In this week’s edition of Tech Time Warp, we look at troubleshooting computer issues—or at least finding information about ideas to try—is far easier than it used to be. Simply type a description of the issue you’re experiencing into a search engine, and you’ll receive myriad results ranging from official documentation to posts in official user forums and posts in subreddits. But back in 1955, when IBM mainframe computers were entering the mainstream, that was far from the case. Enter SHARE, the first computer user group.
You might think SHARE stands for something, but no. A one-pager on the group’s history states: “SHARE: It’s not an acronym; it’s what we do.” Representatives from 17 entities that had purchased IBM 704 mainframe computers gathered Aug. 22, 1955, in Santa Monica, California, to convene the group’s first meeting. The goal was to provide peer-based technical support between installations. SHARE eventually formed groups in Europe and Japan, as well as produced its own SHARE Operating System (SOS) for the IBM 709 System.
Inspired by SHARE, other computer user groups formed and thrived through the 1980s. This is including the famous Homebrew Computer Club, which counts Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak as among its organizing members. In their heyday, computer user groups typically offered a regular monthly meeting and a printed newsletter, as recounted in this 2020 ArsTechnica article by Esther Schindler. The Internet Archive has preserved an extensive collection of user group newsletters in digital form.
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