Sunday, December 17, 2017

Farewell, Compuserve

Before there was a Web, before there was even AOL, there was Compuserve. Back in the early-to-mid 1990s, you'd call in via dial-up modem, and be charged by the minute to participate in various discussions. The newness of the tech, plus the time pressure, filtered out the lazy, the trolls, the idly snarky - all the characters that diluted most subsequent online discussion. Compuserve was like Paradise before The Fall. It never got better than Compuserve, circa 1995. And Compuserve disappeared this week.

I helped run the Bacchus Beer/Wine forum, where I learned a ton, and participated in some legendary tastings and wine dinners. They were memorable not just for the stunning quality of the grog, but also for the truly amazing people. The forum's regulars represented an entirely new species of food/wine-lovers, who inspired and informed everything I did afterwards.

I just posted the following to a Facebook conversation between many of the old-timers:
The lack of snobbery was what always really impressed and disarmed me about you guys. Nowadays, snobbery is the exception, not the rule, but back then (and forever preceding), most wine buffs were deeply invested in status (aesthetic and/or financial).

You guys blew that all up, and you gave me the conviction to write about food and drink without paying even the slightest heed to that layer. The credo "All good stuff is to be appreciated earnestly and eagerly" doesn't sound ground-breaking nowadays, but it sure was back then. It was like a crack in the clouds.

Also: the generosity of knowledge. No one on the forum used their knowledge (often substantial) as a cudgel. Know-how was always to be shared. Joy, not ego. This, too, was rare, necessary, and inspiring (though this one is, alas, still not universally practiced, even at this late date!).

I remember being on a flight with forumites Dave Sit and Elliot Apter, discussing some wine issue, when a stranger interrupted to ask "Hey, you guys are into wine? I had one last night I really liked; what do you think of Lancer's Rose?" Elliot engaged with him for a long time, inquiring about what he liked about the Lancers, finally writing down a list of fruity, drinkable wines that maybe were even a little better (I would't be surprised if he sent him a case, as well). At no point was Lancer's ever put down, nor was the guy made to feel dumb. Nor did he ever realize he was being educated. Joy, not ego. That's the spirit!

I ran a food/drink web site for a while based on those same principles, doing my part to advance this fresh (at the time) attitude. But that came after. You guys were an important cauldron for a modern shift in attitude, and it created huge ripples (mine was just one of many). You surely never realized it at the time, but you catalyzed big changes.

With appreciation,

Jim (not Jeff)

I can't find a decent online report to link to re: Compuserve's closure. All the articles I've browsed are lazy, trollish, and idly snarky. Even paid writers these days are cut from a cheaper cloth than the forumites of that golden era.

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