- Niemanlab.org on: The forgotten history of Access Atlanta, one of the early Web’s most innovative newspapers
- CJR.org on: The San Jose Mercury, The Newspaper That Almost Seized the Future
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.
Until I get something better, I can’t help thinking how GREAT this would have seemed in 1988.