CompuServe Closes: why Black Boston remembers

a road well traveled
a road well traveled

CompuServe enabled black online entrepreneurs  in Atlanta, Boston and Detroit to monetize their passionate interests in black community online social networking well before the Internet reached mass appeal and this is an accounting of how it  happened.

It was -14 degrees outside in Washington D.C when the female African American mayor was captured in a photograph by the Washington Post driving a snow plow through the streets.  We were inside warm offices negotiating.  Our collaboration  with nationwide Afronet BBS sysops,  Congressional Black Caucus members and attendees of a Department of Commerce  conference about  blacks on the new Information Superhighway,  had created an opportunity to join people who operated independent African American online properties with an established publisher who welcomed the chance to build something together. The new online project was named GO AFRO.

>>(Jul 8, 2009) – Network World magazine reports that the granddaddy of the online industry, CompuServe, has been closed down by its parent AOL as of July , 2009, after 30 years in operation… full story <<


(1995) The Museum of Afro-American history on Beacon Hill at 20 Joy Street had an online history moment “first” when its director, a Ms  Sylvia Mckinley approved content for use on  CompuServe’s Go Afro social networking forum.

Boston’s Kenny Granderson, the founder of, was actively working his magic  in Go Afro.  He also had bought the domain names, and and was publishing online while meeting with the City of Boston about possibilities to collaborate.   One project was in  association with banks installing  kiosk-driven screens  in their locations containing  digital Black Boston history. That story was  televised by Karen Holmes of Channel 5’s CityLine because the content was written in a book published by  historian Robert Hayden of Boston’s South End.  more details…

The Internet was bare of Black destinations for people who surfed online to go places and discover the world at the time.  We searched the CompuServe network for the word “Afro and African American” only to find references to Grolier’s encyclopedia at the time. CompuServe had over 2 million active members and  hundreds of connected social sections. We didn’t see any black operated ones. BostonMurrell co-produced the GO AFRO Compuserve venue  on behalf of American Visions magazine, a world-wide magazine  featuring  Afro-American culture and arts. American Visions was  the official magazine of the African American Museums Association when CompuServe partnered to launch its content online.

Clinton was the President of the United States as the project was  unfolding. A new President of Haiti was being elected. Musician Greg Osby was gigging at Wally’s Cafe and signed copies of CDs distributed to online members of Go Afro.  Boxer Joe Frazier, actress Pam Grier, and author Connie Briscoe’s (“Sisters and Lovers”) were forum interview guests.  George Curry published Emerge Magazine and appeared to chat online audience twice.   The  USA Today newspaper  publicized  Go Afro online events nationwide.

To get it going, BostonMurrell hired Boston’s Roxbury Media Institute founder to assist with writing copy for 18 GO AFRO online introductory areas. The approved material and the upload of 8 years of digitized material from the magazine  launched Go Afro’s online debut. It was one of the  first significant revenue generating online destination for anyone that appreciates Afro-American culture and the arts, and was in direct competition with AOL’s NetNoir online venue.  AOL had invested $500,000 to get NetNoir off the ground. CompuServe’s investment was the partnership agreement to join its system and their  international media marketing machine was thrown in.  Go Afro revenue came from connection fees and people had to pay to get there.

The competition for black online  mind share was an all-out war.  Analysts predicted  GO AFRO could generate a million dollars in gross revenue and it did.  Revenue splits were pushed out to the sponsor and CompuServe retained most of it. The rest  covered staff hours and funded offline networking meetings with members in different states.

This writer went to a member meeting in DC and 60 people were there from across the United States.  Participants  dropped  thousands of consumer dollars on the host city.  Staff were a mix of volunteers who were expert in their respective areas. Most resided in the US while one, the leader of the Music section,  lived in the United Kingdom.

CompuServe was charging for access and people didn’t mind paying.  GO AFRO had  registered 35,000 paying subscribers, managed 600,000 personal communications and  CompuServe distributed a Go Afro team produced “Museums without Walls” multimedia CD ROM to its three million subscribers nationwide in recognition of the importance of Black history, art and culture in America for free.

CompuServe was the home of GO AFRO – the world’s first online revenue producing crowd sourced destination for everyone  who appreciated African-American culture, worldwide.

This post is a tribute to CompuServe and a thank you to American Visions magazine ( I hope all of you are doing well).

Online content creators  seeking to monetize their time online have it harder now.  The game has changed.

CompuServe  put revenue in the hands of content creators and 15% of the proceeds was not unusual.  ISPs and Search Engines are still getting paid from people surfing the net.  The ISPs ( Comcast, Verizon, etc.) will share revenue with a few content producers but not many.  Google banks $21 billion a year from displaying ads during search activity while a tiny amount is shared with content creators.