So long, FidoNet, good dog!

Some time near the end of this month, a computer-nerd friend of mine of long standing is going to go through a mild but significant change in his lifestyle: He is going to cease offering services as a network node on FidoNet.

Some time near the end of this month, a computer-nerd friend of mine of long standing is going to go through a mild but significant change in his lifestyle: He is going to cease offering services as a network node on FidoNet.

This will hardly be a life-wrenching event for anyone, since my friend has now lost the very last client on his server – a fellow nerd living in Watson Lake, who has also now moved on to the new millennium in digital communication.

Nevertheless, though its passing may go unnoticed in the small world of Yukon geek-dom, this shut down does mark the end of an interesting epoch in the history of computer communications, but locally and globally.

My friend has been a participant in the FidoNet network, in some capacity or other, for more than 21 years now – 18 of them in Whitehorse.

At one time, he was the server for four or more local bulletin board systems (BBS’s), which were the internet chat rooms of their day – places local computer nerds could connect to on their modems to read and comment on discussions over a wide range of subjects, technological or otherwise.

FidoNet was essentially a modem-based communications network by which these BBS’s exchanged e-mail and “echomail,” which was by far the most popular feature of these services.

Echomail was, in effect, a time-delayed chat room service, where postings from users around the world on various subjects would be updated daily.

The glory days of FidoNet spanned the years to its inception in the United States in 1984 to the advent of wide-spread internet access in the mid 1990s.

At its highest point, around 1993, it apparently consisted of almost 25,000 network nodes around the world, and almost 1.6 million users.

This achievement is all the more impressive, when you consider that it was accomplished without any significant public or private financing, by a loose collection of unpaid computer hobbyists.

It worked because thousands of people (people like my friend) invested their own time and money into it.

In the days before internet, being a FidoNet network node operator represented a real financial cost to the volunteer.

You had to commit to having your serving computer make a daily long distance call to a computer server upstream from you to download the netmail, echomail, and other files that were being routed your way for the use of your clients.

In the pre-internet days of high long distance prices and very slow modems, this could quickly get very expensive, particularly as the volume of clients and informational demand kept expanding.

This was a particular challenge in places like the Yukon, which in those days had long cripplingly high long distance charges.

Though he enjoyed a brief period when he partnered with a user who had a satellite connection and could bring down the all the echomail groups, for the most part, my friend was limited to a selected group of these discussion groups.

He pulled them down on an early-morning long distance connection to a FidoNet computer in Oregon (which, for reasons now long since forgotten, was cheaper to call than British Columbia).

My friend’s early involvement with the development of in the Yukon (which is where he and I initially met and became friends, actually) was in part driven by his need to find a faster, more affordable way of supporting the needs of his FidoNet users.

Over time, however, the internet proved to be a very mixed blessing for BBS’s and FidoNet.

Though the faster modems and cheaper connectivity made the FidoNet services easier to deliver, they also made those services less necessary.

People began to drift away from BBS’s, getting their newsgroup, chat, e-mail and software download needs directly from the internet.

As the BBS’s dwindled, so, too did the number of volunteers offering FidoNet networking services.

According to the FidoNet home page (fidonet.org), the network now consists of 10,000 nodes around the world; the site does not even attempt to give an account of the number of actual users.

That is less than half of the number from 1993.

Though it continues to be popular in places like Russia (probably because of that country’s weak civilian internet infrastructure), it is now very much a forgotten old dog in the more IT-developed regions of the world.

Still, the Yukon, whether it knows it or not, owes a good deal of thanks to the local FidoNet community for the development of internet in the territory, since so many important players in the effort (like mike friend) were FidoNetters or BBS operators.

Today, much of the volunteer, do-it-or-free ethos that motivated, and still motivates, FidoNet, has rubbed off on the hobbyists and enthusiasts who populate the Open Source movement in computer software development.

I was never a part of the FidoNet community myself, though I had the good fortune to rub shoulders with it in the pioneering days of Yukon internet.

It was, like most communities of amateur enthusiasts, a quirky, cranky, some times contentious, but always creative place to be.

So, when my friend finally puts the old dog to sleep, this month, there are a number of us, FidoNetters or not, who might do well to give it an affectionate last pat on the head, for the good things it did for us at the time, and for the legacy – both technological and ethical – that it has left us with.

