Early online-newspaper nostalgia

Prodigy, mentioned in one or both of those recent articles, was the first graphical online service I used, c.1988. (The Macintosh version of what became AOL may have been earlier, but I was PC until ’88.) Early rollout served Hartford, Atlanta and San Francisco — perhaps the only time those cities have been seen as having something in common.

Designed for e-commerce over a closed network at under $10/month, it started before the Internet was open to commercial use. Prodigy restricted bulletin board discussion topics, but did have general news sections. It began to do newspaper sites under contract — just before a more flexible America OnLine and a more open Web ate its lunch.

I interviewed beta users and experts for a review/article about Prodigy in ’88 or ’89 for PCWeek, which paid me well but didn’t print it; a new editor said it was because the publication’s focus was now business apps, not “consumer” services, and despite the involvement of major companies, Prodigy was aimed at the home-computer market. (It started as “Trintex” — the three being Sears, IBM and CBS. The network dropped out before the service went online.)

So I set aside my research on networks and hypertext, and switched to writing about boats — until the Web happened and I sailed off into a Ph.D. program… paying the bills with a part-time job at another online news pioneer, The News & Observer’s NandO.net in Raleigh, and (slowly) writing my dissertation about another, http://wral-tv.com, across town.

Note: This has been updated since the original post. I’m was reading the Web that day on a Nook-like Pandigital tablet, lowcost device whose software makes it easier to post a rough draft to WordPress quickly than to bookmark. Some of the roughness may still be here. :-)

For the record, the Pandigital has an older Android WordPress app, Tweetcaster Pro with  ReadItLater, but poor keyboard and no direct hook to Delicious.com (http://delicious.com/bstepno).

Until I get something better, I can’t help thinking how GREAT this would have seemed in 1988.

mild-mannered reporter who fell deeper into computers and the Web during three trips through graduate school in the 1980s and 1990s, then began teaching journalism, media studies and Web production, most recently as a faculty member at Radford University.

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Posted in Internet, Journalism, Newspapers, Online-Only, Technology

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