CompuServe: A Ground Breaking Online Fades Out After 40 Years

Posted by Michael Pinto on Jul 5, 2009 in Tech |

CompuServe photo by Guille Avalos

Above: CompuServe hit their high point during the golden age of 300 baud modems. Photo by Guille Avalos.

Founded in 1969 CompuServe was an early powerhouse of connecting people online before the era of the web. And at the end of June AOL killed off CompuServe Classic which was the last surviving bit of that service, the only thing now left is a tombstone “web portal” and a low rent ISP service. It’s a sad ending, but once upon a time in the 80s and early 90s CompuServe was THE online service.

The company started life a subsidiary division of a life insurance company that sold time sharing on mainframe computers (because the cost was so high for the hardware companies would rent time when the machine weren’t in use). By 1975 they were spun off to being a public listed company only to be acquired by H&R Block in 1980. But the real breakthrough occurred in the 80s when they started offering their services to home based PC users. This was the dawn of consumers getting online, granted they were geeky consumers — but a start is a start!

The CompuServe Information Manager

Above: The CompuServe Information Manager was introduced around 1990 in an attempt to play catch up with services like America Online and Prodigy. At this point the geeks still loved CompuServe, but sadly the other companies were opening the doors to a larger less nerdy market.

In fact in the early days of the service you’d see there ads in very geeky places like Omni magazine. Or for example I remember during science fiction conventions of that era CompuServe would host a party. As a company they were fanboy friendly on every level hosting many science fiction forums, in fact the first attempt at an online comic book was created on the service. CompuServe was also famous in the early days for allowing users to get an actual internet e-mail address, their competition at that point were walled garden services like America Online and Prodigy that were onto themselves.

However the one bad thing about having geeks as your primary market is that if you don’t adapt they tend to move on in time. CompuServe started to fail once the era of graphic user interfaces started to dawn, and with the dawn of the web services that offered walled gardens started to seem less useful over time. But to recapture those golden moments of yesteryear here’s a gallery of the good old days:

Compuserve Quick Start Guide

The Compuserve Quick Start Guide from 1994, found via Flickr user sdobie.

CompuServe ad from the 80s

This vintage 80s ad for CompuServe emphasized both the business and fun side of the service. Found via Flickr user Alan Meiss.

CompuServe ad

This interesting undated ad (most likely from the late 80s) shows off the ecommerce abilities of CompuServe, and in many ways they were right about being ahead of their time (although that’s no always a good thing in business). Found via Flickr user sa_steve.

CompuServe ad showing off early use of email

This 1983 ad for CompuServe talks about a new service called Email which would allow you to “compose, edit and send letters to friends or business associates”. Found via Flickr user sa_steve.

CompuServe ad which features a CB Simulator

This ad from the same era features CompuServe’s “CB Simulator” which was what we would call a chat room today. What interesting is that from this ad you can see how CB radio handles went from the real world to online. Found via Flickr user sa_steve.

This 1987 television ad shows how ahead of their time that CompuServe was, it’s important to realize that when this ad was made the web didn’t exist yet and mobile phones were the size of bricks.

And lastly this amazing 1986 video shows an early online fanboy visiting the CompuServe campus in Columbus, Ohio!

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