Arbornet is a corporation based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA that operates the M-Net computer bulletin board system.
Arbornet, formerly a for-profit conferencing system based out of Ann Arbor in 1984, quickly gained prominence as a pioneering online community after a user led consortium purchased the system from its founders and began to run it as a non-profit entity.
In 1983, Mike Myers, of Ann Arbor, Michigan, purchased a $30,000 Altos 68000 single board computer running UNIX System III. Before long, Marcus Watts, also of Ann Arbor, began writing software for the new system including a program allowing users to automatically create accounts, a real time chat system called 'party', and a conferencing software known as PicoSpan. In the middle of June, 1983, M-Net went online with one dialin line. Before long, other conferencing sites including The Well and Chinet were using Watts's software.
Myers initially paid for all the expenses out of his pocket. In 1984, Jan Wolter joined the M-Net staff and worked with Myers to establish a patron system. M-Net's patrons were given access to a reserved set of phone lines for their generosity. Soon, M-Net was able to break even and even repaid some of Myers's initial investment.
Under his ownership, Myers claimed to have run the system as a benevolent dictator, allowing the users to act as they saw fit. Over the years, however, he became more uncomfortable with the uncensored and unchecked users of the system, and in the Spring of 1990, he sold the system to Dave Parks.
Parks's purchase is thought to have undermined the faith of the user community and the donations soon slowed. Parks threatened to cut off guest access or all access if users did not donate more. This had the opposite of the intended effect as users did not wish to donate to a service that may not exist the next day. In January 1991, Parks announced the system was for sale again.
Several users, including Watts, then met and discussed plans to start a similar service. These plans materialized as Grex, which opened to the public in July of 1991. Today, a cordial, if not friendly, rivalry exists between M-Net and Grex and among the users.
Later in 1991, Parks sold M-Net to a group of users, organized as a nonprofit corporation called Once and Future Systems, Inc. (OAFS). In 1992, OAFS merged with Arbornet.
In December 1992, M-Net gained a full Internet connection. Shortly thereafter, the aging Altos was replaced with an Intel system running BSD/OS. Simultaneously, M-Net replaced PicoSpan with the PicoSpan-compatible YAPP conferencing system. Although the hardware and software have received extensive upgrades over the years, the platform is still fundamentally the same.
Since the OAFS/Arbornet merger, the system has been run by the Arbornet Board of Directors, a group elected by the patrons of M-Net.
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