John Foust jfoust at
Sun Jan 10 18:45:54 CST 2021

At 04:03 PM 1/10/2021, James B DiGriz via cctalk wrote:
>There will have been pieces saved here and there, but mostly on floppies or old,
>failing hard disks or rotting tapes not stored safely, so if anyone
>wants to archive them, they need to do it ASAP.  

 From '85 until '94 or so, I saved my transcripts from visiting 
CompuServe, PeopleLink, Delphi, Genie, BIX, the Well, etc.  

I probably focused on Amiga forums.  There are some CAD and 
3D animation and programmer and Atari and Tandy M-100 forums, too.

I was often free-flagged on CIS and many other services so surfing was free.  
For the kids out there, in today's dollars CompuServe was about $20 an hour.

I had largely automated my visits with Pro-YAM on a PC.  Log in, grab
my personal email, upload the outgoing mail, scrape the forums I wanted 
to read, save it all to a text file, and then I'd read and edit in Brief 
at my leisure.  Some of the time, my visits were not scripted.

Then I'd squeeze them all into floppy-sized ZIPs for archiving.  At 
some point I copied all those floppies to the active storage I use and
backup now.

My archives aren't pristine backups.  I erased many posts that
I thought were uninteresting at the time.  As I read, I compulsively 
reformatted paragraphs with Brief's word-wrap macro.  

The largest part of my archive was CompuServe.  In 2015 I wrote a little 
Perl parser to separate individual forum posts.  I have about 400 megs of 
messages, on the order of 525,000 messages.  I split each post 
into its own XML file, tagging the pieces (from, to, subject, etc.) 

I've left the hard part of constructing the web software to make it all
readable and searchable.  

There are a few problems to solve.  You'd want to impose some structure
on it all.  A topic such as "Amiga" had several forums...  user, programmer,
arts, vendors.  

Enter a forum and it would tell you the range of message numbers 
available and the number of the last one you've read.  At that
point I'd generally say "read all new."  Each forum had a dozen or so 
numbered sections.  Sections had names and they changed over time.  

Posts have a number and replies mention the parent message in the subject
line, so they're kind of threaded.  An example:

  #: 126608 S0/Sysop's Corner
      29-Oct-95  00:20:12
  Sb: #126546-#Problem Uploading Files
  Fm: Betty Clay 76702,337
  To: Shawn/Silent Paw 74777,2602 (X)

  This would be caused by the entire forum running out of blocks in the library.
  Steve handles that, and I'm sure he has noticed and requested more by now.  It
  is quite likely that we won't get them before Monday, though. Sometimes there's
  no one around to handle the request on weekends.

Like this message, some sections were "sysop" and perhaps should be 
considered non-public.

My transcripts also have stuff from before and after the forum posts.  
Who knows, maybe someone would find interesting the "What's new this week" 
intro menu you'd see at login.  

Or better yet, the file libraries.  Each section had a "data library".  
Each file showed a filename, timestamp and size, uploader PPN and
name, and title line and keywords and a paragraph of description.
I have some listings of the file areas. I may also have the original
files I downloaded.  All that could be linked into a new web version, too.

Maybe there are some text-based public live group chats (conferences), too.

So how could you organize all that into a web database and interface?

It has some similarities to Usenet posts.  But not quite.  The sections
change over time.

It would also make sense for me to improve my parser to separate 
out each email I sent or received.  I'd be eager to release the public
forum posts but I also don't want to release my private emails.

Am I going to trust my parser to have never made a mistake?
Or do I need to read a half-million posts to confirm it didn't?

I have to believe that other people saved transcripts of CompuServe 
forums if not other services, too.  Ideally there could be a way to add
everyone's messages to the reconstruction.

Indeed, google ' "Sb:" "Fm:" "To:" sysop cis ' and you'll see
other bits and pieces of CompuServe transcripts.

I don't know what it was like inside CIS back then, but I can't help
but wonder if any magtape archives left the building.  I asked 
an Amiga forum owner if he saved anything...  he said "no" but
maybe other forum owners did.

As an aside, keep in mind that the people running CIS forums held a 
contract with CIS and they were paid.  For many, it was their sole income.
Some ran several forums and made quite a bit of money at it.

I was very surprised to learn the web-based 
existed until three-four years ago.

- John

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