Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | July 7, 2009

RIP CompuServe

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.



  1. I wondered if you had seen that. I meant to call John about it. We had a walk down memory lane at our house, too:

    The irony that AOL had approached CompuServe to BE acquired not so long before they acquired CIS, but Maury was too overwhelmed as the new CEO to take on acquiring them.

    Infoplex and EasyPlex. Remember 30,701 as a PPN?

    I started at $6/hour, and I remember when I first met you, I thought of you as ‘Dave’s girlfriend’!

    Being able to use a laser printer, pretty much *whenever* I wanted to. My college papers were much enhanced by that!

    Some of the awesome research I was able to use in college papers, for FREE! That was a nice perk of working there!

    Doing the fire walk, when working nights! Or getting in trouble for NOT doing the fire walk.

    MTG, and his hair! If he had a daughter, he wanted to name her Claudia.

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