Selby Bateman, Features Editor
If you're new to telecomputing, or haven't been online for a while, you'll find some pleasant surprises. The major telecommunications services have continued to add new features and to make their systems easier to use. Here's an overview of some of the newest resources at your telecommunications doorstep.
One of the most rapidly evolving segments of the ever-changing personal computer field is telecommunications, connecting your computer to other computers through telephone lines. All you really need in order to get started is your computer, a modem that translates your computer's signals into tones that can be transmitted via telephone lines, and a terminal program that coordinates the actual transmissions.
Once you begin telecomputing, you quickly find that among the most interesting and varied online pursuits are the different telecommunications services that offer you hundreds of different activities and access to thousands of computer users.
Individual services vary quite a bit, depending on what kind of computer user each is hoping to attract. Some services cater to business customers, but a growing number are trying to interest home computer users. The major consumer services listed below don't include all of the systems you're likely to run into. But, they have become the best-known major services among personal computer owners.
It's been almost two years now since American People/Link went online with its combination of news, entertainment, conversation, electronic mail, CB simulation, and games. Among its variety of online clubs, the Commodore Club continues to be one of the most popular areas of use.
People/Link users are called Plinkers, and the emphasis is on interaction among members, ease of use, and low cost. Users receive regular printed information updates called LinkLetters. There is a Help system for beginners, as well as Advanced Mode, which lets more experienced members move around more quickly.
American Home Network, 3215 N. Frontage Rd., Suite 1505, Arlington Heights, IL 60004; 800-524-0100 (Illinois residents call 312-870-5200); non-prime time access rate is $4.25 per hour at 300 baud and $4.95 an hour at 1200 baud; prime time fees are $11.95 for 300 baud and $12.65 for 1200 baud. (Illinois residents pay $4.25 at all times.)
CompuServe Information Service
CompuServe remains the nation's largest computerized consumer information service, and continues to add to its huge library of online offerings. The financial services area, in particular, has undergone extensive growth. Three brokerage services are offered for online transactions, and Wall Street financial information from 1973 forward is available.
One of the new financial services offered on CompuServe is COSCREEN, which lets investors screen information about companies through as many as 24 different search variables.
In addition, CompuServe has added greatly to its database library through the IQuest gateway link. An additional 700 databases have been added to the approximately 400 already available on CompuServe. The new databases are primarily in the reference and bibliographical areas for such professional fields as health, law, real estate, and many others. The new databases also include many national and regional newspaper files, as well as adding the UPI (United Press International) news wire. CompuServe already offers the AP (Associated Press) service.
Another service area undergoing major growth is the expanded travel information and transactions section. Using the Online Airlines Guide (OAG), you can book your own reservations anytime and anywhere. There's even a ski reservations service called the Rocky Mountain Connection that lets you schedule an entire ski weekend or extended ski trip.
The popularity of CB-style communication has led to a new digitized database of users' photos. Send in a photo of yourself to CompuServe, and the company will digitize the photo for free and include it in a database of all members who send them in. So, if you've been chatting online and made a new friend, you can call up the name of the person and see a digitized picture on your screen. This service is an offshoot of CompuServe's earlier digitizing of photos of the FBI's ten most wanted criminals.
CompuServe, P.O. Box 20212, Columbus, OH 43220; 800–848–8199; $39.95 registration fee; prime time access is $12.50 an hour at 300 baud and $15 an hour at 1200 baud, with non-prime time rates of $6 an hour at 300 baud and $12.50 an hour at 1200 baud.
Delphi has added a variety of new services to its offerings, including Computer Express, an interactive shopping service that offers computer software and accessories at discount prices. Ordering is quite simple: If you see something of interest while browsing, you type the letter O. Information on that item is stored in a personal file, which is called up when you enter the command to exit. At that time, you can either cancel the order or place it.
Another new service is a classified advertising section, which allows you to receive responses to your own classified ads either via Delphi mail or through mail/telephone orders.
For those visiting the Boston area, Delphi Boston is a special online service offering hotel and restaurant guides, sports schedules, and other information of interest to residents of and visitors to the area. There's also an expanded travel service on Delphi now, which allows you to shop online for the best airline rates and schedules and make your own reservations.
A new magazine and book order area lets you subscribe to various publications and even change mailing addresses online. In addition, you can correspond with the editorial staffs of participating publications.
Delphi, 3 Blackstone Court, Cambridge, MA 02139; 800–544–4005; $49.95 registration fee; prime time access is $17.40 an hour and nonprime time access is $7.20 an hour.
Dow Jones News/Retrieval
Dow Jones is considered the premier business and financial computer news service, and its databases carry extensive financial and stock market data as well as a growing array of other news and information.
Over the past several years, the subject areas included have broadened into many other areas. As with the other major services, users can find everything from general-interest news, weather, and sports to airline guides, college selection services, and an online encyclopedia. As with CompuServe, the number and variety of offerings are huge.
Dow Jones News/Retrieval, P.O. Box 300, Princeton, NJ 08540; 800–257–5114; $29.95 registration fee, which gives you five free hours; $12 annual service fee that's waived the first year. At 300 baud, prime time access fee is 90 cents per minute, and non-prime time rates are 20 cents a minute. At 1200 baud, rates are 2.2 times those at 300 baud. In addition, about 8 of the 40 online databases carry a surcharge.
After only a year of operation, GEnie has developed a subscriber base of over 20,000, and plans to have 30,000 by the end of 1986.
Some of the newer services include the American Airlines Easy Sabre Travel Service, which lets you peruse fares and schedules, and make reservations online; 25 new SIGs (Special Interest Groups), ranging from computer-related areas to science fiction/fantasy to scuba diving; Hollywood Hotline, a database of movie reviews, both current and as old as 10–15 years; and suspension of the $5/hour surcharge while public domain software is being uploaded. Of the approximately 10,000 data files available on GEnie, 75 percent come from users.
General Electric Information Services, 401 N. Washington St., Rockville, MD 20850; 800–638–9636, ext. 21; $18 registration fee; prime time access is $35 an hour, and non-prime time access is $5 an hour.
In its first year of operation, this Commodore 64/128-specific service has received quite a bit of interest. Several months ago, new software for the system was released, adding features such as a new downloading mechanism that speeds up downloads anywhere from 20 to 60 percent; a status report during downloads that tells how much of the download has been completed as you go along; reorganization of the software libraries, making it easier to find programs; an overhaul of the message boards for easier use; and an auto-boot program for Commodore 128 users, as well as an auto-redial capability.
QuantumLink Customer Service, 8620 Westwood Center Drive, Vienna, VA 22180; 800-392-8200; no registration fee; $9.95 monthly charge (no additional charges except for certain selected services at six cents a minute).
The Source continues to add services for both consumers and business users. Among the new services are SIGs, including those for Commodore, Apple, and IBM computers. Like other telecommunications services that offer SIGs, The Source offers messaging capabilities, public domain software for downloading, E-Mail, and a variety of other areas of interest to personal computer owners.
There's also a new service called USA Today Broadcast. This is a special feature offered to those employed in the field of broadcasting. Gannett, publisher of USA Today, makes editorial content available online prior to printing the actual publication.
The Source, 1616 Anderson Road, McLean, VA 22102; 800–336–3366; $49.95 registration fee, which includes 300-page manual. Billing is $10 a month or your usage, whichever is greater. At 300 baud, prime time access is 36 cents a minute and non-prime time is 14 cents a minute; at 1200 baud, prime time rate is 43 cents per minute and non-prime time is 18 cents a minute.