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xyzzy, Relay Conferencing before IRC even existed

Posted by jpluimers on 2016/11/28

A while ago, I remembered xyzzy by David Bolen: a VAX/VMS program for the BITNET Relay conference system on BITNET/EARN. Yes, relay chat before IRC. Even ELIZA did operate as a chatbot on BITNET Relay.

I was part of it from the late 80s until the early 90s and vividly remember the chat rooms where at one time you could have smart people from all around the world participating: Asia, Middle East, Europe, North America and other regions.

All people had one thing in common: an enthusiastic vibe as they had immediately recognised what the benefits of near instant feedback were. World Wide before you had the WWW. It was addictive too (:

The most important Dutch relay node was HEARN which was named unlike the HNYKUN patterns at the University in Nijmegen (now Radboud Universiteit, but previously known as Katholieke Universiteit Nijmegen hence the KUN in the HNYKUN pattern).

I had an account at HLERUL52 (chemistry department) at first, then later at HLERUL5 as well (computer technology department). Only later I got an SMTP email address [Wayback/Archive]

Anyway: based on the list of Bitnet/Earn links and connections below, you’d think you could plot a route. The example is between me and a cyber friends who – in 1992 – I finally met in real life:

  1. Jeroen Pluimers <PCHPAPL@HLERUL52> /  <PLUIMERS@HLERUL5> ([Wayback/Archive]  and [Wayback/Archive])
  2. Peter Sawatzki <FE617@DHAFEU11> / <IN307@DHAFEU11> ([Wayback/Archive] and [Wayback/Archive])

But that table is not the only one, the actual routing tables were generated from [Wayback/Archive/Google] LINKSWT files (see below), which means that HEARN and DEARN had a direct connection collapsing the (expensive) transatlantic steps 3..5 into one.

# Node Connection Description System Date
o HLERUL52 HLERUL5 Uni Leiden, Netherlands, NL JNET 89216
1 HLERUL5 HLERUL2 Uni Leiden, Netherlands, NL JNET 89216
2 HLERUL2 HEARN Uni Leiden, Netherlands, NL JES2 89216
3 HEARN FRMOP22 Uni Nijmegen, Netherlands, NL RSCS 89216
4 FRMOP22 CUNYVMV2 CNUSC, Montpellier, France, FR JES2 89219
5 DEARN CUNYVMV2 EARN Central Node, Germany, DE RSCS 89216
6 DBNGMD21 DEARN GMD Bonn, Germany, DE JES2 89216
7 DBNRHRZ2 DBNGMD21 RHRZ Uni Bonn, Germany, DE JES2 89216
8 DHAFEU11 DBNRHRZ2 Fern-Uni Hagen, Germany, DE RSCS 89216

After I got distracted this far, I collected this set of links with historically relevant information (some are in the Web Archive as the original pages have vanished by now) and had a chat with Fred Melssen:

The top 10 of really interconnected BITNET/EARN nodes:

# Node Count Description
0 UCBLILAC 55 U Calif Berkeley, US
1 FNBIT 38 Fermilab, US
2 FRMOP22 37 CNUSC, Montpellier, France, FR
3 FRORS13 36 CIRCE, Orsay, France, FR
4 GWUVM 33 George Washington U Comp Ctr, US
5 UCSCVM 26 U Calif Santa Cruz VM, US
6 CUNYVM 25 CUNY University Computer Ctr, US
7 TAMNET 21 TX A&M U Computing SC, US
8 PSUVM 20 Penn State CAC, US
9 ICNUCEVM 19 CNUCE – C.N.R. Pisa, Italy, IT


Related: Ancient history – found back one of my earliest email messages dated in februari 1989!

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