Ars Technica reports that CompuServe, the information service that “offered a data connection to people across the globe, a connection that few had previously had at home” was quietly shuttered by AOL late last week. I worked at CompuServe as a customer service representative in the mid 1980s. Time for a trip down memory lane:
I remember asking people who called with technical problems if they used MS DOS or PC DOS.
I remember thinking of the 2400 baud modem users as big spenders.
I remember checking out complaints about obscene handles and traffic on CB, and learning a lot of blue terms that I had missed during my fundamentalist Christian sheltered youth.
I remember sysops, and text-based games, and the Executive News Service.
I remember a subscriber who was offended by the “invalid entry” error message that appeared when a user name and password didn’t match, reading the first word as a synonym for “handicapped” instead of as “not valid,” which was the intended meaning.
I remember a customer who tried to tell me that swear words — which he was using liberally during our telephone conversation — were offensive only if I chose to interpret them that way.
I remember retorting that he was choosing them because he knew that’s how they’d be received, foreshadowing my inability to let flawed logic go unanswered.
I remember starting a customer service newsletter with a few other reps, foreshadowing my future careers in journalism and technical writing.
I remember the creator of the GIF graphics format (and I remember that the “g” in GIF is a soft g; the acronym is a homophone for the peanut butter brand Jif).
I remember call quotas, feedback quotas, and how generous the $5.80 an hour I was earning to meet those quotas seemed compared to the $3.35 an hour minimum wage I had been earning at the Lazarus department store chain.
And, CompuServe is where I met my husband.
And all this happened far away from Silicon Valley, in office buildings off Henderson Road in Columbus, Ohio. And, here I am, more than 20 years later, working in high tech in Silicon Valley, after having worked as a newspaper journalist.
Most folks don’t even remember CompuServe, or the important role it played in the early days of the Internet. I remember all of that and, even more, the important role that CompuServe played in my life.