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A Social History of Bitnet and Listserv, 1985-1991
April-June 2000 (vol. 22 no. 2)
pp. 32-41

After the engineers built the computer networks, users had to build the social networks that made them useful. Listserv, the combined mailing list and file server, was an important tool for those interested in building network-based organizations. It first appeared on Bitnet, an academic network based on IBM computers. The early versions of Listserv became operational in the mid 1980s, and its early archives show how network users learned to use the software and, perhaps more importantly, how to manage network-based organizations.

1. See K. Hafner and M. Lyon, Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins of the Internet.New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996; H. Rheingold,The Virtual Community. Reading, Mass.: Addison Wesley, 1993; J. Abbate,Building the Internet. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1999.
2. J. Barlow, "Electronic Frontier: Coming into the Country," Comm. ACM, vol. 34, no. 3, pp. 19-21, Mar. 1991.
3. F.J. Turner, "The Significance of the Frontier in American History," Report of the American Historical Association for 1893, R.H. Carpenter,The Eloquence of Frederick Jackson Turner. San Marino, Calif.: Huntington Library, 1983.
4. E. Goffman, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life.New York: Doubleday, 1959.
5. D.J. Oberst and S.B. Smith, "Bitnet: Past, Present and Future," Netmonth, vol. 1, no. 3, Sept. 1986.
6. "Bitnet growth chart," BITNIC Archives, Aug. 1992. The document dates to late 1986, and its figures seem to have been recorded as the network grew and reflect the number of computers connected to the network. Later figures are not easily comparable, as they report either the number of universities connected to the network or the number of computers connected directly to Bitnet.
7. Bitnet Node Chart, Listserv@Bitnic.
8. Executive Committee Minutes, 24 Nov. 1987, Listserv@Bitnic.
9. Bitnet Bylaws, Version 1.4, 23 July 1986. This structure was codified by January 1984. SeeNetmonth, Nov. 1987, vol. 2, no. 5. The dominant position of the executive board was reinforced by the fact that Bitnet was originally a tree-structured network with CUNY at the top of the tree.
10. C. Condon, "Bitnotes," Netmonth, July 1986.
11. Goffman, op. cit., p. 107.
12. Goffman, op. cit., p. 209.
13. See Usage Guidelines Discussion Group, May 1988, BITNIC; J.W. Cerny,Guide to BITNET Usage for the UNH Hilbert VAX/VMS Environment. Durham: Univ. Computing Center, Univ. of New Hampshire, 1987.
14. C. Condon, "University of Maine File Server To Be Shut Down," Netmonth, June 1989, Marist Listserv.
15. H. Nussbacher, "On Chat," Listserv@Bitnic.
16. J. Kell, "Chat," Netmonth, vol. 1, no. 1, July 1986.
17. SeeNetmonth, Dec. 1986 to Apr. 1987. Correspondents toNetmonthdebated if a poorly written and inefficient chat program should be allowed to operate on Bitnet. Condon also supported restricting operations of the more-efficient Relay program to evening hours.Netmonth, Oct. 1986.
18. Minutes of the Executive Committee, 3 Apr. 1987, Listserv@Bitnic.
19. SeeNetmonth, July 1986; Dec. 1986; Jan. 1989.
20. Board Minutes, 18 Sept. 18, 1989.
21. Listserv Users Guide, 1988, Listserv@Bitnic.
22. "Bitnet Listserv Discussion Groups," Electronic Document, Listserv@Bitnic, 13 Feb. 1989.
23. See Logs from Liaison-L, Future-L, Tech-L, Policy-L, Listserv@Bitnic.
24. See Logs for UGL-L, 1986-1988, Listserv@Bitnic.
25. See Netmonth, Apr. 1987.
26. Netmonth, Nov. 1987.
27. Netmonth, Dec. 1986.
28. Liaison-L, Archives, 1987, Listserv@Bitnic.
29. See Netmonth, Nov. 1986 and following.
30. Letter from C. Condon, Netmonth, May 1992.
31. A computer center operator in Texas attempted to publish it, but stopped after a single issue. See "Introduction," Netmonth, May 1992.
32. The group wasJBOnlinerun by John Harlan. Interview with John Harlan, Feb. 1993. Logfiles,JBOnline, Listserv@INDYVMS. Netmonth Archives, Jan. 1989 and June 1989.
33. Interview with Valentine Michael Smith (pseudonym for Charles Dell), Nov. 1992. Logs, USSR-L,1989.
34. "Network Connections to China," available from the Texas A&M Listserv.
35. S. Kang, "A Brief Introduction tosoc.culture.chinaNewsgroup," IFCSS Organizational Profiles,16 Nov. 1989 (available from KENTVM Listserv). The Dec. 1987 logfile of Chinanet contains some of the notices that helped to establishscc.
36. S. Zhiyong, "AboutThe Electronic Newsletter for Chinese Students(ENCS)," CND-Global,6 Mar. 1991.
37. B. Xiong and X. Gang, "The Making ofChina News Digest," China News Digest-U.S. Edition,6 Mar. 1991.
38. See Logs,China News Digest, week of 1 Aug. 1989, Listserv@Kentvm.
39. See Logs,China News Digest, week of 1 Aug. 1989, Listserv@Kentvm.
40. Logs,China News Digest, Oct.-Sept. 1989, Listserv@Kentvm.
41. Z. Haiching, "Report from Zhao Haiching, Chairman of CCSA/IFCSS," China News Digest-U.S. Edition,2 Nov. 1989.
42. History of Humanist, listserv@utoronto, Mar. 1989.
43. Interview with Ken Steele, founder Shaksper, 12 Oct. 1992.
44. Humanist, History, Guide and Logs for 1987-1990, Listserv@Brown.
45. Log of Shaksper, Listserv@utoronto.
46. Bitnet Listserv List of Lists, 15 Jan. 1991, Listserv@Bitnic.
47. Interview, founder EURPOL-L, Aug. 1992.
48. Postings, BLIND-L, Nov. 1992, Listserv@SIUVM.
49. Bitnet Board Minutes, 25 Nov. 1985; 27 Oct. 1989; 3 June 1991.
50. Bitnet Board Minutes, 27 Oct. 1987.
51. Bitnet Board Minutes, 1990-1992.
52. Bitnet Board Minutes, 23 Feb. 1992.

Citation:
David Alan Grier, Mary Campbell, "A Social History of Bitnet and Listserv, 1985-1991," IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, vol. 22, no. 2, pp. 32-41, April-June 2000, doi:10.1109/85.841135
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