Diversi-Dial (or DDial, for short) is a software program for Apple II computers that was advertised as a "CB Simulator", because it allowed for several people to chat with oneanother at the same time on a public channel. DDial was written in 1983 by Bill Basham of Diversified Software.

Diversi-Dial Basics
The basic idea of DDial is that it allows a computer user with a modem to dial up a DDial system and "chat" with other people that were currently signed on to the same system. While this seems like nothing special by today's standards given the advent of Instant Messaging and IRC (Internet Relay Chat), at the time DDial was released, there was nothing quite like it. Sure, multi-user minicomputer systems and multi-line dialup systems had similar features, but having a system solely dedicated to chat was non-existant.

What set DDial apart was that it cleverly used an Apple II computer stuffed with a case-full of 300 baud modems to allow concurrent connections of up to eight users (one local on the console itself). Additionally, since the connection speed was limited to 300 baud (quite acceptable in those days), the speed of the Apple was sufficient to service each connection and the local console without any noticable slowdown; essentially, you couldn't tell that you were sharing a 1MHz machine with seven other people.

The system worked, and was rather popular. Around 100 systems existed at one point in the United States, and welcomed an age of what I like to refer to as "Net Crack" (due to the fact that many people seem to become seriously addicted to chatting online). People would spend their $5 to $10 dollars a month for a password (in the form of a 9-digit number, where the first three digits represented your account number; there was no separate username and password, though your handle was stored) to have an Email "box" and relatively unlimited useage. If you didn't have a password, you would be subject to an automatic logoff after typically 1 to 3 minutes.

Using the system consisted of dialing your modem and connecting, optionally entering a password at a prompt, and then after a brief system bulletin, you would be placed in the main channel chat session (channels described in the next section). At this point, you could type or enter commands ('/?' would show a list of commands), and the conversations of other people would automatically scroll past your screen. You could type while the dialog was coming down the pipe, but you wouldn't see anything until either a pause in the discussion or you pressed return to transmit your message.

What It Looked Like (sort of)
To give an idea of what a DDial session looked like (to help you understand some points later in this node), here is a basic example:

#1[T1:JoeUser) Hello there!

  • A - Time-out indicator. Normally '#', if the user had 60 seconds before being cut-off by the system, this would change to an asterisk '*'.
  • B - the port the user is on. 0 is the local console (sysop) and 1-7 represented essentially the port the user was logged into. On a technical note, this was actually the slot number for the modem they were connected to as the Apple II had 7 slots for modems.
  • C - access indicator. This had one of three characters:
    • ( - a non-member, or in DDial speak, a m0e. This person did not use a password to log on, and is basically a guest.
    • [ - a paying member. They have Email access.
    • < - A sysop or co-sysop. These people could control various aspects of the system.
  • D - Channel indicator. There were four channels, T1 through T4.
  • E - The user's handle.
  • F - The user's message.

Diversi-Dial User Features
While the main attraction of DDial was the ability to chat with other people, there were a few features added to help generate revenue for the sysop and, indirectly, establish some social class system.

Message Slots were available at the discretion of the sysop. These were basically small messages that could be entered by the sysop or someone with the right password, and could be viewed by entering a command such as /MO (show message "O"). Optionally, the sysop could configure the system so that every set number of minutes, a random message would appear on the users' screen. While some sysops gave these message slots away for free with purchase of a monthly password, some charged an additional dollar or two for the privelage. Since DDial had no security information for individual users, a password would be given that allowed one to modify the contents of the message slot at any time during that session. Alphabetically sequential message slots could be linked by putting a semicolon as the last character in the message (i.e. /MO could automatically display /MP in this case, making a double-length message slot). Messages were limited to about 250 characters.

Email was available to anyone with a password. Naturally, this is long before the availability of internet email to the general public, thus all messages were restricted to the local system. If DDial systems were linked, you could send an email to a user on the remote system provided you knew their account ID (the 3 digit code) and could construct an arcane sequence of commands to get it over there. The email feature was available on Apple //e systems that had an Extended 80 Column Card installed, and the data was stored in the auxilary 64k memory bank. Messages could not be browsed or saved, it was simply a system that you entered a command "/E" to read your email; it would display the next email message addressed to you. You would enter "/E" again, and if you had another message waiting, that would display. Otherwise, a message "--> No Email" would display and that was it. You could send a message to another user by entering "/Exxx Hi there" where 'xxx' was the 3-digit account ID. Email messages were limited to about 250 characters.

