This article appeared in the April 1982 issue of Today, CompuServe's magazine for CIS subscribers.
by Carole Houze Gerber
Bill Byte has had a hard day.
Herding software in the Silicon Valley takes the starch out of even the toughest computer cowboy. And although he's interested in keeping up with software developments for his TRS-80 home computer, the last thing he wants to do after work is wade through a technical journal or drive across town to a computer club meeting.
Luckily, he won't have to do either. Bill belongs to MNET 80, a special interest group (SIG) offered through the CompuServe Information Service. At his convenience, he can key into his SIG and learn the latest from the experts as well as his peers.
He can, that is, if his wife isn't using the computer to talk with her SIG, the NETWITS. Or if his daughter isn't “tuned in” to HAMNET, a SIG for ham radio buffs. Fortunately, since all SIGs offer stored as well as interactive communication, Bill will not have missed anything when he finally does get his turn.
Like the fictitious Bill Byte, the very real Bill Louden, product manager for personal computing services, is an enthusiastic SIG member. These electronic clubs offer something for everyone — novices and experts alike, he says.
“Instead of belonging to a local club, SIG members are joining organizations that are national or international in scope,” he explains. “And regardless of the topic — from gardening to computers — system operators who are experts in the field are available to help you.
“Another important feature is that members can communicate as well with typical users like themselves,” Louden adds. “Say I want to buy ‘xyz’ piece of software for my TRS-80. I ask if anyone else has ever used it. Three people respond that they have and it's no good. Another says he liked it. This isn't scientific consumer reporting, but it offers an honest appraisal of the product from those who are at about your own level of sophistication — their responses would certainly affect my decision.”
Louden, whose job is to attract and market products specifically designed for the personal cornputer hobbyist, points out that the SIGs also benefit the companies which sponsor them.
“Some SIGs are started by companies that want to keep their customers abreast of new products and changes,” he notes. “These companies can now serve their customers electronically with updates and save themselves the time and cost of mailing out large volumes of information. They can also use the SIG for informal market research.”
Information conveyed on SIGs runs the gamut from very technical (“You have a farkled super utility disk … Did you hard-configure the fast clock support?”) to the very chatty (“I just had my 95th birthday. That makes me the oldest computer operator alive.”). As with any club, it serves a social as well as an informational function.
A Better Homes and Gardens SIG and a financial SIG are among the five new Special Interest Groups planned for 1982.
So what's the big attraction with these electronic clubs?
“SIGs offer the social interaction of the telephone, the technical information from a specialized journal and the open forum of the editorial page,” Louden explains. “For those who just want to chat, there's a special CB (Citizen Band-like electronic mail) attached to every SIG on the CompuServe Information Service.”
The message is clear: whether you're 19 and a novice or an experienced 95-year-old like MNET80 member Matt Ereskovic, CompuServe has got a SIG for you.
The April 1982 Today magazine also included this sidebar (“the following SIGs are currently active on the CompuServe Information Service”):