Practical Technology

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ZDNet at 9,600 bits per second (and we liked it)


It was 1991, and only academics, researchers, and the military were on the Internet. For most people, going online meant connecting with a v.32 modem, at the blazing speed of 9,600-BPS (bits per second) to a Bulletin Board System (BBS) or an online service. The most popular of these services was CompuServe and so it was that Ziff Davis, them the publishing company parent of ZDNet, decided to start its own mini-online service, ZiffNet, on CompuServe, and I was there.

Under the CompuServe/ZiffNet ID, 72441,464 and then, as now, one of ZDNet’s most prolific writers, I was writing on the online discussion forums, helping to manage them as a “sysop,” and doing some trouble-shooting. You, if you’ve come to the online world since the Web arose a few years later, would barely recognize 1991’s ZiffNet.

For starters, everything was text-based. Oh, someone might post a message with ASCII-art from time to time, but that was it. That isn’t to say though that you could read stories on CompuServe/ZiffNet. At first, you couldn’t. All you could do is “talk” with each other and Ziff writers and editors on the various publication forums, such as Computer Shopper, PC Week (later eWEEK), and PC Magazine. These publications live on but no longer have any direct connection with ZDNet.

We also boasted an online forum for executives, Executives Online, or in CompuServe terms: ZNT: EXEC. There, Esther Schindler, noted writer, editor and sysop supreme, would host technology industry movers and shakers as they would ‘talk’ to forum members.

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