So long, Old Shep. Good dog.

Rick Steele is a technology

junkie who lives in Whitehorse.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

City of Whitehorse’s Selkirk pump house on Selkirk Road in Riverdale on Jan. 26. Whitehorse city council decided Jan. 25 that there will be no advantage for local firms planning to submit proposals for the final report and design of a second barrier water treatment project for the Selkirk pump house. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
No local content weighting on pump house contract

Work will see design for water treatment system

The Yukon Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board is issuing $10 million in rebates to employers this month. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Yukon employers to receive $10-million in rebates from Workers’ Compensation Board

Eligible employers will receive cheques based on total premiums paid in 2020

Connie Peggy Thorn, 52, pleaded guilty Jan. 27 to manslaughter in the 2017 death of Greg Dawson. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Whitehorse woman pleads guilty to manslaughter in death of Greg Dawson

Connie Thorn, 52, was arrested in October 2019 and pleaded guilty in Supreme Court on Jan. 27.

Abigail Jirousek, left, is tailed by Brian Horton while climbing a hill during the Cross Country Yukon January Classic in Whitehorse on Jan. 23. Jirousek finished second in the U16 girls category. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Cross Country Yukon hosts classic race

Cross Country Yukon hosted a classic technique cross-country ski race on Jan.… Continue reading

Yukon Premier Sandy Silver talks to media on March 5, 2020. The Yukon government said Jan. 25 that it is disappointed in a decision by the federal government to send the Kudz Ze Kayah mining project back to the drawing board. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Territorial and federal governments at odds over Kudz Ze Kayah mine project

The federal government, backed by Liard First Nation, sent the proposal back to the screening stage

Yukon RCMP’s Historial Case Unit are seeking the public’s help locating Bradley MacDonald, a 42-year-old man who has been missing since Aug. 5, 2019. (RCMP handout)
Historical Case Unit seeks man missing since 2019

Yukon RCMP’s Historial Case Unit are seeking the public’s help locating a… Continue reading

Yukon RCMP said in a press release that they are seeing an increase in tinted front passenger windows and are reminding people that it is illegal and potentially dangerous. (RCMP handout)
RCMP warn against upward trend of tinted windows

Yukon RCMP are seeing more vehicles with tinted front passenger windows, prompting… Continue reading

An arrest warrant has been issued for a 22-year-old man facing two tickets violating the <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em>. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Arrest warrant issued for CEMA violation

An arrest warrant has been issued for Ansh Dhawan over two tickets for violating CEMA

The office space at 151 Industrial Road in Marwell. At Whitehorse city council’s Jan. 25 meeting, members voted to sign off on the conditional use approval so Unit 6 at 151 Industrial Rd. can be used for office space. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News file)
Marwell move set for land and building services staff

Conditional use, lease approved for office space

The bus stop at the corner of Industrial and Jasper Road in Whitehorse on Jan. 25. The stop will be moved approximately 80 metres closer to Quartz Road. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
UPDATED: Industrial Road bus stop to be relocated

The city has postponed the move indefinitely

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police detachment in Faro photgraphed in 2016. Faro will receive a new RCMP detachment in 2022, replacing the decades-old building currently accommodating officers. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Faro RCMP tagged for new detachment

Faro will receive a new RCMP detachment in 2022, replacing the decades-old… Continue reading

In a Jan. 18 announcement, the Yukon government said the shingles vaccine is now being publicly funded for Yukoners between age 65 and 70, while the HPV vaccine program has been expanded to all Yukoners up to and including age 26. (1213rf.com)
Changes made to shingles, HPV vaccine programs

Pharmacists in the Yukon can now provide the shingles vaccine and the… Continue reading

Parking attendant Const. Ouellet puts a parking ticket on the windshield of a vehicle in downtown Whitehorse on Dec. 6, 2018. The City of Whitehorse is hoping to write of nearly $300,000 in outstanding fees, bylaw fines and court fees, $20,225 of which is attributed to parking fines issued to non-Yukon license plates. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
City of Whitehorse could write off nearly $300,000

The City of Whitehorse could write off $294,345 in outstanding fees, bylaw… Continue reading

Most Read