It was only a couple of months ago that I said a fond farewell to Microsoft Encarta, and today I do the same for CompuServe. After more than thirty years, the CompuServe Information Service (CIS) was shut down by its parent, America OnLine (AOL), on July 1.
My family had CompuServe back in the early 1990s, initially on an MS-DOS machine and later on Windows. It was rudimentary by modern standards, but at the time it was pretty awesome (and it had already been around quite a while before my family joined up). CompuServe generally attracted a more knowledgeable crowd than AOL or Prodigy—it was less flashy, but seemed more powerful and professional than its ad-laden brethren. I remember how cool it was to be able to bring up weather maps on-demand, send emails, etc., even if those things took forever on our super-fast 9600 baud modem, and even if we were charged by the hour for them.
Of course, times changed. By 1996 the Internet was starting to take off, and proprietary networks like CompuServe struggled to stay relevant. Soon, CompuServe, AOL, and Prodigy were all offering access to the Internet in addition to their proprietary networks. Within a few years, techies had switched to cheaper Internet-only plans with services like Earthlink and Mindspring, while non-techies had largely gathered at AOL.
Prodigy shut down its proprietary network and became an Internet-only service in 1999 before being bought-out by SBC, which later became AT&T. CompuServe was bought by WorldCom in 1998, which immediately re-sold its CIS system and customers to younger competitor AOL (while retaining CompuServe’s network services division). Hemorrhaging members, CIS—against all odds—still operated until last week under the AOL umbrella separately of AOL’s own proprietary system.