Spies is shutting down because the time has come. I've been running it for about 7 years, ever since I was a freshman attending college in upstate new york. It's survived through 4 moves, and was run in NY, MA, CA and Switzerland. I have really, honestly enjoyed providing the service, and I still feel very strongly about the need to provide such a service at no cost. Information isn't only for those who pay for it. Systems like Netcom, uunet, portal, the well, world, btr, CAT-TALK, zorch, and any of the other 90 systems listed in this months NIXPUB offer close to the same service as spies did, and often charge up to $30/month for the privilege.
When I first got involved in computers and modems, back in 1976, BBSs were 100% hobbyist driven. They were a meeting place for experimenters, tinker-ers, enthusiasts and learners. When I first started to see the decline of such systems, I envisioned a hobbyist spirit that could be best described as "Spies in the wire". With the advent of SHAREWARE (in 1976 days, if a enthusiast developed a neato program he would place it in the public domain, source code and everything) things took a turn. Basically, shareware is driven by greed. You see, the authors of shareware programs had a problem: They were money motivated. BUT, they wanted it all. They didn't write their programs for the hobby, for the hack. They wrote them for the explicit purpose of making a profit. That's fine. But some clown (who will remain nameless, but us oldtimers know who it is) had the brilliant idea that he could market his program for a profit, and not have to suffer the costs of a normal distribution. In other words, SHAREWARE authors don't have the expense of distributing their software via normal channels. But the cost doesn't disappear. The cost has been moved to systems like this one, who must flip the bill of the harddisk storage for there shareware programs, the telephone lines (sometimes more than one), the modems, electricity – everything for the profit of the shareware authors. They were using our systems as a free distribution channel, and we weren't getting anything out of it!
I had two goals when I started spies: Re-kindle the spirit of hobbyist computing, which was destroyed by profit-minded individuals. And to show people that there is an alternative to leech-style files-oriented BBSs. The first SPIES BBS ran a BBS package called E-MX. E-MX was written entirely in Z80 assemply language for CP/M machines, by a very nice fellow in Vancouver, BC. It had no files section. It had a good e-mail system, and a REALLY fast message systems. There was never a pause or hesitation when switching message areas for browsing user profiles. E-MX was elegant and small. 17k, if I remember correctly. I never forgot how well it was deisnged, and it had a great influence on my programming style.
After E-MX, I found Citadel, the original 2.10 by Cynbe (I've forgotton my Citadel lore). I worked alot on the code, and finally got it to run multi-user under MP/M in a 48k TPA! It ran for 3 years on an Altos machine while I was in college (in fact, I think Andy Meyer <moebius> still has that machine).
When I graduated, I left a Kaypro 10 CP/M machine to my college, and the psychology department ran a BBS as a social interaction experiment. Interestingly, Thom Brown, head of the psychology dept. became dean of the college about 4 years ago, and just recently shut down UCC, the BBS I had left them. Ran for close to 6 years after I graduated.
When I graduated I worked for a robotics company in Geneve, Switzerland. It was tough being an American in a foreign country, so I spent alot of my time hacking together Citasim/VAX. A "Citadel Simulator for the DEC Vax mini-computer". Written in Fortran, no less. Since I was out of touch with the Citadel development happening in the US, I started the design from scratch, using what I learned doing the MP/M port. The goal was to have a multi-user citadel, and emulate the user interface, but nothing else. (ie, don't adopt any of the data structures or networking).
When I returned to NY, I ported Citasim/VAX to the WICAT 68000 mini computer (I had done some consulting for WICAT, and they had given me one of their machines in payment). There was born Citasim/WICAT, which I was running for about 3 years, and eventually burdened RObert and Carmen with their own WICAT systems, and shrugged off the responsability of buggy code.
Since I had sold my last Wicat system, I was kinda forced to go Unix, if I wanted to stay multi-user. I found a good deal on an Itegrated Solution 68020 BSD system, and ran a MUD (spymud) alongside Citasim. Soon, I learned that mud had captured most of the local interest (except for a few hold-offs, Ult- I salute you - you were right) and I worked on a scheme to have both a BBS and a mud run on the same system. That's when I switched from Citasim to waffle. Tom Dell worked with me and got a version of Waffle running NNTP under unix. Very nice. I remember first looking at the manual for waffle, and saying "Shit, maybe all my shareware hatred was wrong", but then I remembered that I hadn't downloaded waffle form a BBS, so I was saved.
What I learned when I first ran Waffle is that I lost most of the userbase I had cultivated when running Citasim. No more GREAT conversations. Everything about waffle was usenet or files oriented, and my users were mostly mud-heads at the time.
In order to stick with my ethic, I weasled an internet connection, trashed my corrupt (in the spiritual sense) mud, and offered internet muds for my users who needed the fix, and IRC for my users who remembered the rgeat days of Citasim CHATTER at 3am.
Almost worked. I think I satisfied about 40% of the old Citasim users, 50% of the local usenet freaks, 20% new IRC-happy folks, and about 20% of the mud-heads. The happy mediocracy I had become.
It just didn't sit well. I had lost my focus. The enjoyment I sucked from all the systems I ever ran really came from the custon software that I wrote, nothing else. Neat hacks that pleased the users. With Waffle, there's not much to do. It wasn't mine, and I really became a lousy SYSOP, and a cranky programmer.
So. That's the story. From E-MX to Waffle, with the same motto: "Spies in the wire, in the spirit of hobbyist computing"…
I'd like to take the time to say that I REALLY, REALLY enjoyed running this system for you guys, and the messages I have received in mail and on the forums has been terrific! It's good to see that the system wasn't just THERE, it really seems to have made a difference. I'd like to thank Carmen, RObert, Ult, Cindy, Hagbard, monaq, Rich, Panther, and the others who were there from the beginning, and really helped to make SPIES a memeorable place. The good times and the bad times changed the way I think about many things, but most importantly, they remind me of how much can really be accomplished with a stupid computer and modem.
Take care, and stay in the spirit… – SYSTEM 0PERATOR/Ducati pilot/Geek
Post: 21 of 25 Subject: Yup, I still have it! From: moebius (moebius) Comment: Sell the kids for food. Date: Wed, 30 Oct 91 09:58:44 PST
…yes, I still have the Altos that arubin ran E-MX and eventually Citadel on in Chappaqua, NY. As a matter of fact, I thought I was the one who turned Andy on to Citadel (wasn't I?!)…