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CompuServe (CompuServe Information Service, also known by its initialism CIS) was an American online provider founded in 1969. Along with Prodigy and AOL, it was one of the 'Big Three" internet providers in the early-to-mid 1990s. All three online providers helped bring people online in the 1990s and helped fans connect with each other in ways never imagined before.

a 1995-96 flyer for The Patrick Stewart Network that includes early computer literacy awareness and asks for one's CompuServe, AOL, "Internet," as well as phone number.

Early internet providers such as Compuserve, Prodigy, GEnie, and AOL offered access to their own forums. While they were more in the business of providing proprietary content than plain internet access, they were many fans' introduction to online fandom.

From a Star Wars fan in 1995:

Upfront apology: By now, due to the media's stunning degree of overkill, you're probably ready to disembowel me if I even mention the words "information superhighway." Every publication in the country, in order to bestow upon itself a cachet of hipness, has done a story about wacky adventures in cyberspace. In all fairness, though, on-line activity is a fantastic way to stay connected to the continuing pulse of our favorite saga. The many faces of Star Wars cyberspace include rec.arts.sf.starwars (r.a.s.s.) on the Internet, an Internet Relay Chat channel, the Star Wars Echo on Fidonet, numerous BBS's, and Star Wars areas on the "big three": America Online (AOL), Prodigy, and CompuServe.


I had a great love for Star Wars before I went on-line, but electronically chatting with like-minded fans has tripled it. There is simply no better forum for meeting knowledgeable people, pointing out flaws, trading rumors, bashing Ewoks, exploring the symbolism of Leia's hair, complaining about the latest book, or otherwise nitpicking our favorite trilogy to death. Guides, FAQ's, trivia, scripts, and miscellany? It's all out there, just waiting to be downloaded. [1]

Grateful Fans and CompuServe Utilization


[Name redacted] was kind enough to allow me to download four-page double-spaced LoC to my machine for a whopping 43 cents long-distance. Check the colophon for CompuServe info. [2]


And to think four month ago I didn't even know B7 existed. I found a small number of postings on CompuServe about B7, and one of them was a .BMP of Avon looking down at Blake during the dream on Terminal. Downloaded it, dinked with it, and printed it on the color deskjet, and took it to work, where he smiles gently at me. I think I'll load it onto my workstation too. [3]


From the publisher of The Prize, a 1994-96 Highlander zine:

'The Prize' was the continuing adventures of the Highlander room on CompuServe. It ran monthly from February 1994 until January 1996, and is currently publishing new issues "whenever something important happens". We are a merry, not to say bloodthirsty, bunch, and unfortunately Compuserve gets a bit snippy about what I may and may not circulate, so this collection isn't quite a "best of", more a "what won't reflect too badly on Upstairs". [4]

The editors dedicated the third issue of the Man from U.N.C.L.E. zine, Can You Get Channel D? CompuServe Information Services:

... without which this zine would not have come to be.


From the editorial of Highland Fling #2 (1995)

Besides thanking our contributors, a hearty thank-you is also due to anyone who has ever had anything to do with inventing and implementing modems, CompuServe, AOL, and any other computer services connected by the Internet, because this fanzine came to life largely as stories bounced back and forth through e-mail, even by friends who live nearby. What a marvelous convenience.


... I got my account through work and it was free (I just had to avoid my snooping employer); We all learned about how fast email was compared to regular mail, how lively the big mailing lists and newsgroups were, how easily pictures and sound files and transcripts of episodes and other goodies were available through FTP, and we all urged Mary Sue to get a modem and join America Online, Genie, CompuServe or one of the other commercial services...[5]

I might add that Mary's submissions for this story [in Outpost] were transmitted electronically to our CompuServe address (Mary resides in Australia, and this is quite a savings of postage for both her and I). [6]

Corporate Control of Fandoms and Fanworks


According to one report, at least one of the large computer service firms was hit by or threatened by a lawsuit because they had artists' materials in their GIF libraries that had not been approved by the artist for upload. Compuserv and GEnie now have a policy that the only artwork uploaded MUST be by the person uploading it. I have heard, but can't confirm, that America Online also has such a policy. [7]


If AOL slaps CiCi the way it did because of one lone whacko's complaint, it ***HAS*** to acknowledge that all similar materials will also have to be shut down on AOL sooner or later.

Going beyond X Files Fanfic, AOL is also home to many, many fanfics from other shows (Star Trek-- which started the slash trend years before X Files, BTW, -- Highlander, Xena -- to name just a few). And many of those fanfic genres (including their slash and romance genres) have TOS-able material in them as well.

