Fido and FidoNet

This is a work in progress, and is unstructured and not illustrated.

I'd been using BBSs since 1976 or so, 300 baud accoustic coupler type, rotary-dialing Chicago busy signals, but in 1984 I wrote my own, called Fido, and shortly thereafter a thing called FidoNet, a store-and-foreward emailing and file-transmission system that was (1) the first such thing, ever; (2) the largest privately-owned computer network in the world; (3) a very strange, complicated, very large social organism, a terror-toma partially/intentionally of my creation. It still lives on, shockingly, today, and still thrives in places where people have no money and terrible telephone systems.

A computer bulletin board (BBS) is in fact a collection of social conventions encoded in software, each a microscopic "internet" of dozens or hundreds of people, hundreds of downloadable files. In fact a lot of internet terminology ("download") in fact are BBS paradigms and words.

Fido/FidoNet was/is a truly international network and software program. Fully native language versions were available for (from memory) Danish, Netherlands, German, Bahasa?, a cobbled Chinese, Spanish, and at least two flavors of English. For a brief time it was the sole email connectivity to the anti-apartheid university in South Africa. (My Fido software dominated the net through about 1985, when other programs appeared; by 1990 my software was only a small fraction, though the protocol standards and such prevailed.)

FidoNet became an explicit social project for me starting in 1985. And more radically so in the years that followed; by 1986 I started applying anarchist principles -- local, self-organizing, complete lack of intrinsic heirarchy, the ability to communicate utterly independent of others permission or goodwill -- but not soon enough. (A little too late to fix some inherent flaws; nodelist fragment distribution should have been built-in, and the REGION business that turned into a monstrous heirarchy should have been killed off quick). Driven by more or less the same forces that drove (popular access to) the internet years later, FidoNet grew at an insane rate; two computers in spring 1984, 160 that fall, 32,000 by the early 1990's. (Consider that each BBS computer had ten to a few hundred users each.) But many of the problems should have been obvious. I didn't learn some of it until well after the fact.

A major component of FidoNet is its newsletter, FidoNews. I started it in 1984; as of this writing it's in its 15th year, and has been published weekly from the start. It is the meta-network, a means to discuss the network itself. The publication policy is (or at least was) "we publish anything" from FidoNet members (and sheesh, it sure has). It's not always pretty to look at, but like any household argument it's essential to the operation of the network. It was distributed to every FidoNet site (up to 35,000 copies per week), and read by probably twice as many people. I was the editor for two periods, 1984-1985 and 1991-1993.

FidoNet documentation and ephemera

I've saved shockingly little of my decade of Fido/FidoNet, plus I had a major disk crash and backup failure in 1993, so I lost much of my early work. I have only slightly more than what appears here, and I'll move it from private to public directories over time.

Press, accolades, hate mail, etc.

In the late 1980's and early to mid 1990's, I, and FidoNet, got a lot of ink. Here are a few that I recall or have copies of. Some are still packed away in archival storage. There were probably as many references from the world outside the U.S. of A. as there were inside.

Fido and FidoNet also put me off writing software for a living. I shipped a hundred of more revisions in a decade. Two full ground-up rewrites. Plus, I lost all the sources to the latest released version, and everything I'd ever done on a computer in 1994 or so, victim of a worst-case disk crash and damage-infected backups.


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