It is easy to forget how disconnected computers used to be. There was a time when sites with similar computers would do a tape rotation where a tape (or whatever media) would arrive in the mail. You’d spend some time looking at what was on it and then add anything interesting that you had to the end of it before sending it on to the next person. Eventually, the tape would come back to you, presumably loaded with more things. Late in 1967, Dr. James Peters started a newsletter called MUDPIE — Museum and University Data Program and Information Exchange. The newsletter would wind up with 26 issues over five years and while it started out with as few as 25 members, it would grow to over 250.

The newsletter was a real hardcopy newsletter, because as Dr. Peters put it:

MUDPIE represents an attempt to keep everyone up to date on the development of time-shared computing in museums and universities engaged in systematic research. Several individuals receiving this first copy had written asking the same questions, and this is a quick way of answering them. There was a tremendous temptation to set it up so that it could be received only through the teletype and computer — but that proved to be a little too advanced for the present!

It is sobering to read in the first issue: “To our knowledge, there are now three installations in the United States with teletype connections to time-shared computers.” There were also six programs from the Smithsonian available, all of which calculated statistics on data sets. The newsletter mentions: “Anyone wishing tapes of these programs should first call J. A. Peters… and arrange to call on the teletype number…”

By 1972, there was talk of the National Science Foundation computer network and government grants to set up specialized databases that would be accessible. They also mentioned several nascent computer networks at places like the University of California, Irvine and a library of available programs from the Naval Ordnance Laboratory.

Mudpie was a true “mailing list” without the e-mail. It started the kind of organization that would eventually spawn Usenet, list servers, and forums. You can only wonder what Peters would think of the Internet today. He died in 1972 and the MUDPIE newsletter died with him.

Honestly, it is doubtful you’ll read the 26 scanned newsletters and get anything directly of use to you today. But it does provide a glimpse into how computing was in the early 1970s and how users wanted to connect and interact but had to wait for the network technology to provide them with a good mechanism.

If you want to look at more Internet history, there are some videos around. Of course, we’ve talked about early attempts at remote computing with Illiac before, too.

Retrotechtacular: Before the Internet: MUDPIE
Source: HackADay