Co-Sysop privelages were typically given out to friends of the sysop and/or to random users in good standing as a way to ensure some further business. Quite often, a sysop would try to entice users to stay on their membership for a few more months by promising a Co-sysop password on the next billing cycle. Besides being a means of giving a user the ability to kick anyone off the system, or conversely, to promote a non-member (a m0e) to temporary member-like status (time limit, really), it was also viewed as an elite status symbol when a user engaged their Co-Sysop password. When the Co-Sysop privelage was activated, the user's access indicator would turn to a '<', instantly identifying them as a powerful person on the system.

Linking Multiple Diversi-Dial Systems
One of the most powerful featuers of the Diversi-Dial system was its ability to link multiple systems together to create larger ones. The benefit of this was that you could go beyond the 7 node system and create a system of many times larger. Of course, theoretical limits could be calculated based on link speed and buffer size over these connections.

There are two ways of linking: local and remote. A local link was when a sysop would load DDial on more than one Apple II and connect them with 2-way parallel cards. This allowed for a 7 node system to have 12 nodes (one slot on each computer was used for a parallel card). A remote system functioned quite similarly, except that instead of using a parallel card to make the connection, one of the modems was used. Back in the late 1980's, the most popular means of making these connections was by using PC Pursuit, essentially a service which let you dial into a modem bank in your local dialing area, which through some sort of national network would allow you to specify a modem bank in a target area code, and then complete your connection by dialing out on one of the remote modems.

The protocol used across links was almost identical to what a normal user would experience, except that the connection to the host (in this case, the system which established you as a link) was asynchronous; in other words, if you were a normal user and you typed a character, the host's output would stop until you pressed return. In the case of a link, the output would NOT stop. Anything sent out to the host would be displayed on the host's user's screens preceeded with the number of the port that the link came from. For example, if you were made a link on a host's port 7, and you sent out "#3[T1:Dude) k-rAd", it would appear on the host users' displays as "7#3[T1:Dude) k-rAd".

Interesting effects could be had if a regular user was made into a link. Anything they typed came out without headers, though they could still use most of the available DDial commands.

Several programs were made over the years to take advantage of remote links. Anything from password database management systems to Eliza bots to advanced email and message boards were created.

Hardware of Diversi-Dial
The hardware requirements for Diversi-Dial changed only slightly over the years. The base computer requirement was always an Apple II+ or Apple //e (though a non-//e had issues with keeping an accurate time of day clock). Originally, only Novation AppleCat modems were supported, though later the extremely popular Hayes Micromodem II (and its clones) was supported. If you were going to support Email on the system, you required an Apple //e with an Extended 80 Column Card, because of the additional 64k of memory it provided (for Email storage). If you wanted to locally link two computers together to make a larger system, a cheap parallel card was supported. And finally, if you fully loaded the system and didn't have a floppy disk drive connected, you would need a tape recorder to load the system from cassette tape, thus the requirement of the II+ or //e (they had cassette ports).

As mentioned in the previous paragraph, you could locally connect more than one system together. While it was almost identical to the linking system described previously, the exception was that this was a connection via hardware (parallel card), not a modem. When a system was configured in this way, one of the Apples would host the Email storage, while the other could be a rather stripped down computer (this is where you could use an Apple II+ most effectively).

A neat little hack that was supported for these locally linked systems was the ability to keep the time of day clocks in sync. Given that the Apple II series (save the Apple IIgs) did not have a built in clock, the time of day had to be set by the system operator when the software started up. Keeping the two system clocks in sync wouldn't be easy, and would be impossible if one of the computers was a II+. As a solution, you could connect a wire between the two computers via their cassette in/out ports. Basically, the "master" computer would send out a "tick" on its cassette out port, and the "slave" computer, via its cassette in port, would interpret it as a seconds "tick". The only modification that was required was that the "slave" computer would need a resistor cut on the cassette in to increase the signal gain.

