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GEnie (General Electric Network for Information Exchange) was an online service created by a General Electric business - GEIS (now GXS) that ran from 1985 through the end of 1999. In 1994, GEnie claimed around 350,000 users. Peak simultaneous usage was around 10,000 users. It was one of the pioneering services in the field, though eventually replaced by the Internet and graphics-based services, most notably AOL.

Early history

GEnie was founded by Bill Louden in October 1, 1985 and was launched as an ASCII text-based service by GE's Information Services division in October 1985, and received attention as the first serious commercial competition to CompuServe. Louden was originally CompuServe's product manager for Computing, Community (forums), Games, ecommerce, and email product lines. Louden purchased DECWAR source code and had MegaWars developed, one of the earliest multi-player online games (or MMOG), in 1982.

The service was run by General Electric Information Services (GEIS, now GXS) based in Rockville, Marylandmarker. GEIS served a diverse set of large-scale, international, commercial network-based custom application needs, including banking, Electronic Data Interchange and e-mail services to companies worldwide, but was able to run GEnie on their many GE Mark III time-sharing mainframe computers that otherwise would have been underutilized after normal U.S. business hours. This orientation was part of GEnie's downfall. Although it became very popular and a national force in the on-line marketplace, GEnie was not allowed to grow. GEIS executives steadfastly refused to view the service as anything but "fill in" load and would not expand the network by a single phone line, let alone expand mainframe capacity, to accommodate GEnie's growing user base. (Later, however, GE did consent to make the service available through the SprintNet time-sharing network, which had its own dial-up points of presence.)

The initial price for connection, at both 300 bits per second and the then-high-speed 1200 bits per second, was $5–$6 per hour during "non-prime-time" hours (evenings and weekends) and $36 an hour (to discourage daytime use) otherwise, later adjusted to $6 per hour and $18 per hour, respectively. 2400 bit/s was also available at a premium. Later, GEnie developed the Star*Services package, soon renamed Genie*Basic after Prodigy threatened a trademark lawsuit over the use of the word "Star". It offered a set of "unlimited use" features for $4.95/month. Other services cost extra, mirroring the tiered service model popular at the time.

GEnie's forums were called RoundTables (RTs), and each, as well as other internal services, had a page number associated with it, akin to a web address today; typing "m 1335", for instance, would bring you to the GemStone III game page. The service included RTs, games, mail and shopping. For some time, GEnie published a bimonthly print magazine, LiveWire. GEnie's early chat room was called the LiveWire CB Simulator, after the popular CB radios of the time.


GEnie had a reputation as being the home of excellent online text games, similar to the "doorway" games on bulletin board systems but often massively multiplayer. Top titles included:

Other major titles included:


A RoundTable on GEnie was a discussion area containing a message board ("BBS"), a chatroom ("RealTime Conference" or RTC) and a Library for permanent files. They were part of an online community culture that predated the Internet's emergence as a mass medium, which also included such separate entities as CompuServe forums, Usenet newsgroups and email mailing lists.

Most RoundTables were actually operated not by GEnie employees but by independent contractors working from home, which was standard practice for online services at the time. The contractors received royalties on time spent in their forums. In the most popular forums, this revenue stream was often substantial enough to hire one or two part-time or full-time staffers. Many RoundTables also had a number of unpaid assistants, working for a "free flag" (which granted them free access to that RoundTable) or an "internal account" (which granted free access to all of the service).

RoundTables available on GEnie included:
  • The 911 / Emergency RoundTable for discussion of emergency preparedness...and a forum set up for quick mobilization during emergencies
  • The A2 RoundTable for discussion of Apple II computers, an early home of Apple devotees
  • The Astrology RoundTable
  • The Atari ST RoundTable
  • The Automotive RoundTable (sysops J.J. Gertler & Greg Amy)
  • The Aviation Roundtable (sysops Roy Barkas, Dick Flanagan, Bill Moulas and Linda Pendleton)
  • The Comics and Animation RoundTable (originally part of the SFRT).
  • The CP/M RoundTable
  • The Education RoundTable, which included a separate area for younger, school-aged GEnie users
  • The Forth RoundTable, a popular discussion board for the Forth programming language
  • The Game Design RoundTable
  • The Health RoundTable
  • The IBM PC RoundTable - Sysops Charlie Strom and Rick Ruhl
  • The Japan RoundTable, including "Japanimation Online", an early anime forum[33499]
  • The Left Coast RoundTable (initially The California RoundTable, later The American West RoundTable)
  • The MIDI/WorldMusic RoundTable, an early MIDI discussion forum hosted by Robert Moore
  • The NBC Online RoundTable [33500]
  • The New Age RoundTable
  • PetNet - all things animal
  • The Public Forum*Non-Profit Connection RoundTable was the place to discuss current events and politics, and also assisted non-profits to use online resources to further their mission
  • The Radio and Electronics RoundTable, run by Glen Johnson
  • The Religion and Philosophy RoundTable
  • The four Science Fiction RoundTables (the SFRT), the official online home of the Horror Writers Association and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America before the Internet became popular (SFWA members, who were all published authors, received free access to the SF RoundTables)
  • The Jerry Pournelle RoundTable
  • Scorpia's Games RoundTable, dedicated to games of all types, including GEnie's hosted online games
  • The Scuba RoundTable - the first non-computing related RT on GEnie, founded by Tracy Kornfeld
  • The ShowBiz RoundTable, created by film critic Bill Warren in 1989, and still active today on the online service Delphi
  • The Space and Science RoundTable
  • The Spaceport RoundTable, oriented around engineering projects that could be carried out in space.
  • The Sports RoundTable, run by Glen Johnson
  • The *StarShip* Amiga, run by deb! Christensen.
  • The TeleJoke RoundTable, which was managed by Brad Templeton and cross-linked with the Usenet newsgroup rec.humor.funny
  • TI-99/4A and Geneve RoundTable
  • The TSR Online RoundTable
  • The White House RoundTable for making available press releases and other hard to find administration materials and for partisan discussions on actions of the Bill Clinton administration
  • The Windows RoundTable - Sysops Rick Ruhl and Charlie Strom
  • The Writers' Ink RoundTable

