My first adventures online started in 1981 when I was working for E.F. Hutton & Company. Our office had just received an Apple IIe computer with a Hayes 300 baud modem to use for stock analytics. A local programmer had come up with a stock monitoring program that only ran on an Apple computer. Because I was considered to be the most computer literate person in the office at the time, I was asked to use and evaluate the program. I had to download data from New York via a Hayes 300 baud modem. The programmer set up a private text-based bulletin board for us to communicate about our transmissions with New York.
My experience with online community building started in 1983 when I was called in to manage a retail store for CompuShop, one of the largest national computer retailers of that time. I transmitted daily reports and communicated with other store managers across the country through an electronic bulletin board service using a Hayes 300 baud modem. Because our store serviced the personal computing needs of Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories and many of their contractors, we were often surrounded by some of the top technology minds in the country. On the weekends, world-class nerds would show up at our store to “play” with the latest gadgetry introduced by IBM® and for a short time, Apple®. Many of the locals ran or subscribed to private electronic bulletin board systems (BBS). In fact, it was in 1984 that a local school teacher, Jo Fox, came into the store with flyers introducing ABQ ROS, a local BBS she and her husband Steve Fox (d. June 9, 2002) had started for all the geeky types to tap into to play games and share tech news, tips, and tricks. My crew and I gave the flyers to every customer who bought a modem. Little did we know at that time, ABQ ROS would become one of the top 10 BBS operations in the country.
In 1985 Microsoft, IBM, and Adobe opened tech support forums on CompuServe. My store’s tech support crew and I joined to download the latest drivers and patches for our customers. Because of my marketing background, I also joined the CompuServe PR & Marketing Forum. While I rarely found time to take advantage of that forum, the contacts I made led me to other major private bulletin board services and the early versions of the proprietary networks, Prodigy® and AOL®. In April 1985 Bell Atlantic Corporation decided to get into the computer retail business and bought the CompuShop retail computer store chain. Right away I developed strong relationships with several Bell Atlantic board members. It was easy to do because they were new to the computer retail business and most of them were as old or older than me. How did I make that initial connection? I hand-wrote and mailed them a personal note card welcoming them to the pc computer business and offered to share my knowledge and guidance freely. Three of them used to call me regularly at home, sometimes to get my perspective on where the pc computer industry was heading and others, to get some confidential help in using their computers.
In 1986 I decided to break away from computer retail sales and started my own consulting business. My first clients were my former employer and some of the companies that had been former CompuShop customers or vendors. I helped several of them build their online communication forums through bulletin board systems or CompuServe® vendor forums. For others, I provided training and marketing services. Then, I turned to my local market and provided a full array of marketing and small business startup services.
I signed on to the commercial interactive online services as a permanent resident for the first time in November 1990 where my explorations quickly led me to their public bulletin boards, forums or message centers. I enjoyed sharing information and tips with fellow cyber-travelers about America’s Land of Enchantment, home to the world’s largest ballooning event, and with other folks running their own businesses or aspiring to start one.
It was in November of 1991 that I started the “Adventures With Barb” message series on the Prodigy® Network. That series led to the development of a private online community of consultants, then to a dedicated area for small businesses open to the Prodigy public, on to private e-mail discussion groups. In late 1993, I was chosen to work with a team beta-testing the Mosaic browser, which led to Prodigy becoming the first of the popular dialup services (i.e. CompuServe, AOL) to offer full access to the World Wide Web in 1994. This move fueled my decision to move my company’s focus to help clients establish their presence and build communities on the commercialized Internet.
As social media platforms gained in popularity during the 2000s, I established a presence on them to study their community-building effectiveness and help clients establish their presence on them to take advantage of all the community-driven tools offered.
In 2011 I had planned to celebrate my 20 years of online residency with family, friends, and colleagues during the annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta® but alas, I found myself diagnosed with Stage 4 Colon Cancer, battling for my life. I did manage to attend Balloon Fiesta® 2012 but decided to forego any big celebrations until I could return to Fiesta in support of a special cause dear to my heart, Cancer Awareness. On April 29, 2011, the cancer was removed from my body. Little did I know then that I would be facing multiple surgeries to get me back to the point I could begin living a somewhat “normal life” again. I followed doctors’ orders and embarked on an extensive education in health and wellness.
I celebrated my fifth year of being cancer-free in 2016 and my tenth year of being cancer-free in 2021. Grateful for each and every day I’ve lived since the cancer was removed, I have viewed each one as a gift from God. Albeit that I was left with some physical limitations, my life has changed significantly for the better overall. While I do not have the strength or stamina I had before Cancer, I am confident I can make a positive difference in the world before checking out.