World’s Strangest

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Community Memory: World’s First BBS and … Online Troll?


Photo: Resource One Newsletter, Number 2, April 1974, via Mark
Szapakowski

Community Memory, the first
public computerized bulletin board system was installed in Berkeley, California,
in 1973, at a record store. The terminal let users to post and search
for messages.

The Community
Memory
project, created by Efrem Lipkin, Mark Szpakowski and Lee Felsenstein,
was hosted by an obsolete XDS-940 timesharing computer in San Francisco.
The computer was huge: Felsenstein remarked
that it’s about 24 feet long and required 23 tons of air conditioning.
It had a total of 58 megabytes of disk space (at a cost of $20,000!)

The public terminal, a Teletype
model 33
, was located at the top of the stairs leading to Leopold’s
Records in Berkeley, next to a real paper bulletin board. The connection
ran at 110 baud or 10 characters per second, using a modem that Felsenstein
developed himself (and later commercialized as the Pennywhistle
modem
)

People used it to post
classified ads and messages
, including "cars for sale, rock bands
looking for bass players, carpenters looking for jobs, groups offering
counseling, tennis players looking for partners, political commentaries
…"

Mark Szpakowski wrote:

The teletype was noisy, so it was encased in a cardboard box, with
a transparent plastic top so you could see what was being printed out,
and holes for your hands so you could type. It made for some magic moments
with the Allman Brothers’ "Blue Sky" playing in the record
store. Musicians loved it – they ended up generating a monthly printout
of fusion rock bassists seeking raga lead guitars. And out of it also
emerged the first net.personality – Benway, as he called himself.

Personality indeed! He’s the net’s first troll. Here’s what this Doc
Benway character (perhaps inspired by the character from William S. Burrough’s
1959 novel Naked Lunch) wrote:


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