With very little fanfare, one of the beginning pieces of the online world we know today has gone away. As of June 30, the Compuserve Classic service ceased operations as an ISP. (There’s another reaction here.) Compuserve was one of the pioneers, along with Delphi, of on-line services for the general public. Although its technology, especially in its early days, was primitive by today’s standards, it pioneered some services that are common on the Internet today. For example, it had an on-line chat service (originally called CB simulator; CB = Citizens’ Band radio). It was a dominant firm in the on-line world for quite some time, having its earliest beginnings in 1969, and carrying on through much of the 1980s.
I got a Compuserve account shortly after I got my first personal computer in (I think) 1983. I can even remember the excitement of upgrading a bit later to a blazing-fast 9600 baud modem. The service was all text-based, and quite usable. Besides chat and E-mail (within Compuserve only, at that point), there were other services offered. I had an Eaasy Sabre™ account, which was an interface to the SABRE reservation system of American Airlines, which I found extremely useful. At that point I was traveling a lot on business, and it was a real aid to convenience to be able to look over schedules, routes, and fares whenever I wanted. There were also discussion forums, reference data bases, and other features.
By the early 1990s, of course, the Internet was growing like topsy, and services like Compuserve and Delphi, with their more or less closed environments, were suddenly much less attractive. But they gave some of us a taste of what was possible, and probably helped the Internet take off.
Cory Doctorow has a post about this at BoingBoing, too; he points out that Compuserve, and the other services like it, helped to prove the business case for on-line services, which turned out not to be just a fad, despite what Bill Gates may have thought.