging into at all, even if all you were looking for was a pleasant hello. Forums are mostly the same thing; luckily, there are still a few populated (mostly) with intelligent and attractive people.

MetaFilter, I'm looking at you.

Let's make it a trifecta.

posted by davejay at 1:19 PM on November 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

DDial, you are no Telidon!

You're actually a lot cooler, what with the beer and getting laid and all. *sigh*
posted by GuyZero at 1:21 PM on November 29, 2007

Let's play Global Thermal Nuclear War
posted by iamabot at 12:48 PM on November 29 [+] [!]

Curses, thermo :(
posted by iamabot at 12:51 PM on November 29 [+] [!]

That's OK. No reason for us to catch cold.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 1:26 PM on November 29, 2007

I'm amazed and horrified that Google searches for my name bring up links to documents that I posted on BBS's in the early 90's, including my own (mostly really bad science fiction short stories). Why won't this crap die! Curse you, BBS archives!

Every once in a while, I'm nostalgic for the 'good ol' days' of Wayne Bell, WWIV and Rengade/Telegard/forum hacks. Being a sysop in those days was a great power trip for otherwise powerless geeks.

(Oh, and I accidently posted this in the "Lost in Static" thread. Whatta dummy.)
posted by magnificentsven at 1:28 PM on November 29, 2007

In the 80s, Unix's 'talk' was instrumental in my devirginisation. And uucp... you could say that bang paths led to an RL bang.

Thank you Unix.
posted by meehawl at 1:30 PM on November 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

This is very interesting, because in my area there was only a handful of BBS's with multiple phone lines. They were very popular, mostly because of the chat.

Ironically, I would often go over to a sysop's house and hang out if he only had one line, and we would chat that way. Somehow RL interaction got encouraged. My area was all WWIV and Renegade too.
posted by butterstick at 1:47 PM on November 29, 2007

My first three girlfriends: I credit DDial, too. The ratio of intelligent users to lunkheads was extremely high back then, as computers were not so user-friendly back then, and required some level of smarts to make work. So the fact that you could turn one on and load a program instantly would put you on a level of competency and shared experience that not many people were at back then.
Whereas nowadays...
posted by not_on_display at 2:01 PM on November 29, 2007

Oh, BBSes. Sometimes I almost curse the internet for nearly extirpating their breed.

Even amidst the web's Javex 3.0 spokesonomy somesuch with its rounded edges and reflective surfaces and tags and etc., those old ANSI layouts still stick in my mind as singularly beautiful. Maybe because, reliant only on the most basic character sets available to those communicating at slow speeds, they exemplified the spirit of bulletin boards - taking simple, cold technologies and, through application of knowledge and inimitable personal style, doing something which ended up feeling almost warm, and, at the best of times, really quite subtle and complex. ANSI artwork and menus were a kind of free-form map of the uncanney valley where integrative communications technology and clumsy, confused people still very much locally based (remember long distance charges) met.

I've no particular affinity for technology per se, and, contrary to the stereotype of the BBSer, I had real-life friends. I think the appeal was that of a system based in smaller, more open-ended technologies and human-scale networks. Sometimes the web is too clean, too user-friendly, you know? As the connections grow more complex, the interactions become simpler. The internet is immensely helpful, but sometimes too obvious. And yet invisible at the same time.

BBSes still felt kind like a sort of frontier, and also an underground. And they weren't ubiquitous. Constant high-speed access is nice, but there was something momentous, in however small a way, about opening up Procomm+, with its viscerally clunky PC-speaker sound effects, selecting from the list of boards with names ranging from the sublime to the prurient to the downright weird, and hearing the atonal music of a 1200-baud modem connecting. And then watching the characters scroll upward along the dark screen.

I always liked that darkness, the black backgrounds. Back then it was pragmatic - there just wasn't bandwidth for full colour. But now it feels like it signified the open space - and gave a necessary reminder of the inherent limitations, the coldness - of the medium. Potential and loneliness at the same time. It was something separate from you, but willing to envelop you for a time, if you had the imagination. It let you in, but it kept its distance.

I wouldn't say I miss it. It was never a lifeline for me like it was for some - it was just a window into another world I had no access to otherwise, and so it attracted me for the same reasons (more or less) that books, psychedelics, music, swimming and sex did (and still do). It could be just as alienating as anything else. But it was nice to take that dive now and then. And it did feel like a dive. The modern net feels like a warm bath you eventually forget you're taking. It's banal. BBSes were an escape from banality, with all the good and bad that implies.

Anyone for a game of BRE?
How about LoD?
posted by regicide is good for you at 2:09 PM on November 29, 2007 [9 favorites]

I never got laid due to DDial, but I got massively drunk at the age of 13 at a party or two run by the sysop for my DDial, Out Of The Blue in NYC. Divirginization had to wait until VAX/VMS.
posted by Aversion Therapy at 2:09 PM on November 29, 2007

I'm not sure if it's the pit stains, the 'stache, or the Metallica T-shirt, but there's something about this portrait from a party that's just perfect.
posted by uncleozzy at 2:10 PM on November 29, 2007

A lot of DiversiDial boards around the counrty connected to each other via a service known as PC Pursuit which developed out of Telenet, the first publicly accessible packet-switched network.

