Before the ‘real’ web was launched, especially since 1994 when Netscape made it easy to go online, there was CompuServe. It was a walled community of users using dial-up Internet, paying Compuserve by the minute to be online and also paying the phone company by the minute for making a local call – at least for us in the UK as it was not common back then to have all-inclusive packages.
CompuServe offered much of the stuff you can find on the web today, gossip, chat, information, technical support… only it was all on their terms. You couldn’t build a web page and just put it out there, if you wanted to create an online group to support your product then you had to ask (and probably pay) them. I used to be a regular user of the music forums and the Sunday afternoon chat sessions where Brits and Americans would discuss the music news of the week were amazing – and very social. We used to get together for gigs and travellers were hosted when they were passing through London, just because they were regularly in the music chatroom.
Now it’s been shut down by AOL and a piece of history has been lost. Of course, it was pointless in the modern era of the web, but it’s still sad to see it go as that was a genuine online community long before the web grew to where it is now.