Bitnet. In all likelihood you’ve never heard of Bitnet. It kind of sounds like the name of an ISP, doesn’t it? “Become a Bitnet customer, and get 80 free hours!”
But back in 1984, it was all the rage at universities from Iowa to Israel. Bitnet was a network that linked computers at thousands of universities throughout the world, allowing students and staff to exchange email, programs, and interactive messages, and the network was experiencing explosive growth. And in 1984, when DargonZine was founded, Bitnet was our distribution channel.
At that time, there were several such networks in existance, including NSFnet, UUCP, ARPAnet, Fidonet, and others. All these networks were separate because they had been created by different organizations and used different protocols for talking to one another. Around the time DargonZine was born, gateways began springing up which allowed email to pass between these disparate networks, and DargonZine became one of the first “Internet” magazines.
Over time, one network protocol became the standard: TCP/IP, which was originally used to link Unix machines on ARPAnet. Once TCP/IP became widely available to the Digital VAX and IBM mainframe systems that made up Bitnet, many of those sites began to maintain presences on both the TCP/IP network as well as Bitnet’s NJE-based network.
Over the past ten years, Bitnet sites have gradually transitioned to TCP as their sole connection to the Internet. Many DargonZine subscribers have changed their email addresses to TCP/IP domains. And each time a new DargonZine issue is distributed, we learn of a handful of sites which have let their Bitnet connections expire. The trend has continued to the point where there are barely a half-dozen DargonZine subscribers still using Bitnet addresses.
Today, it looks like Bitnet is living out its last days in obscurity. Few people remember that it once was a substantial global network of university computer centers that was one of the predecessors of today’s Internet. Even the articles and books which document the history of the Internet often don’t bother to mention the network that had instant messaging back in 1982, that gave us the first chat machines (which eventually were ported to the Internet in the form of IRC), that gave us the first email list processors in the form of Listserv (which has also been ported to the Internet), and which served as the host to many diverse information systems and services, including DargonZine.
For those of us who grew up on Bitnet, its impending demise is like the loss of a close friend. Those who remember Bitnet have many fond memories to recall, and feelings of melancholy and sadness. The Internet has lost an important part of its history, and DargonZine has lost its childhood home.
Back in 1984, I would hardly have thought that DargonZine would outlive Bitnet, yet here we are. Unlike Bitnet, DargonZine is more robust than ever, and this issue is a great example.
In this issue we conclude Dafydd’s second “Talisman” story. It’s an excellent series, and I hope you don’t let its size intimidate you. Dafydd is one of the best writers we’ve ever had, and “Talisman” is his most ambitious work to date. We also feature the debut of a new writer, Tim Guba; I hope you enjoy his story, which follows a retiring merchant captain. And finally, we print the first story in five years from one of our veterans: myself, Ornoth. New writers, old writers, and lots of super stories; while Bitnet’s glory days are past, DargonZine will continue to thrive and bring you the best fiction we can for years to come.