With PC Pursuit you could connect to BBSs around the country, for no more than a local phone call between the hours of 6:00 PM and 6:00 AM.
posted by BlueMetal at 2:11 PM on November 29, 2007

P.s. Holy crap, I (very vaguely) remember pretty much every person pictured at the Queens parties in this link.
posted by Aversion Therapy at 2:17 PM on November 29, 2007

Wow, these remind me of the big Detroit area (well, really 810 and 248) local BBS I regularly used in the mid-90s, (I)ndustry. While photos of users linked above are disturbingly similar to those of the local folks, I'm not surprised.

If anyone's interested, here they are.
posted by c0nsumer at 2:33 PM on November 29, 2007

Congratulations, not_on_display, you've damned near invented the term "nostalgiacize".
posted by cgc373 at 2:33 PM on November 29, 2007

All the cool kids are smoking dope in the bathroom and they left the squares outside.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 2:47 PM on November 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

Ahhh.... I was on RMAC (the Dallas-Fort Worth DDial system) around 1986. Those were great times. I sometimes wonder if the gang is still around these days.
posted by chips ahoy at 3:03 PM on November 29, 2007

--> #5 Cutoff in 30 sec
#5[T2:non] Give me a /v!
#5[T2:non] PLEASE give me a /v!
#5[T2:non] crap

Ahh.. good times!
posted by chips ahoy at 3:07 PM on November 29, 2007

I can still whistle the 300 bps connect noise, thanks to a 1 hour time limit and only six lines on God's Country (708).

Chicago area nostalgatizers can get all goopy here.

As one of five or six girls out of a user list of 300, heck yes the ddial got me laid.

I'm still in contact with a lot of the people off that board almost 20 years(!?) later. In fact, I named my daughter after the first guy who gave me the co-sysop password to play with.

Ahh, now to find somewhere where people will whine about high school sucking and type in Depeche Mode lyrics while I watch the Judge Thomas confirmation hearings on CNN...
posted by Gucky at 3:11 PM on November 29, 2007

Does anyone remember Jim Penny's similar system in the Houston area, mid 1980s? Damned if I can remember the name...
posted by paddbear at 3:15 PM on November 29, 2007

Crap. I had a huge nostalgic, link filled fiesta of postiness. Then I accidentally googled something in the same window.

Crap again, I say.
posted by Samizdata at 3:24 PM on November 29, 2007

And I could whistle 2400 baud.
posted by Samizdata at 3:25 PM on November 29, 2007

I kinda miss the BBS days. Frantically trying to articulate a point in a chat window when my typing skills were still coming into their own...

Great times.

Amusingly, I married the woman that introduced me to the world of BBS, and all of my closest friends today are people that I chatted with online back then.

Hell, my very favorite job was a direct result of those late night bullshitting sessions.
posted by quin at 3:52 PM on November 29, 2007

The pics are fantastic.
posted by gnutron at 3:56 PM on November 29, 2007

Wow. this is kind of cool.

Maybe y'all geeks can help: I'm looking for the info from the old Illuminati Online BBS about a group where people would write stories about a university called IOU (Illuminati University.) I think sjgames turned it into a roleplaying game, but I just want to find the old stories. Google turns up a lot of -actual- conspiracy theory, but no fun stories.
posted by anotherpanacea at 4:45 PM on November 29, 2007

My father got a membership at Compuserve back around 1981. I ran up a 250 dollar bill the month I found the CB simulator and that was the end of that.
posted by JaredSeth at 5:01 PM on November 29, 2007

Ha, let me also say that my first . . . several. . . wonderful female encounters came from my BBSing. In later years, as I look back, I smile at the irony that the brace-faced, pale, lanky compu-nerd was getting far more female attention than all those other groups that made life so horrible for brace-faced, pale, lanky, compu-nerds.


And, on a related note, it was always a higher quality gal.
posted by absalom at 5:27 PM on November 29, 2007

Myspace got me laid. I feel like such a luddite.
posted by Cyrano at 6:27 PM on November 29, 2007

I'm so embarrassed
posted by pjern at 7:00 PM on November 29, 2007 [2 favorites]

As one of five or six girls out of a user list of 300, heck yes the ddial got me laid.

#3[T1:Al Gore) yeah? what kinda music you into?

Thanks for the comments. I've been satisfactorily nostalgiacized.
posted by not_on_display at 9:36 PM on November 29, 2007

Solopsist, you're a dead ringer for Kevin Smith! That's amazing.
posted by V'Ger at 10:19 PM on November 29, 2007

Or Kevin Smith can look at my current picture and see what he has to look forward to :)
posted by pjern at 11:42 PM on November 29, 2007

Actually, looking at that picture from so long ago, I'm trying to remember when and where it got taken. I seem to remember that it was at a meetup at someone's apartment on the north side of Chicago, most probably in the summer or fall of 1989. I didn't wear that hat much after 1990 or so. I think I was just a little slow at hiding from the camera or was just caught looking up. I remember someone having a cheap disposable-style camera at the meetup.
posted by pjern at 12:08 AM on November 30, 2007

My DDial #62 became STS-12 (The Jungle). Yes it did get me laid. ;)
posted by stew560 at 8:01 PM on November 30, 2007

Anyone for a game of BRE?
How about LoD?

Holy crap. Blast from the past.

I met my ex-fiance on a BBS of all things. I live in a small town though so I had never even heard of a multi-line BBS until ya'll mentioned it. You elitists!

I hate to admit, I got 1 14.4 modem for my birthday one year and thought I ruled.
posted by CwgrlUp at 5:40 PM on December 1, 2007

« Older Classic post-punk music videos   |   Revenge! Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments