Friday, July 31, 2009

Introducing StarText: The Little Online Service That Could



Odds are good you have never heard the name "StarText" and have no idea what it is, or was.

That's not surprising. A little like "Star Wars," it all happened a long time ago (in Internet years) in a cyber-galaxy far, far away (as cyber-galaxies go, at least.)

Okay. Maybe not that long ago (27 years) and not so far away (Texas). But let's not quibble about that.

Think of StarText as a mini-version of the Internet, more than a decade before the World Wide Web made the scene. It was known under many names: One of the first online newspapers; a BBS (Bulletin Board Service); the "instant news that doesn't rub off on your hands" and as one StarText customer termed it, "the best bargain since nickel parking in Cleburne." (Cleburne, Texas -- look it up.)

In the days before the Web, there were thousands of Bulletin Board Services and a handful of major online networks, like CompuServe and The Source, rushing to connect people around the world. But I would like to submit for your consideration: StarText stood apart. It was in many ways -- different. In a word ... special.

In the many years that have passed since StarText made its debut -- May 3, 1982 -- technology has moved on and so have the people who conceived, built and used StarText. But as one of those pioneers who opted to "go West" when the Internet wasn't even a twinkle in the eye of a modem, it's that "specialness" that deserves to be told.

It's a story I've been trying to tell for the last 10 years or more. Between the demands of career and family, and lack of interest among publishers, it has languished on my hard drive. But I feel it shouldn't languish any more.

So via this blog I am going to tell the story of how a small but dedicated group of people at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram joined together, defied all odds and managed to create one of the nation's first online success stories.

It's my hope that the thousands who were part of StarText will join and tell their own story here as well. That is the magic of online. We can all connect in a multi-level consersation that flows both ways, one of the "ah ha" moments we discovered early on. It also means you get to be my editors, and every writer needs a good editor or two.

For lifelong journalists, like myself, there's also a bit of irony. Here was a newspaper, its industry much maligned of late for its utter indifference to changing audiences and its failure to adapt, launching an online version of itself many years before there was a Net. Some of us did see it coming. We jettisoned our newsroom careers and put our hearts and souls into making it happen. But obviously it hasn't enough -- so far. The forever echoes of what might have been ...

That's part of the story as well. And another facet to be explored.

Before we begin, I want to start with a Dedication.

This effort is lovingly dedicated to the workers, subscribers and followers of StarText, all the special people who made it special. And on a personal note, to my wonderful soulmate and wife, Pam, who endured more than I'll ever know while her husband followed his dream. This is for all of you.

3 comments:

  1. Although my last name is Kurtin, back in the "Glory Days"of StarText, my name was Beverly Margolis. I was one of many StarTexan volunteers who wrote monthly, weekly or even failure, seven days a seek, 365 days a year. Iwrote a humorous column called A Single Parents Guide to survivals, keywords SMOM. Then I took over the keyword FORUM, that was uploaded every day. It was an informal discussion group that was as lively as a room full of vipers!
    Once I took my boss's Compaq to Seattle and uploaded the column from there. Then it got uploaded from Portland, Oregon.
    Back then computers weighed a LOT.We called them lugables. Going through Airports was the usual "fun."
    After about 800 days or so, I retired when I went with a small little-known software outfit: Microsoft's, and as anyone who ever worked there knows, time for yourself was going to happen when you retired or died. It was just too much fun to want to leave.
    A massive stroke wound up causing me to retire as I'd lost my voice and forgot how to type.
    Since I had fobs of time on my hands, I went back to college and earned my doctorate if comp science. This is being written on my Kindle Fore, the sweetest mini tablet onthe market. So where are the rest of the oldgang?

    30

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  2. Hi. My name is Mike Lyons and I'm a reporter turned professor at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia. I have been reading about Videotex for a couple of months now as part of a project about newspapers' transitions to the digital. I am interested in doing oral history interviews with anyone connected to StarText. Mr. Barker, I had trouble tracking down your email, so I hope you get this. Anyone interested in talking about StarText - editors, readers, whomever - please feel free to drop me a line. My e-mail is jlyons@sju.edu I'm on Twitter at @jmikelyons.
    Best
    Mike

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  3. I was one of the developers that did startext.net. I keep telling people that startext was the original social network. Good times.

    D.Pollock

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