Fido and FidoNet

updated 28 feb 2020

I'd been using BBSs since 1976 or so, 300 baud accoustic coupler type, rotary-dialing Chicago busy signals, but in 1984 I wrote my own, called Fido, and shortly thereafter a thing called FidoNet, a store-and-forward emailing and file-transmission system that was (1) the first such thing, ever; (2) the largest privately-owned computer network in the world; (3) a very strange, complicated, very large social organism, a terror-toma partially/intentionally of my creation. It still lives on, shockingly, today, and still thrives in places where people have no money and terrible telephone systems.

A computer bulletin board (BBS) is in fact a collection of social conventions encoded in software, each a microscopic "internet" of dozens or hundreds of people, hundreds of downloadable files. In fact a lot of internet terminology ("download") in fact are BBS paradigms and words.

Fido/FidoNet was/is a truly international network and software program. Fully native language versions were available for (from memory) Danish, Netherlands, German, Bahasa?, a cobbled Chinese, Spanish, and at least two flavors of English. For a brief time it was the sole email connectivity to the anti-apartheid university in South Africa. (My Fido software dominated the net through about 1985, when other programs appeared; by 1990 my software was only a small fraction, though the protocol standards and such prevailed.)

FidoNet became an explicit social project for me starting in 1985. And more radically so in the years that followed; by 1986 I started applying anarchist principles -- local, self-organizing, complete lack of intrinsic heirarchy, the ability to communicate utterly independent of others permission or goodwill -- but not soon enough. (A little too late to fix some inherent flaws; nodelist fragment distribution should have been built-in, and the REGION business that turned into a monstrous heirarchy should have been killed off quick). Driven by more or less the same forces that drove (popular access to) the internet years later, FidoNet grew at an insane rate; two computers in spring 1984, 160 that fall, 32,000 by the early 1990's. (Consider that each BBS computer had ten to a few hundred users each.) But many of the problems should have been obvious. I didn't learn some of it until well after the fact.

Why aren't there any images here?

Because electronic images didn't widely exist then. The earliest consumer digital cameras didn't appear until the mid 1990's, and weren't all that common for the next 10 years, and most of them sucked. (Battery life measured in minutes, terrible image quality, expensive, slow...)

In the earliest days, Fido and all bulletin boards, then FidoNet, were mostly 2400 bits/second, up from 300 and even 110 bits/sec of the 1970's. You probably aren't even aware today of the bit rate of your internet link; it's probably a thousand times faster, or more (and this statement itself will probably become laughable). And IBM PC type computers (the price of an inexpensive automobile) had under a megabyte of main memory, so images were not a common thing to look at. (Digitized audio has similar issues.)

By the time I exited daily FidoNet operation, mid 1990's, FidoNet was mostly 9600 to 56,000 bits/second, via dialup modem. Images were still uncommon.

Images were not part of BBSing experience, loosely and generally speaking.


A major component of FidoNet is (was, whatever) its newsletter, FidoNews. I started it in 1984; as of this writing (1999) it's in its 15th year, and has been published weekly from the start. It is the meta-network, a means to discuss the network itself. The publication policy is (or at least was) "we publish anything" from FidoNet members (and sheesh, it sure has). It's not always pretty to look at, but like any household argument it's essential to the operation of the network. It was distributed to every FidoNet site (up to 35,000 copies per week), and read by probably twice as many people. I was the editor for two periods, 1984-1985 and 1991-1993.

FidoNet documentation and ephemera

I've saved shockingly little of my decade of Fido/FidoNet, plus I had a major disk crash and backup failure in 1993, so I lost much of my early work. I have only slightly more than what appears here, and I'll move it from private to public directories over time.


Every Fido, FidoNet, FidoNews, etc disk file I have is available for download or viewing, below. Most of them are text files, but they have funny filename extentions. Modern operating systems and most browsers today rigidly enforce handling of files based on the names. There's no easy way to view these files directly with a browser. Desktop browsers seem to be more generous than mobile browsers.

Until I figure out how to wrapper/encapsulate these in a meaningful way if you really want to see them, download the ZIP file below and unzip it. By today's standards is all very small, uncompressed about 15 MB. It's text.

For example, most of the FidoNews newsletter issues are pure 7-bit ASCII-1968, but have a filename ending in .NWS. They're just text. Not my fault tools today have become so stupid and rigid. The ZIP file contains some 34 MB of text.

In the early oughts, clicking these links showed you the file contents in Mozilla Firefox. Today (2020) they download, leaving you to figure out how to view them. See notes above.

Press, accolades, hate mail, etc.

In the late 1980's and early to mid 1990's, I, and FidoNet, got a lot of ink. Here are a few that I recall or have copies of. Some are still packed away in archival storage. There were probably as many references from the world outside the U.S. of A. as there were inside.

Fido and FidoNet also put me off writing software for a living. I shipped a hundred of more revisions in a decade. Two full ground-up rewrites. Plus, I lost all the sources to the latest released version, and everything I'd ever done on a computer in 1994 or so, victim of a worst-case disk crash and damage-infected backups.

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