In the 1980s almost the only way to “get online” involved a local bulletin board system (BBS), a fledgling company called Quantum Link (Q-Link) that catered to the Commodore 64 (C-64) personal computers, or another provider, CompuServe. And it cost! I paid something like $46 an hour to connect from the somewhat remote Canadian town, where I lived at the time, to Quantum Link in Virginia.
There was no universal email as we know it today. Messages traveled from BBS to BBS through a process called “net mail” and could take days or weeks (or even never) to get there depending on the cycle rate of a particular BBS. Actual Internet connections had to be begged, borrowed, or stolen, from a research university or corporate member of the industial-military complex. These usually involved dial-up connections through NSFnet or ARPAnet.
Data transfer speeds were limited to 110bps in the early 80s, 300bps mid-way through, and only 1200pbs by the end of the decade. 9600, 14,400, and 28,800 were only dreams of the future — and today we would consider the fastest of those to be dreadfully slow. When I first started using the ‘net a large text document could take all night to transfer and, as there weren’t yet any error correcting protocols, any glitch resulted in total failure and you would have to start over!
The public Internet actually only appeared in the very last part of the decade. The World Wide Web (WWW), what many now consider to be the Internet (there is actually much more available) wasn’t invented until 1989 and the first browser making actual access possible wasn’t created until 1990 nor released to the public until late 1991.
Looking back, the 1980s seem like a dreadful time for online users but the fact is there was great excitement and almost daily break-throughs. Much of the development and progress came from the private sector, right down to individuals running bulletin board systems (BBS) from their homes. I was part of that experience (AMBASSADOR BOARD) and look back to it in fondness and with a feeling of nostalgia. Those were creative times when lasting friendships and strong relationships were forged.
And it was hands on. We created much of it ourselves and found others who created bits and pieces we needed. Technically speaking, they were difficult times, but good times. I’d go back there for a nickel… or nothing at all!