Randy Suess, Computer Bulletin Board Inventor, Dies at 74

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“Everything we do in terms of communicating with other people online can be traced back to Randy and his bulletin board,” said Jason Scott, a computer history archivist who made an online documentary about the creation of C.B.B.S. “The only difference is that now it is all a little slicker.”

Randy John Suess was born on Jan. 27, 1945, in Skokie, Ill., about 15 miles north of downtown Chicago. His father, Miland, was a police officer in nearby Linconwood, and his mother, Ruth (Duppenthaler) Suess, was a nurse.

After serving two years in the Navy and attending the University of Illinois at Chicago Circle, Mr. Suess held a variety of technical jobs in and around the city, including positions with IBM and Zenith. Like Mr. Christensen, he joined the new Chicago Area Computer Hobbyists’ Exchange in the summer of 1975. It was one of many such do-it-yourself computer clubs popping up around the country.

Mr. Suess and Mr. Christiansen built their electronic bulletin board using a personal computer called the S-100. After adding a modem that could send and receive data across a phone line, Mr. Suess soldered together some additional hardware that could automatically restart the machine and then load Mr. Christiansen’s software whenever someone dialed in.

“Randy pretty much built it from scratch,” Mr. Christiansen said. “It looked like it was put together with bailing wire and chewing gum.”

Mr. Christiansen offered to run the system from his home in Dolton, Ill., south of the city. But Mr. Suess, who lived in the Wrigleyville section of Chicago, insisted that it stay in his basement, so anyone in the city could dial in without paying long-distance charges. By the time they retired the system in the 1980s, its single phone line had received more than half a million calls.

Mr. Suess had by then built a much larger system called Chinet — short for Chicago Network — which connected to the internet via a satellite radio. The internet was so small that he could download the whole thing onto his machine in a single evening. Others could then browse this global collection of data, including a new version of C.B.B.S., through 22 phone lines plugged into a bank of modems on a wall.


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