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Every thought I have is fascinating.

Revisiting my history with the Internet and the tickling community (Part 1)

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I wrote about my history somewhat in my Staff Profile (link in my signature) so some of this will be covering that same ground. But to my incredible surprise, that profile was written as a history of the TMF a decade ago. Ten years ago, we had enough history that I thought it was worth a retrospective. That is, to me at least, shocking.

And now, about ten years later , the same notion seems to have come over me - to revisit the past and try to articulate some of what it was like. I'm going to try to be more thorough this time, and go off on some tangents that might, hopefully, be interesting.

I was a very early adopter of the Internet because when it began to break mainstream I happened to be in college as a Computer Science major (which I dropped out of because I didn't have the mental/emotional stability to do the work. I still struggle with it today, but in my 20s I was angry and depressed ALL the time.)

Anyway, my roommate Jamie was also a CS major and one day he came home and said "Check this out!" and showed me the World Wide Web.

Which was... nothing. It was a big nothing. There were like 10 websites at the time, none of them cool or interesting. If I remember right (this was almost 30 years ago now) we went to the Smithsonian's site, which had like one article about dinosaurs or something, with a few links in it.

But the idea of a "link" was brand new - you'd be reading something, and if you were curious about an aspect of it, you could follow that curiosity and learn about the new thing. There wasn't anything being done with it - I remember there was an IT group somewhere that had pointed a camera at their coffee machine and hyperlinked it (the coffee machine had its own IP address) and in the context of the early Internet that was both amazing and hilarious.

That must have been one of the first Internet Memes. Everyone was sending that link around. Articles were written about it.


But even then you could still tell it was a revolutionary notion that could dramatically change how we learn. It's hard to even explain what the world was like before this - nobody knew anything.

I used to read the Wheel of Time books, and in them master swordsmen had a heron engraved on their sword blade. I had no idea what a heron was, and if I wanted to find out I was going to have to travel miles to a library. I could have done it, but you weren't going to trek to the library every time you came across something you had never heard of.

I knew it was a bird, and I just left it there because the amount of work to learn specifically what one was would have been completely out of proportion to my curiosity. I ended up picturing a kind of cross between a flamingo and a stork (which wasn't THAT far off actually.)

Another time, I was with a girl and she was trying to describe a type of tree she had seen. I wanted to impress her with my resourcefulness so we called the Boston Public Library. They actually had people there (and might still) who would take your call and hit the research area to see if they could find the answer for you.

A very patient lady spent about 30 minutes on the phone with us, listening to us trying to describe a tree, and then going off to see if she could find a good reference material about trees, and find some of the words we had used in its index.

It was ridiculous, but it was how the world world worked. If you wanted to know something, you had to REALLY want it.

Now everybody just knows everything all the time.

Today if I read a book that mentions a bird I've never heard of, I'd highlight the word in my Kindle and ten seconds later I'd know more than I needed to about that brand of bird. And if I was trying to find a specific tree with a girl, we'd have no trouble entering keywords until we found the right one. We might even be able to use Google maps to find literally the exact tree she had seen.

I discovered tickling online a little later, when I was about 23-24, through what was called a Bulletin Board. Basically these were similar to the TMF, discussion groups broken up into topics and sub-topics, except you had to dial into it with your phone line connected to your computer. And if someone else in the house picked up an extension, you got disconnected.)

My roommate and I actually ran an MUD (Multi-User Dungeon) on a local Bulletin Board. We took an open-source MUD called Rivers of MUD (which I suddenly remember was written by a guy called Alander) and re-programmed it according to how we felt a game should work, and wrote a bunch of adventures which were mostly ripped off from fiction we had read

And we pitched the idea to the BB that we used, to have a game native to their own service, and they agreed to host us.

It was called Blue Facial Mud because back then we all named our games with puns about mud and thought it was hilarious. Ours got its name because one day while we were still tuning it, my sister walked past me with her face covered in some kind of blue skin mask.

These were all text, no graphics like the old Adventure games, and were programmed in C, which I understood just enough to putter around with.

It actually lasted for a really long time - we turned it over to one of the players after about five years when we lost interest, and she continued to run it for a good 7-10 more years. When they finally shut it down it was one of the longest continually-running games on the Internet.

Now I can't even find a reference to it online, although one time a few years ago there was an article on PC Gamer about MUDs and I told this story, and someone replied who had played on my game

I've been writing for about 45 minutes because I keep getting distracted trying to find things I remember existing twenty years ago, so I'm going to stop here and pick it up again in a day or two.
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    Jeff, wow......FASCINATING. Absolutely FASCINATING.

    And well-written, also! (not surprising).

    You really put us in those early internet days! I didn't get online until the late 90s, so......this is EXACTLY the kind of thing I've always wondered about. I'm really looking forward to reading more! Now that I know this is here, I'll make sure to stop by the blogs each day. (I clicked on here accidentally!).

    Thanks for sharing this vivid, detailed remembrance with us! I, for one, find it extremely, extremely interesting.