After 30 years in business, CompuServe, one of the pioneering companies in Internet technology closed its doors on Monday. Or, rather, AOL shut it down. Nevertheless, it’s an interesting note, at least for me, to remember there was a time of dial-up 2800-56K modems and browser wars. (According to the source in Tom Krazit’s CNET story, “Only 7 percent of U.S. residents still use a dial-up service to access the Internet, according to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project.”) I lived and worked through that era which moved at a breakneck speed and was filled with innovation. Hum, similar to now with all the social media and Web 2.0.
I worked at a Seattle Internet start-up called Spry, which was bought by CompuServe for $100 million in 1996. As the PR manager, I took a position with the newly renamed CompuServe Internet Division. But CompuServe was a conflicted company. Here was a technology company based in Columbus, OH and, at the time, a subsidiary of H&R Block, the parent company. Because of their traditional corporate culture established by H&R Block, they never had the management or leadership to foresee and make CompuServe a player beyond the dial-up market. I remember the suits that came to Seattle to start the transition. They seemed so uncomfortable in this new, fast-moving khakis and Polo-shirt environment. They tried, but finally sold off to rival AOL that has kept the company on a respirator for many years.
Still, CompuServe was ahead of its time in the late 80’s and 90’s and should be remembered as one of the early innovators in building Internet communication so communities (they called them Forums) could form and thrive. Hum, similar to where we are now, except with a new set of clothes and a bit more speed!