Over-the-phone computer data bank (Nov, 1979)

Sure, it’s a Compuserve style walled garden, but there was a pretty impressive amount of information available online in 1979.

Over-the-phone computer data bank

Telecomputing Corp. of America is now offering a computer information service called The Source. Actually a large computer located in Virginia that contains some 2000 programs, The Source includes a tie-in with the UPI and New York Times news and data banks. Type in your question and you get answers on everything from the latest news and stock-market reports to methods of conserving energy.

The Source supplies information to you over the phone line using a modem—a box that converts digital information to audible tones for phone transmission and then back again at the other end. Although only a terminal (keyboard and TV-display combination) is needed, you can use a home computer to send and receive data through the system, as well. There is an initial $100 hook-up fee (and you must buy a terminal—$500 and up— or own a home computer and modem), and you are charged by the hour of computer time ($2.75 after 6 pm; $15 during work hours).

As I found out, it is a perfect addition to a home computer; I’ve been using my system for conventional programming, then switching into the TCA system for special information. When Skylab was falling, for instance, I knew where it was before many of the local radio stations (not before the Australians, however). And when the EPA tested the Shetley “110 mpg” car, I had the results before an EPA contact called our automotive editors.

Using the system is easy, but you’ve got to be explicit in what you ask it— and you’ve got to pay attention. One night, while trying to find out the airline schedule for incoming planes (yes, that’s there, too), I sat through an entire display of the latest Mexican League baseball scores.

For more info, write to Telecomputing Corp. of America, 1616 Anderson Rd., McLean, Va. 22102. —W. J. H.

10 comments
  1. BrownBear says: June 24, 20086:32 am

    Interesting article. Here is a link to the Shetley 110mpg car mentioned in the article: http://www.time.com/tim…

  2. Michael Patrick says: June 24, 20086:52 am

    This was what inspired Al Gore to invent the internet.

  3. Casandro says: June 24, 20089:34 am

    Actually today that would be called a perfectly open system. You could use your equiment to connect to just about any competitor. It wasn’t _that_ innovative back then, a few years after that services like Minitel or BTX started.

  4. renan says: June 24, 20082:15 pm

    BTW, the terminal on the picture looks much like an ADM3A. Anybody confirms?

  5. Torgo says: June 24, 20086:27 pm

    If it asks you if you want to play a game, tell it “no!”

  6. Casandro says: June 24, 20088:47 pm

    Yep, it is a ADM3A.

    http://www.vintage-comp…

  7. Tracy B. says: June 25, 200812:48 pm

    I believe it was trademarked as “dumb terminal”

  8. Paul says: July 17, 20095:43 am

    ‘Data bank’ – whatever happened to that term, eh?

  9. SSS says: May 17, 20108:40 pm

    The Adm3a was the best damn terminal made. “Dumb” by some standards, you could stream data to it at 19,200baud and it wouldn’t hiccough – unlike later “smart” terminals. VT100, I’m talking about you. (Hell, the VT220 was even worse in terms of data rate)

  10. rschweit says: June 3, 201211:27 pm

    Ah yes, The Source. They were actually Compuserve’s direct competitior, as far as dial-up online information services went in the ’80s, until Compuserve acquired them around 1989 or so.

    And yes, SSS is correct, I have a VT220 connected as a console to my Ubuntu box, and it has trouble (dropped characters) with speeds over 9600, which is the fastest speed it seems to reliably support…

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