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Reg hack cast adrift as Illuminati Online goes off-line

The end of an era that really died a decade ago

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Self-Indulgent Comment For nearly 20 years I've paid, monthly, for an email account, but next month the domain shuts down and while I feel I should care it seems email isn't as important as it used to be.

Steve Jackson Games was the company I selected for the email account I set up in the early nineties, and since then I've routed every message though the Austin Texas home of Illuminati Online.

Back then I wasn't convinced that this "internet" thing would ever take off, so rather than get an account with some dodgy bubble-funded outfit I rented space from a company that made card games, figuring that the internet might come and go but card games would always be with us.

What I failed to foresee was that a card games company would decide to sell its valuable, two-letter, domain name to an internet outfit, who would then suffer a shareholder split that leaves my email address homeless and a 20-year investment in business cards worthless.

Steve Jackson Games made (and makes) a variety of card and board games, notably a card game called Illuminati which pits organisations so beloved of conspiracy theorists against each other in a quest for world domination.

When the company went online as a Bulletin Board System it called the operation "Illuminati Online", in 1993 that BBS got connected to the internet and Steve Jackson Games acquired the domain name "io.com".

Secret Service raid

The company already knew how important computers were going to be, having had all their computers confiscated by the United States Secret Service in 1990.

Someone writing for the company had attracted the attention of the Service, "so [as Jackson reported it] agents stormed the office and took everything - including the drafts of the about-to-be-released Gurps Cyberpunk role-playing source book, which one agent referred to as a 'handbook for computer crime'."

That raid nearly, but not quite, drove the company out of business.

Against that background I decided I could rely on Illuminati Online for the rest of my natural life, and became bill1@io.com, encouraging friends to make the same move to be sure they'd have an address which would never change.

Illuminati Online became a popular ISP in Austin, presumably in part because of the policy of providing 24-hour support (by publishing the administrator's home phone number). The company also provided shell access - which was most useful as I struggled to come to terms with Linux and the internet thing refused to go away.

That popularity ended up with the operation being acquired by local ISP Prismnet, which continued to provide service for the io.com domain - though for a while I was required to pay for a dial-up account which would have been useful had I ever visited Austin.

But it seems the owners of Prismnet have had something of a falling out, with the io.com domain falling between them. The domain has now been sold off to an unidentified third party, and I’ve been given 30 days to collect my stuff and get out.

It’s just an email address, and really not that important, but my address and mobile phone number keep changing (the latter should stay the same, but Ofcom has added digits to the area code over the years).

bill1@io.com has been a constant, handed out in confidence that even if you didn’t contact me for a decade I’d still be there to get your message: only, come July, I won’t.

Now I’ll get a GMail or Hotmail account and hope for the best, or perhaps rely on never-ending employment with El Reg for my mailbox. The precedents aren't good: my experiments with a googlemail.co.uk address ended badly when the chocolate factory shut down the domain.

Email addresses are disposable things these days, no one expects to keep an electronic address any longer than a physical one.

There are various cloud-based updating systems that try to update contacts when one moves, but these days most of us rely on Facebook and LinkedIn to keep track of people we met last week, let alone last year.

That means there's little reason for unchanging addresses, and every time the social networking landscape changes we can again experience the joy of contacting people we thought had gone forever - only to ignore them for another year or two until the landscape changes again. ®

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