CompuServe vs AOL vs…

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Hey everyone. I was just wondering, what, if any, major online services did you guys belong to back in the day before the Interwebz basically took over. Me, I joined CompuServe for a little while in the mid ’90s, and I remember how amazing I thought it was. The thing I liked about it the most was how it didn’t really insult your intelligence. It did seem to attract the more technical types of folks. It even had a gateway to the Internet, and I think that’s the first time I really ever surfed the web. I ended up canceling my account, however, when I switched over to a local ISP.

Of course there was AOL, Prodigy, probably others that I can’t think of right now.

Some insight from any of you that might have used a service like CompuServe in the ’80s would definitely be very interesting. Back then it couldn’t have been a graphical front end, could it? At least not at the beginning?

Comments (14)

14 responses to “CompuServe vs AOL vs…”

  1. evox81

    I never actually used any of those services, at least not personally. I lived in a rural area and AOL, Prodigy and Compuserv never offered local numbers. I was fortunate that our small, rural phone company was actually pretty early to the ISP game. They offered 14.4k service starting in 1995 and my family was one of their first customers.

  2. wright_is

    Compu$pend here. Along with NavCIS for offline reading. It would log on, pull down all waiting messages and post replies, then log off again and hang up the modem. That made being on CIS a great experience, because you didn't use much modem time. I kept with them, right up until the end, because of the forums.

    I was on a couple of UK computer magazine forums and they were very friendly and full of philosophical discussions, people would disagree with each other, but never swear or result to name calling.

    When I made my motorbike license, I joined the CIS forum for bikers. It was a worldwide forum and I met (online and offline) a lot of great people. I even went on several EuroCIS rallies with them (the forum organized tours of Europe every year, one in the summer for 2 weeks and a few others over the year). Really great people. Big Dave is sadly missed, he and his wife Julie were really great people and helped organize the rallies and they had the "Not the New Year's Party" at the end of January every year - because most people have their own parties to go to on New Year's Eve. People used to come over from Europe, the States and even South Africa, just for the party!

    Edit: I also used MSN, when it was released in the UK.

  3. John Scott

    I used both CompuServe and AOL I felt CompuServe was more geek like and AOL was more mainstream consumer portal that was the Swiss Army knife of the web. Neither service was bad and at the time it was a great way to access the web. Except that dial up was notoriously bad in my area and watching even a snippet video took forever to load. It was a different time when I still read articles only did so online.

  4. Paul Thurrott

    I probably used them all. Prodigy had that goofy low-res graphical UI on early 1990's PCs. I used AOL's predecessor, QuantumLink, probably in the late 1980's too.

    My big CompuServe memory was that Microsoft used it for beta product forums in the mid-1990s. It was expensive, so there was no nonsense: You got in, read stuff, answered a few questions, and signed off. Nothing like Internet newsgroups or Twitter or whatever came later.

  5. maethorechannen

    CompuServe. Genie when I was in the US and CIX in the UK.


    Lots of BBSs. Maybe not major (though Fidonet made them "bigger") they were a lot of fun.

  6. ErichK

    Oh that's right, Genie was another one I couldn't think of.


    Yeah, you had to be careful with cost back then. Every minute spent connected was precious.


    Any French citizens here used Minitel? ;-)

  7. wolters

    I started with BBS's in the early 80's. Eventually ran one on a Commodore 64 on 4 1541 disk drives. So much fun being a SysOp.


    As far as online services, I started with Quantum Link on the Commodore 64. It truly was pretty advanced for the day. When I went to the Amiga, I used Delphi for my internet access.


    Then I went back and forth between CompuServe, AOL and Prodigy. I was on Prodigy when web browsing started to take over and I remember how cool it was and how the WWW opened a huge world.


    Overall, I generally used a good dial-up Internet Provider.

  8. Tiny

    All I remember is that I had hundreds (or maybe thousands) of AOL disks. They could be recycled into many useful things.

  9. jchampeau

    Prodigy, then AOL, then CompuServe, then AOL again...I think. AOL opened up a call center not far from me and several friends went to work there, so I ended up with a free "family and friends" account that employees were allowed to give away. And if memory serves, they switched to the advertiser-paid model around that time so I almost immediately began getting what I was paying for.

  10. Winner

    72500, 457 on CompuServe. Somehow I still remember that.

    Prodigy was a slow low resolution mess.

  11. markmagnus

    I used CompuServe and found it an incredible place to learn things. No name calling no rookie shaming like the other sites and todays internet blogs. You could blast the CompuServe system but not individuals. AOL destroyed what CompuServe excelled at when they bought them. No advertising. It worked best (fastest and cheapest) in command mode. I used a program called Tapcis to lower my online bils to practically nothing. I monitored about 20 forums and was an operator on one (free flag).

  12. gregsedwards

    My first introduction to online services was through my university's computer lab around 1992. We had access to Pegasus Mail, as well as Archie and Gopher. I'm unsure whether we could email outside of our own school, but I don't know who I would've emailed at that time anyway. At home, I was getting started with bulletin boards about that time. I recall that I started using AOL in probably 1993 or 94, when it was still a metered service, but I also recall when they switched over to unlimited later on. I think I first used a proper Internet browser (Mosaic) about 1995 in my college computer lab (I recall one of the first sites I visited was Paramount to learn about the upcoming Star Trek Voyager series). I got my first ISP account in 1996; it was a dial-up service owned by the local newspaper. They offered 28.8k speed, a home page, a tiny mailbox, and that was about it.


    I wasted way too much time on those early services, but I feel like it gave me an understanding of telecommunication principles that formed the foundation for everything I've continued to learn since.

  13. mmcpher

    I was on CompuServe way back. I was also the first guy on my block to have a "laptop" (if that's what they were called), a sturdy, black and white Altima, I recall it as the early '90's but it may have been even earlier and it was just scattered text. I think it was pre-AOL. At work, I signed onto and joined an early "Discussion Group" called Lexis Counsel Connect (early '90s) and that was really novel then, to be able to talk to people all over the country in the same field. But no one else where I worked was online or had their own computers at home, or email or any such thing. They didn't even know what I was talking about. The first-ever word processing system we had was something made by Dictaphone, of all companies! By then, I already my Magnovox VideWriter portable word processor/printer at home. I still have the disks somewhere.

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