One Little Community
There was just something about INN that set it apart from all the other on-line systems.
For starters, it had lots of pretty pictures. The map would change with each season, music would play at various parts of the system, and everything had a very friendly graphical feel to it. By comparison, all the other on-line systems (especially back in 1993) seemed rather sterile.
There was also something that made the system more "real". No, I'm not talking about interactivity - we didn't have the power for that. Keep in mind, back then a 9600 baud modem was blazing! No, when I talk about the system being more real, I mean each area had several different rooms, and you could only talk to people who were in the same room as you. I'm not talking about chat rooms either, I mean you could only instant message someone who was in the same room as you. If you wanted to go somewhere else to talk to another friend, you said, "Hey, I'm gonna go meet my friend in the Card Crib, I'll see you later, okay?" Or better yet, "Hey, follow me over to RPG Zone, one of my friends is there."
With AOL's instant messages, we think being limited to talking only to the people in a given room is "inconvenient". But that's not how it was. AOL's instant messages annoy me. Every time I sign on, it's as if I'm immediately forced into contact with the people on my buddy list. I can be contacted any time at any place, regardless of anything. In many ways, AOL's IMs are like the on-line form of a pager - convenient but obligating. On AOL, we're obligated to be with all the people we know all the time.
But with INN, something interesting existed. Mingling. On what other on-line system could you and five other friends just sit in a room and laugh at the guy with a funny name who just walked in? Or on what other on-line system could you actually chase a friend from room to room, trying to get one word in before he disappears into the next room. The great thing about this was that while you were running from room to room chasing that one friend, you'd run into all your other friends, too! And they would see you quickly enter and exit the room, unable to get a word in. So the next time they saw you, they'd ask about it. Suddenly, your little adventure becomes the next topic of conversation. If this sounds familiar, it's because the original idea was called "real life".
Mail was interesting - your letters actually looked like envelopes. Not only that, but you had to actually write your mailbox number on the envelope. (Oh, yes, that was another thing. You couldn't just e-mail someone by their name - you had to know their mailbox number. Great for avoiding e-mail bombs.) Yes, actually typing your mailbox number is slightly inconvenient, but here's the fun part. Write an offensive letter to someone, and sign it with someone else's mailbox number! What other system let you do that?
And these little touches were the very things that brought life to INN. The innovative mailbox number idea made it possible to have duplicate screen names, so you and your friends could play huge pranks on your buddy by having five of him suddenly appear in a room. Or (I actually did this once), get a bunch of people to make screen names made entirely of obscene words and see how long it takes the sysops to find you. Then when they do (they did for us), scatter. The point is, I have memories like this from INN. I don't from AOL.
AOL, CompuServe, and all those other systems may be efficient. They may have convenience in their own bland, sterile styles. They obligate you to do things as efficiently as possible, much like a grown-up's business. INN was inconvenient, limited, and wired to allow for numerous amounts of childish pranks. We see these things as flaws now, but those very flaws made INN the kind of system that you could be on and have fun. And I miss that.