24 September 1979: Compuserve launches MicroNET

One of the first steps to the internet we know and love was taken today on this day in 1979, when Compuserve launched its MicroNET service.

Radio Shack TRS 80 micro-computer © SSPL/Getty Images
MicroNET ran on microcomputers such as the TRS-80
(Image credit: © SSPL/Getty Images)

Back in 1979, personal computers – then known as microcomputers – were in their infancy; they included models such as the Atari 400, Apple II, Commodore PET, and TRS-80. In 1979, there was no world wide web, no social media, and email was unheard of for the general public.

That began to change on this day, with the arrival of Compuserve's MicroNET service. “Compu-Serv” was originally set up in 1969 as a subsidiary of Golden United Life Insurance to provide support to the company, and sell time on its mainframes to other businesses. Eventually, it decided to branch out and let the public in.

The MicroNET service allowed users access to the company's mainframes at night. For $5 an hour, (plus the cost of the phone call) they could run programs, email each other, and read news articles from the Associated Press.

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The service was a hit, and on 1 July, 1980 MicroNET was rebranded as the CompuServe Information Service, or CIS. It added more features, including discussion forums and online shopping. By 1987, CIS had 380,000 subscribers, and was bringing in 50% of CompuServe's revenues.

It dominated the market in the 1980s and early 1990s. But inevitably, its success bred competition. A new upstart, AOL, arrived, marketed at people who knew very little about computers or the internet. It did away with the geeky text commands, and introduced a user-friendly graphical interface.

In 1998, AOL bought Compuserve. The service was shut down for good in July 2009. In 2015, AOL was itself bought by Verizon Communications.

Ben Judge

Ben studied modern languages at London University's Queen Mary College. After dabbling unhappily in local government finance for a while, he went to work for The Scotsman newspaper in Edinburgh. The launch of the paper's website, scotsman.com, in the early years of the dotcom craze, saw Ben move online to manage the Business and Motors channels before becoming deputy editor with responsibility for all aspects of online production for The Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday and the Edinburgh Evening News websites, along with the papers' Edinburgh Festivals website.

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