"It wasn't much machine by today's standard, but having worked on IBM
I jumped in with both feet when IBM entered the market." he
Faced with massive issues such as running
Visicalc (the first
spreadsheet available for the PC) and dealing with the first releases of a
number of application programs that have since vanished in the mists of time,
Don realized that as one of only a handful of PC owners he was missing what had been
a valuable source of information in the mainframe world: other people.
How would he link up with others?
Local users were few and after paying $500 for a
300-baud modem, he connected to the few single line bulletin boards available at the
time. It didn't take too many telephone bills and endless redials for Don to recognize the need for
a national network.
In 1982, Don developed the IBM
Users Network on CompuServe, one of the first online communities available to
multiple simultaneous users. Back then getting 1,000 users online at once was a
"The concept seems simple
now: provide a place for those
with an interest in the PC to get together electronically, discuss issues, and
provide tips, software and opinions relating to the PC," says Don.
"While there are hard technology
skills there are also soft skills involves a certain look and feel and style of
management. It's not something you learn in a book, it's a feel developed
through years of experience." It may seem quaint today but in 1983 it was
Want to see
how quaint? If you have more time than sense you can catch Don's 1987 appearance
on Computer Chronicles in their
video archive or view the shorter Don segment only
here. If you watch the
entire segment (highly recommended) Don appears about 11 minutes into the show but
even more fun is the appearance of Steve Case (ya know, the AOL dude) talking
about how AOL was focusing in the Commodore market. Despite Don's obvious geekiness (hey, it was '87) the watcher can decide who is the visionary,
regardless of who has more money (trust me, there's no contest, it's Case). The
feed is a bit slow, but the segment is mercifully short.
The original community concept wasn't limited to PCs and PCNet has operated communities and
developed content covering a number of diverse topics. After leaving CompuServe PCNet
moved to MSN and then had a stint at ZDNet and now continues to thrive on it's own. It may
very well be one of oldest continuously operating online enterprises still
around. Says Don "The benefit of being one of the first at the bar is that you
get to drink a lot....if you can remain standing.".
Don was awarded the John Dvorak Lifetime Achievement Award. He was inducted in the
Shareware Industry Awards Foundation Hall of Fame in 1997 and was awarded the SIA Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003.
He was a contender for the 2006 Software Vendor award for best reviewer (and
beat out by a far better reviewer, no question) . He is a founding
member of the US Internet Industry Association and a lifetime member of the
Association of Shareware Professionals
where he is a past board member. In addition to PCNet Don enjoys golf, being
active in the Austin golf community and
running the world famous BigDriver.com
Catch Don Watkins via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or in the PCNet
message area. Please be sure and leave contact
info if you'd like a reply.
Or if you'd like to see another
side of Don Watkins drop by the Don Watkins