One Man’s Communication Journey Through the Internet

I saw recently that a buddy had celebrated his fifth year of blogging.  Very cool but it made me, of course, start to wonder when I started blogging.  Now, so much depends on what you mean by blogging.  Because blogs didn’t come out of nowhere, they evolved out of prior technologies.  For example, before I had a blog I had a threaded discussion that was part blog, part comments and part conversation.

Before the threaded discussion I had a number of variants, and before that I had a Bulletin Board System (remember BBS’s?)  Actually, I had quite a few, as I contributed to or wrote at least four such systems. 

Before having a BBS I participated in both Internet news groups and Compuserve groups (remember Compuserve? I was, if I remember correctly, 72241,72). These numbers were called PPNs and that stood for Programmer/Program numbers. They were, little did most realize, in octal.

As part of my work on Compuserve, I was eventually made “WizOp” of PCMagNet which was Ziff Davis’ first foray into internet communication (followed later by Interchange, which I helped to write and then by ZDNet; later CNet if I have that right).

The early days were, of course, before commercial sites were allowed on the net, and before the “new”  .com addressing.  My personal email address was something like …uunet!foo!bar!skipnyc!atpal  – where the elipses meant “you know how to get to uunet” and the rest meant, from the uunet backbone, go to foo then go to bar then go to skipnyc then get to me (atpal stood for Atlantic Palisades and was the name of most of my bulleting boards and email for a while).  The interim sites (foo, bar, skipnyc) had to know how to pass along the messages to the next link in the chain.

I can trace my first postings on the internet back to 1984 for certain, and by 1986 or 1987 creating such postings was part of my work.  It has been ever since.  So in some bizarre interpretation I’ve been blogging for… too damn long Smile

What stands out is not only how much better, richer and more pervasive blogging is today, but also what we gave up.  Missing now is (often) the real opportunity for conversation.  We had that in Magpie, in Learning Link, in Interchange (all previous ventures that I was at least tangentially associated with).  The technology may have been more primitive back then, but we had a better sense of conversation than I think we have today.  Especially with “threaded discussions” that allowed you to follow who was replying to which message. 

One of my prouder achievements was a threaded discussion that was created on Unix boxes and updated across Learning Link (PBS) sites at night on the Fido Network. Every morning all the threads on all the discussions were synchronized, allowing transcontinental conversations with regional divergence.

We had endless charming discussions when creating Interchange about whether threaded discussions contributed to understanding or caused confusion. Later, with other sites I built or used, threaded discussions proved immensely useful for targeting the back and forth which is the essence of communication.

In short, I  wonder if we haven’t lost something along the way. We’ve gone from a relatively small number of folks in a virtual room, to a very large number of folks in a virtual lecture hall. 

Given my job, my blog has become less about conversational exchange and more about publishing short articles; it is closer to a specialized narrow-channel magazine than it is to a soap box in a rowdy meeting hall. 

That is fine and good when the goal is to impart useful information, but the truth is that there is a lot of dispersed knowledge out there that would be better expressed in a more open forum.  I’ll be looking for ways to open the blog up to richer conversations over the coming months.

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About Jesse Liberty

Jesse Liberty is an independent consultant and programmer with three decades of experience writing and delivering software projects. He is the author of 2 dozen books and multiple Pluralsight courses, and has been a Senior Technical Evangelist for Microsoft, a Distinguished Software Engineer for AT&T, a VP for Information Services for Citibank and a Software Architect for PBS. He is a Xamarin Certified Mobile Developer and a Xamarin MVP, Microsoft MVP and Telerik MVP.
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9 Responses to One Man’s Communication Journey Through the Internet

  1. Jason P Sage says:

    @Jason P Sage
    28 years in IT – the ten prior I was waiting for my Timex Sinclair with 2k of ram and a cassette recorder 🙂

  2. Jason P Sage says:

    Everyone keeps saying technology keeps changing… it doesn’t change at all. IT has been exactly the same for my 28 years …

    Hardware, OS, Data, Connectivity, Storage, Security, Bandwidth, Upload, Download, Email, Send stuff, Get Stuff, Format Stuff on purpose… format stuff on accident…

    Par for course 😉

  3. JonO says:

    Remember Compuserve? Hell, I remember the Source (I connected at 360 Baud on an acoustic modem) and how upset I was when the upstart Compuserve took it over.

  4. @Anonymous
    I don’t think this is programmer dozens (you had zeros? we had to use oh’s) as much as reflections on rapid changes in how we use the internet (and its precursors) to communicate with one another.

    Fortunately, it is easy to avoid if you find it annoying.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Anyone else want to brag about how long they’ve been wasting time on the internets?

  6. gritter says:

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane, Jesse. My first account on a big system was on GEnie. Before that, it was little home-ran BBS’s.

  7. RSS has really hurt the conversational nature of blogs. I only get the original post in my feed. And when I leave a comment, I have to remember to go back to that site. Otherwise, I’ll loose any replies from the author or other readers.

    Disquss was supposed to fix that, but it hasn’t caught on. Probably because it’s an entity, not a protocol. Twitter now seems to be the place for conversations, but those are constrained in both word-length and duration.

    Perhaps we can do something to fix this. Both RSS and Twitter allow you to choose who you follow, thus reducing noise (arguably). Maybe we can define an ATOM protocol by which blog posts can be linked as replies to one another. An aggregator can combine disparate replies into threads that you can follow in a feed reader. It could work like the Twitter model, but break free of the single-vendor, 140 character, near-real-time constraints.

    Sound feasible? I’ll try to remember to check back for your answer. 🙂

  8. John_Kusumi says:

    I remember the CompuServe Issues Forum. Political discussion seemingly dominated by libertarians. I was a user there when Tiananmen Square erupted in 1989, and the China Support Network was born when I uploaded some founding documents to that forum, and our join list became nationwide immediately. We became like the “American arm” of the Chinese democracy movement.

    (The story continues offline in real life, where CSN was called to Washington to be handlers for Chinese dissidents who had just escaped China. I worked on a scheduling daybook as the Republican National Committee, the Senate Joint Leadership, and think tanks appeared on that schedule…)

    Later (in 1992) I became a VB developer. I got the issue of VBPJ which bannered, “Write a Threaded Discussion Tool.” I meant to get back to that, but managed to lose that copy of the magazine.

    Back in the day, the CompuServe Issues Forum WAS a threaded discussion board.

    In front of me now, I’ve got a project that’s like a blogging engine. I’d love to work in some improved threading functionality. I have two thoughts:

    (1) Damn, I lost that magazine;
    (2) I might have archived data from the CompuServe Issues Forum. If I just studied that, I would see the menu of options and the data structure thusly navigated. But to delve into that data, I would need a 5.25″ floppy drive and drivers to read TRS-80 format diskettes. Hmmm…..

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