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Remembering eWorld, Apple's forgotten online service

Benj Edwards | June 10, 2014
Twenty years ago this month, Apple introduced an online service to compete with the likes of AOL, Prodigy, and CompuServe

Apple introduced an Internet On-Ramp (per the city interface metaphor, users accessed it by clicking on a cartoon road,) in 1995 that allowed eWorld users access to Internet newsgroups, FTP sites, mailing lists, and the Web. It was a competitive move forced by the rise of the Internet; other online services began to transition to Internet gateways around the same time.

eWorld membership continued to rise slowly throughout 1995 as its client software--included with new Macs--introduced a new audience to the service.Behind the scenes, Apple began planning a future transition to an ISP model to maintain viability. But just when times were looking a little better, the bottom fell out.

The end of eWorld

During the last few months of 1995, it became apparent within Apple that the company would post staggering losses at the end of the quarter (around $700 million), which devastated company morale and spooked investors. Cuts had to be made, and services like eWorld, which were tangential to Apple's primary mission of selling profitable hardware, had to go.

In March of 1996, news of the losses hit, and Apple announced that eWorld would close on the 31st of that month.

Many subscribers reacted frantically at the upcoming loss their "electronic city," and for good reason. eWorld's numbers were never stunning, but they were enough to foster a healthy and devoted online community. Many met lifelong friends, future colleagues, and even spouses on the service.

When online communities close down, the people and cultures that formed there tend to split up and flow from one place to another, comingling with other online cultures in much the same way refugees fled ancient cities in the wake of natural disasters and enemy invasion.

In that way, the death of eWorld sparked the birth of a dozen other minor communities--mostly on the Web. But one new service welcomed eWorld expatriots above all others.

During the last month of eWorld's run, a handful of former Apple eWorld employees announced a Web-based service called Talk City that would host chat rooms and discussion boards similar to Apple's. They also announced the hiring of eWorld's loyal community moderators, which cemented the link between the two communities.

At the end of its 22-month lifespan, eWorld boasted only 147,500 subscribers--a paltry sum compared to the 3.5 million accrued by multiplatform AOL. But for those who forged real, lasting relationships on eWorld, the service was never about numbers. It was about family and community. In that sense, the living legacy of eWorld continues to this day.

Editor's note: eWorld subscriber numbers according to Apple Confidential 2.0 by Owen W. Linzmayer.

 

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