The short-sighted, vengeful person who did this has opened a "Pandora's Box" for lots of fanfic readers and writers from many different sources. This same non-thinking person has also given a useful tool to anyone who is mean enough to use it again against *any* authors or archivists with whom s/he is in disagreement, for reasons personal, philosophical or religious.

And once AOL is through "cleaning house", you can bet prodigy, earthlink, compuserve and a host of other servers will be next, snapping at writers and archivists. [8]

I know that most online services and Internet companies I've worked for have chosen to play things very safely after an initial free-for-all. For example, in the early days of Compuserve, it was easy to download any number of games based on Star Trek, many of which used that name. But when Paramount started to huff and puff, every single one of those games was pulled. [9]


Paramount has been cracking down on persons who post fan fiction on CompuServe, Prodigy, and other computer-based subscriber services, and has demanded that this practice cease and all fan fiction stored in archives accessible through this medium be removed. While the Internet, Usenet, or Bitnet services that are usually free of charge have so far not been targeted, Paramount realizes that fan fiction, which fully or in part violates copyright laws, is an attraction that draws new subscribers to the commercial services, and thus profit can be made from it.[10]

Connections Between Fans and TPTB


In 1987, Marion Zimmer Bradley wrote to fans:

I use CompuServe and can be reached that way. [11]


JMS named the underclass of Babylon 5 "lurkers" after the lurkers of the various GEnie, CompuServe, and Usenet communities centred around Babylon 5[12]


When America Online launched in 1992, the Duran Duran Lives and Room7609 chat rooms became early real-time hangout spaces for Duran Duran fans. By 1994, John Taylor and/or his wife Amanda occasionally dropped in to the AOL rooms to chat with fans, and the band as a whole did occasional promo chats on AOL, Compuserve, and Prodigy—all of which moved so fast that almost no one could read or type fast enough to hold any sort of coherent conversation.


Now, what are the long term possibilities of wider participation [by J. Michael Straczynski] in the [ Usenet ] newsgroup? Well, pretty much no chance, with the existing setup. You see, we've gotten to a point where there's just too many flamewars for it to be worth it, from his point of view, to read the group to extract the messages that are worth it. On GEnie, Compuserve, AOL, and other places he hangs out the forums are smaller, and more managed, and personal attacks and high tempers are handled. [13]

From the rules on Anne Rice's mailing list in 1995:

No specs.

There are two main reasons we don't use specs. The first reason is that we choose to respect Anne's personal wishes, as stated many times, but specifically as expressed in an online chat on Compuserve on August 3, 1995:

Deborah Fort asks: Anne - Do you have any interest (or have you ever) read anything written by your fans involving your characters?

Anne Rice: No, I haven't. I'm very possesive [sic] of my characters. I think it would hurt me terribly to read anything with some of my characters. I hope you'll be inspired to write your own stories with your own characters.[14]


From a 1997 interview with "Tyldus" (aka Steven L. Sears, supervising producer/writer for Xena: Warrior Princess):

How and why did you decide to involve yourself with online fandom?

I've had minimal contact with fans on other series I've worked on. Mostly because I wasn't online at those times. When Xena went on the air, I was looking around, trying to see if anyone out there noticed us. Then I found out about "chats" being planned on AoL by Laura (GONEGRA) and another on Compuserve.

I knew that there would be potential problems with this association, so I made several agreements with myself:

I would never "lurk" online. I wouldn't hide my identity. I never wanted the fans to start censoring themselves because they thought I might or might not be listening in. Anyone who asked who I was was told the truth.

If my presence led to people censoring or altering their chats/mail, I would leave the room or list.

If I ever became the subject of protracted discussions, I would leave the room or list.

If people wanted to propose plotlines or talk fan fiction, I would leave the room or delete the mail without reading.

I wouldn't lie. I might not answer a question, but I won't give a false answer. [15]

Discussion of Privacy

Early on, many fans were aware that their online participation, particularly in some forums, mailing lists and USENET was public, visible and quotable:

LURKERS - We had a minor furore on Compuserve recently when someone made a hard copy of a rather heated discussion and showed it to some friends at a small con. At what point does one need permission from the original writers to publish more widely something that was originally made as a public comment on a network?

There are both pros and cons to this argument. A public statement is there for anyone to read, but when writing [to a mailing list like this], we always feel that we are actually addressing the people that we see regularly on the list.

I feel it is a touch like a conversation in a room with ten or fifteen other people. I don't feel as though I'm addressing 200 of you. On the other hand, I like to think that anything I'd be happy to say here, I'd be happy to say anywhere.

