The BYTE Information eXchange was a BBS system maintained by BYTE Magazine, for the distribution of current information, software, etc., to its subscribers (known occasionally as bixen), and featuring numerous user discussion areas divided into conferences and exchanges. Similar to Compuserve and its kin, BIX is a very early example of the national-scale bulletin board systems.
Announced in June of 1985, BIX probably made BYTE the first traditional periodical to develop an electronic presence, and was certainly the first such to be widely used. The system was immensely popular due to BYTE's large and technically inclined readership, and as such developed a unique culture and attracted significant outside content. For example, some publishers, including pulp science fiction juggernaut Del Rey, posted reviews of upcoming titles, sample chapters, and other special features on BIX's active science-fiction area. The advertisement to this effect in the back of most Del Rey trades published between 1994 and 1998 undoubtedly added to the system's popularity in its later days. From an ethnographic standpoint, BIX is also notable for having an indigenous system of emoticons, called bixies.
In the early 1990s the entire personal computing world seemed to be coalescing around Windows PCs; thus as interest in BYTE's multiplatform focus waned, BIX was sold to Delphi in February 1992. With access to Delphi's services, BIX began offering internet services to its users as part of their subscription. Seeking to become a conduit for online conduit, Delphi entered into licensing negotiations with Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation that led to its acquisition in October 1993. Although BIX remained focused on discussions among technical power users, its parent company tried to steer it towards media distribution. In 1996 BIX joined the HTTP bandwagon as bix.com, further obscuring its text-based conferences. Later that year, News Corp was persuaded to sell Delphi back to its founders, who set up Delphi Forums to sell technology and services for running online communities. BIX thereafter returned to its roots as a text conferencing service, and bix.com was reduced to a minimal status page in 1997.
BIX continued on as on obscure Delphi service with an extremely loyal and active membership until 2001. In 1999, BIX attracted only a few dozen new members, possibly because it existed as a private forum which could only be entered by Delphi subscribers who sought out and petitioned a BIX member for access, as Delphi stopped officially accepting new BIX subscribers in 1998 or so. bix.com has since become the web presence of Prospero, the result of the merger in 2000 of Delphi and Well Engaged, the commercial spin-off of The Well and also an online community services group.
As for BIX itself, Delphi finally pulled the plug on the telnet service on 1 June 2001. A few of its active members are trying to preserve the BIX community in a new service that they established shortly before the shutdown, called Noise Level Zero. Like its predecessor, NLZero is a text based moderated conferencing system evidently derived from BIX's software.
Relevant Web Sites
- BYTE Magazine still exists as an online publication, albiet a cash strapped one.
- This was the BIX community web site until 1997, featuring links to notable ongoing discussions. After this it became a simple status page, and in 2000 was redirected to Delphi's home page. Now points to Prospero.
- Web site of Delphi.
- Web site of Noise Level Zero.
- In 1995 BYTE mentions the 10th anniversary of BIX.
- An elderly text file advertisement for BIX from the Amiga Report International Magazine.
- The Del Rey Internet Newsletter mentions its availability on BIX.
- A reposted news file from the announcement of News Corp's Delphi acquisition.
- A 1994 Wired article about the News Corp acquisition of Delphi.
- By 1995 News Corp was unhappy with the purchase.
- In 1996 BYTE mentioned that BIX would be replaced by a web site.
- BYTE mentions that BIX still exists.
- Contains a brief note about the final shutdown of BIX.