Rise and fall

Although GEnie developed a loyal following – especially for its hosted forums, among the online gaming crowd, and among science-fiction writers and fans – and for years was second as a service provider only to CompuServe itself, it never had enough backing from GEIS management and was never considered strategic. The service failed to keep up when Prodigy and America Online produced graphics-based online services that drew the masses. Programs such as Aladdin, which had been developed earlier by an independent developer and eventually supported by GEnie, helped many of the newcomers who came to GEnie from Prodigy and AOL adjust; these were the equivalent of modern-day email programs and newsreaders, incorporating a more user-friendly interface which automated message and mail downloading and posting. But GEnie's marketing was all but non-existent, and word-of-mouth was insufficient to keep it going in the face of media blitzes from the new services.

In addition, as the Internet gained popularity, GEnie took its time developing GEnie Mail-to-Internet Mail gateways, which were extremely expensive, and support for Usenet newsgroups. GEnie opened its Internet email gateway on July 1, 1993.

GE sold GEnie in 1996 to Yovelle, which was later taken over by IDT Corp. IDT attempted to transition Genie (now all-lowercase) to an internet service provider, but ultimately failed. IDT also attempted to place a GUI on the still text-based service. This client was actually in use for the final few months, but GEnie did not last long enough for the GUI client to become popular.

Visitors to GEnie dropped with the growth of other online services and fell dramatically following a very sudden change in the fee structure in 1996. The users were notified with only 12 hours' notice that all basic services would cease to exist, while prices of the other services would rise dramatically. The short amount of advance warning meant that many people would not be able to log on that very night, and there was insufficient time to contact friends and create means of keeping in touch for the future. The resulting exodus produced a great deal of anger against the owners of GEnie. By the final year, insiders reported fewer than 10,000 total users.

On December 4, 1999, it was announced that GEnie would close for good on December 27 due to Y2K issues. Remaining users gathered in chat areas of the few RoundTables remaining to say goodbye and "watch the lights go out" at midnight on the 26th. But GEnie did not close for four more days and a dwindling number watched at the close of each day. The RoundTables and all areas of GEnie, except the Top, became unavailable slightly before midnight on December 30, 1999. There were still several users chatting at the end.


GEnie, particularly its specialized RoundTables, served as an arena for collaborations that had impact in American popular culture. Several books, TV shows, films and other projects had their genesis and inspiration on GEnie. One example is the Babylon 5 television show, created by J. Michael Straczynski, which was first announced publicly in GEnie's Science Fiction RoundTables. The SFRTs served as the show's first online "home" and were the source of many in-jokes and references throughout its run.

Bill Louden, the original creator of GEnie, formed a group of investors to buy the Delphi online service from News Corp, where he led the transition of the service from text-only to the Web (and from a pay-per-hour to an advertising-supported revenue model).

Many of the contractors who ran GEnie RoundTables (such as Syndicomm) went on to operate forums on other online services, such as Delphi and AOL, and many remain active online today with Web communities or blogs.

Notable users

Many well-known personalities were early adopters of the online medium, and were a prominent presence on GEnie, either active in one of its RoundTables, or frequent public participants in GEnie's CB Chat.

Other well-known science fiction authors who were frequent visitors to the SFRT included Dafydd ab Hugh, John Barnes, Michael Banks, Steven Brust, Michael A. Burstein, Debra Doyle, Gregory Feeley, Neil Gaiman, Joe Haldeman, Katharine Kerr, Paul Levinson, James D. Macdonald, George R.R. Martin, Rich Normandie, Mike Resnick, Robert J. Sawyer, J. Neil Schulman, Josepha Sherman, Susan Shwartz, Sherwood Smith, Martha Soukup, Judith Tarr, Harry Turtledove, Lawrence Watt-Evans, Leslie What, and Jane Yolen. Occasional but less frequent visitors included K. W. Jeter and Ken Grimwood.

Science fiction editors Gardner Dozois, Scott Edelman, Peter Heck, Tappan King, Beth Meacham, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Teresa Nielsen Hayden, and Dean Wesley Smith were also frequent participants.

See also


  1. A Boom for On-Line Services - New York Times
  2. [1]
  3. Remarks by William Louden, GM, GEnie (9/88)
  4. The Information Center's guide to LiveWire CB Simulator

External links

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