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CIX conferencing system is bought out – again

Veteran online hangout gains a new lease of life

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CIX, probably the oldest surviving online service in the UK, has a new owner, ICUK, which hopes to grow the system and attract new users.

CIX - or the Compulink Information Exchange - started off in the pre-web days of the mid-1980s as a shareware distribution house's Fidonet bulletin board service, but the online community quickly outgrew the shareware business. After spells under the ownership of Norwegian telco Telenor and then PIPEX (itself now part of TalkTalk), followed by a management buyout, it's now been purchased by the privately-owned Croydon-based ISP – which itself was founded and is owned by a CIXen, Leslie Costar.

CIX belongs to a pre-web – and for most private individuals, pre-internet – type of service called a "conferencing system," hosting thousands of both public and private discussion groups. In the early days it was a sort of grown-up version of Prestel's MicroNet, or a more flexible UK rival to CompuServe or the WELL. Running in its current form since 1987, it still has nearly 9,000 users and multiple busy discussion groups ranging from many technical discussions to culture, food, transport and anything under the sun, including its own in-house versions of Freecycle™, eBay™ and online shops – most of which long predate their web-based successors.

Indeed, the CIX conferences spawned many businesses that went on to become household names – Demon Internet began in the "tenner.a.month" conference, for instance, and it was an early haunt of the founders of this mighty organ. Everyone who was anyone in the UK techie community had a CIX address and for a lot of us it was our first private email address – your humble scribe joined in 1991 and is obscurely proud of his 20-year-old address. (Even if it now forwards to Gmail.)

In its often firmly moderated, spam- and graphics-free cloisters, the now grey-haired eminences of the British technology world learned how to write a well-formed email, properly free of formatting and bottom-quoted as the hypothetical deity intended. Even now, few online fora reach the signal-to-noise ratio of CIX or the other conferencing services – as is shown by the new name for what was Byte Magazine's BIX service – now reincarnated as Noise Level Zero.

BIX and NLZero ran on the same back-end software, CoSy, which is now open source and forms the basis for another CIX spinoff, TWIX, which chunters along quite happily as a place for emigrés from the cix:bikers contingent to natter. If you were one of that elite grouping, you'll know where to find it, or who to ask.

These days, CIX has a polished – if slightly retro – Windows client called Ameol, along with web-based conferencing-style and forum-style access – all of which ICUK has stated it will enhance. Here's hoping that CIX lasts for a good long time yet. ®

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