Diversi-Dial VS The BBS Community
The BBS Community in the 1980s was composed of an interesting mix of people. You could argue that most of the regular users were intelligent computer users, who purchased a modem to connect to other users' systems with the intent of engaging in intellectual conversation and trading free software. Since telecommuting and the Internet was available to only a privelaged few, most people who owned computers didn't have modems; back then, they did not come bundled with your new computer, and frankly, were quite expensive (at least compared to today). If you owned a modem, chances are you had a good reason for doing so, and most likely you knew the wealth of information that was available out there in the BBS world.

Of course, there are always people who deviate from the normal. Whether it was someone who wasn't satisfied with the discussion available on their local bulletin board systems, or it was the sibling of the computer owner, some people out there felt the need to just talk. While this should have no reflection on one person's intellectual status, there are arguably much better (and more productive) things for someone to do with their time than chatting on DDial.

Most people didn't care. Some people ignored DDial. Some people thought it was their purpose in life to verbally trash DDial and anyone who used it. Whatever the reason, it seemed that many people from the BBS community felt some sort of offense to DDial, and thought that it contained no value and was a waste of computing resources. Maybe it was the idea that someone was capable of making money off their DDial system and they couldn't get $5 from "joe user" for their BBS? The basic feeling was that BBS people felt that they were simply "better" than DDial users because they engagaed in conversation in a properly structured forum, instead of the unstructured seemingly-random topic flow of a DDial. Many BBS systems wouldn't even advertise DDial systems due to their perceived status in the community.

Social Implications of Diversi-Dial
As mentioned in the previous section, there were people that felt that the existence of Diversi-Dial was a negative thing. The reason for this could come from the fact that either they thought the idea of people just chatting all day had no value, or they may have experience with what DDial can do to impressionable minds.

To discuss the social implications of Diversi-Dial properly, you first must consider the demographic involved. While there are always exceptions to the rule, the general layout would consist of early teenagers (10-14) who are mostly immature online, late teenagers / early adults (15-22) who were usually "the cool group" because they'd drink beer and smoke cigarettes, and finally the adults (23+) who for some reason liked hanging out with this group of people.

Since it seemed a rare event that people would actually enagage in stimulating intelligent discussion, the general conversation usually hovered around passing comments, insults, salutations and jokes. Sometimes, when an event would involve more than a few users, it could become the topic of the moment. On some occasions, the lucky horomone-rampant young boy would be treated to some teenage girl talking sexually. However, a very reoccurring theme seemed to be that of a girl or guy looking for sympathy from a bunch of faceless (usually) people.

"I'm ugly and nobody wants to date me", one person with a female-sounding handle would write. This would be followed by a chorus of men, anxious to kiss a girl let alone have a girlfriend, responding with comments like "No, you're beautiful" or "I like you". Sometimes an online "romance" would spark because of this banter, and people would declare their boyfriends/girlfriends in their handle. Sometimes these people have never even met. You could say that DDial helped these people by boosting their self image, in a cyber-world at least, and as long as they were connected, they were gods and godesses. You could also say, a bit tounge in cheek, that DDial lowered people's standards.

There is quite a bit of room to expand upon this aspect of Diversi-Dial, but we can leave it for now with the statement that most of the people who "lived inside the DDial", never really got to see the real world. They could have been the less popular people in their schools, and suffered through their daily routine until they could get home and feel comfortable with their anonymous community on DDial. You may be weak in strength, but online your mind is your muscle.

Well, it doesn't seem like DDial has necessarily died, but it certainly doesn't exist on the Apple II like it once did. Sometime in the late 1980's, it was ported to the IBM PC and called Synergy (or "STS"). STS offered more power, and was link compatible with DDial systems. As the STS systems grew, the old Apple II DDial systems slowly faded out of popularity (and possibly existence).

These days, Internet Relay Chat systems (or IRC) are the spiritual descendant of Diversi-Dial. There is also a UNIX-based clone called ENTchat that offers a client-server type service.

There is an offical webpage at http://www.ddial.com where you can find more information and links.

© 2002 Brian J. Bernstein

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