[Home]PicoSpan

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A Unix-based conferencing system most well-known for running on the WholeEarthLectronicLink, but which runs (or has run) on other online conferencing sites as well.

http://grex.cyberspace.org/exec/picospan.html

The problem with picospan is that it combines the protocol with the user agent. This is very unlike news which has a well defined interface, such that you can use any of several clients to read news. Since TheWell has PicoSpan, you can use PicoSpan as your client, or you can use their Web client, WellEngaged. Which is several steps down if you are used to one of the most feature rich and utterly customizable news readers in the world. -- AlexSchroeder


That's sort of like saying flat-file databases are limiting. Yes, they are, given a certain context and set of criteria. On the the other hand, they can be useful.

It is what it is. Whether it presents a problem or not depends on the context. It is a value judgement.

Web-based interfaces can be limiting for those with limited access to bandwidth or software. Fortunately, with the rise of OpenSource options, software limitations are fading.

I've never run a picospan site, but am given to understand that it uses the mbox file format. Which is something of a standard.


PicoSpan was written over 20 years ago, in 1982, by Marcus Watts. It was first installed on an Altos 68000 - an 8 MHz machine running System III Unix. Given the time it was written and the power of the machines it was written for, comparing it to modern newsreading software is a bit weird.

It was never much updated because the company that bought the rights to it from Marcus (NETI) imploded, sucking the rights to down a black hole.

Yet it still has loyal users at Grex and TheWELL, and has been cloned twice. Admittedly, this partly relates to the fact that electronic communities are always fervantly loyal to their software, no matter how bad, but there is a lot that is right about the basic concepts of conference structure that Picospan popularized (most originated in Bob Parnes' Confer, back around 1975), and, given that it was designed to be used by dumb terminals over 300-baud dialup modems, the user interface is actually pretty well designed.

Picospan's file format is not at all related to the mbox file format. See

   http://www.unixpapa.com/backtalk/devel/doc/format.html#item

-- JanWolter


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