Actually, though, its not quite true. When speaking to one group of friends, I'll say things that I wouldn't say to another. I wouldn't discuss slash with PBM friends for example."[16]

Offline and Being Left Out of the Loop

From the 1994 MediaWest*Con program book:

Anyone who accesses any of the electronic bulletin boards is asked to send Media West*Con copies of anything referring to the convention that appears on the nets. Since we do not subscribe to GEnie, CompuServe or Prodigy, we have no idea what rumors might be swirling through those services, and we appreciate any help in tracking down comments. etc., as well as the opportunity to "set the record straight on a timely basis.

General Fan Comments


I want to mention my latest toy -- modem. The modem was the cheapest piece of hardware I have bought for my system and yet it has been the most fun. For those who own a computer, do yourself a favor and upgrade it with a modem. Get yourself a membership with Compuserve and tie in with the Star Trek forum (within the science fiction special interest group). It's a bit like attending a con within your home. The conferences are the best feature of the whole forum. I've only participated in those which involve Star Trek but one is held every Saturday. I have joined in on conferences with Diane Duane, David Gerrold, and a conference which was held with Majel Barret, Bjo Trimble, and George Takei.

The message section is somewhat like an apa. You leave message(s) to others, discussing what you like, and the next time you check in there will probably be a reply waiting for you. The current topics parallel what any other fans discuss (even K/S... and no one gets angry. Isn't that something?) If reading is your game you can download (transfer data from COMPUSERVE to your computer) a novel or part of a novel that some SF author is working on and wants an opinion. There is a section for amateurs and unpublished people too... electronic fanzine.

If you own a computer you can probably find a modem for under $100. A starter kit for COMPUSERVE can bought at a computer stores, although I bought mine at Waldenbooks. Once you are on the system. Just type HOM-29 at any prompt and that will get you to the forum.[17]


It was on a 1994 visit that I saw just how many of the West Coast fans had this email thing. A fan in San Francisco talked me through using her account to send a message to a fan in L.A. – who replied within the hour - and as soon as I got home I bought a modem and signed up with CompuServe – which was pretty much the first ever commercial online service. [18]

[I remember] Fanzines. Xeroxed and comb bound. But before that, mimeos sent round robin style to a slash fans mailing list or furtively traded at sci fi cons. Getting hold of fic was a challenge. I remember being so excited when Prodigy, GEnie, AOL, and Usenet came along. All the fic all the time! With none of the slash-shaming bs anymore.[19]

I discovered The X-Files in re-runs as a gangly, easily embarrassed 13-year-old in the late 90s. I found the online fandom soon after. The re-runs were aired out-of-order, and I learned to tell what season it was by the tailoring on Scully’s practical pant suits. Blockbuster only had the first season, so I started digging around, using my mom’s slow CompuServe to make sense of this dense, dank, claustrophobic show. I filled in the plot holes by reading websites. [20]

Archives & Resources

  1. ^ from Star Wired: Navigating the 'Net
  2. ^ from the editor of Comlink #35 (June 1988)
  3. ^ from Rallying Call #9 (1993)
  4. ^ About
  5. ^ from Estrogen Brigades and "Big Tits" Threads: Media fandom on-line and off (2000)
  6. ^ publisher's pdf (unknown date, likely early 2000s)
  7. ^ from GIFS and Scanned Images: Copyright issues (1993)
  8. ^ comment at REGARDING XAPEN: IMPORTANT, PLEASE READ!, which was a 1998 Usenet post by CiCi Lean concerning the TOSing of CiCi Lean's websites
  9. ^ comment by Parrotfish at What is Fair Use? (1998 X-Files discussion) (September 1998)
  10. ^ Viacom purchased Paramount in February 1994: Viacom Apparent Victor in Battle to Buy Paramount published in the Los Angeles Time February 15, 1994; accessed February 17, 2012.
  11. ^ from Darkover Newsletter #39
  12. ^ The Lurker's Guide to Babylon 5 1993, Accessed 21st November 2008
  13. ^ from Ok, a status report on what's going on, a December 6, 1995 post on by Ron Jarrell, who was member of the fan group called Rangers. The Ranger's mission was to keep J. Michael Straczynski accessible to fans online, but to also filter the messages sent to him that fans posted on Usenet.
  14. ^ ""About Anne Rice" and "Anne Rice Books" Mailing Lists: Frequently Asked Questions". Archived from the original on 2000-11-21. Retrieved November 3, 2016.
  15. ^ from Tyldus on his entry into online Xena Fandom
  16. ^ Judith Proctor's March 25, 1994 post to Lysator a Blake's 7 mailing list that has, for the past 20 years, offered up its mailing list messages to the public without restriction.
  17. ^ from APA Enterprise #25 (June 1985)
  18. ^ by Helen Raven at The Pre-History of Slash: a talk for Slash Night 2 (2015)
  19. ^ from The three generations of fanfic (2015)
  20. ^ from a quote in How Horny X-Files Lovers Created a New Type of Online Fandom (2015)