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1996
Reprinted from The BigEye Blog of Dec. 12, 2009:

The BigEye Blog

Cogitations from the Home Front


2013

The Email Club

The Birth of Online Social Networking

Today I received in the mail my annual gift from Goro in Japan. For more than ten years this kind gentleman has mailed me a beautiful calendar for the coming year which I hang in my kitchen. I enjoy its prize-winning photographs immensely throughout the year. Thank you, Goro.

Having been something of a technophobe for years, I bought a computer in September of 1993 along with a copy of "DOS for Dummies". At the time I had no idea how much this step would affect my life. The DOS version of "Microsoft Works" which came with my 386 PC clone provided, along with word processing, a communications application which I used to access local "bulletin boards". These had libraries of utility files that enhanced the ability to work in DOS. MS Windows was still in the future and DOS was the name of the game for me. One of my new friends in Sarasota who had used a computer for years helped me as I developed increasing capability with what often seemed to be an infernal machine. Many the morning I went to bed as the sun rose, having labored all night trying to figure out how the monster worked.

Because I was able to communicate with other computers, I proudly told my friend that I had learned how to get "on line". He smiled condescendingly and said, "Stew, get CompuServe". I signed up at $9.95 a month, received a nine-digit ID, and the world opened on my desk. It was long before the horrors of SPAM emails and this online service contained a directory of users, listed by state, throughout the country with their name and ID. Any CompuServe subscriber could send a message (an "Email") to any other CompuServe subscriber. There were subscribers in Europe with whom I could communicate all for the price of my monthly subscription. I was overwhelmed.

Taken for granted today by an upcoming generation, emailing was truly revolutionary only a few years ago. I loved the idea. The problem was to find someone with whom to communicate. At sixty years old I listed all the names I could remember from grade-school, high-school, college, friends, neighbors, and work and searched the directory. Nothing. I finally located the son of a man with whom I had had a working relationship years earlier. He lived in Texas and replied to my message. In it he said that he would not be able to continue emailing because his wife was getting the computer in an upcoming divorce.

As I sat staring at the monitor, hopeful of online communication, I thought that others must be in the same situation. Then I remembered another of CompuServe's features, a small classified area in which members could place an announcement for four dollars a month. I paid for a one-month notice: "Join International Email Club - Correspond FREE with members worldwide", and included my first name and nine digit CompuServe ID. That first month brought in four members, in addition to myself, including a computer geek in Chorley, England to whom I could send questions when my mentor here was sound asleep. The next month brought in an additional fifteen members. It wasn't long before we had over a hundred members of what I called simply, The Email Club.

There were other online services in which persons could email one another, such as AOL, Prodigy, and Delphi. I joined Delphi and was amply rewarded in corresponding and chatting with mature and intelligent users of that service. Today's chat rooms are a far cry from those and from the UseNet of 1994. Before online services interfaced with the internet, subscribers were limited to emailing only others who subscribed to their own service.

The Email Club membership, which had grown to over six-hundred members on CompuServe exploded when members of the online services were able to email members who subscribed to another service and we all received new email addresses in the present format of "@aol.com", or "@prodigy.com", etc. Soon The Email Club had over four thousand members located in many countries throughout the world. As new members arrived, I added their optional short personal profile, first name and email address to a club directory which I emailed to all members once a month.

My online friend, Goro, was an early member of The Email Club, the first real online social networking service. It existed for several years and we all loved it. I registered the domain emailclub.com and moved everyone onto a web platform where it thrived until destroyed by spam. Lacking programming capability, I let the club go. Today we all know about the huge web-based social networking sites online.

Administrator's note: Thanks to the programming skills of Gil, the Email Club now has a new website as of Februrary 2013.

We've had a lot of fun in the email-based Email Club. Members were courteous and mature in their interaction. Several married one another. The early member in England, for example, traveled and married a newer member on Long Island, NY. Five guys from Canada, Australia, and the U.S. had a cook-out in the Pacific northwest and emailed me photos of their party. A friendly female member in Ireland went skiing in the French Alps with a guy from Paris. I was invited to the wedding of a member from northern California to one from the southern part of the state. Many members emailed me their thanks along with news of how the club had enhanced their lives.

Goro, thank you again for the beautiful 2010 calendar from Japan. I will email you the URL of this little blog. I hope that your address has not changed and that you will have the opportunity to read this. I was sorry to hear last year of the death of your long-time lady correspondent. You and I are both growing older. I admit to missing the days of the Email Club and of communicating worldwide with others on a far different level than found online today. This year I will send you a calendar from Sarasota, a city which, as our entire world, has changed considerably since 1994.

I look forward to receiving my next annual calendar from Japan containing beautiful pictures for the year 2011. I hope to be able to enjoy it each morning, knowing that you too remember.


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