Wiring the Planet — MindVox!
Sunday, May 23, 1993
By Frank Bajak
Somewhere in the ether and silicon that unite two workstations 11 floors above lower Broadway, denizens of the cyberpunk milieu are feverishly debating whether anyone in government can be trusted. Elsewhere amid the colliding electrons, people read a rock musician’s rage about the computer information service that somehow obtained and posted his lyrics without permission. This is the 12-by-20-foot bare-walled home of MindVox, today’s recreation hall for the new lost generation’s telecomputing crowd. You can enter by phone line or directly off Internet.
Patrick Kroupa and Bruce Fancher are the proprietors, self-described former Legion of Doom telephone hackers who cut the cord with computing for a time after mid-1980s teen-age shenanigans. But back they came, deciding to take the code-writing prowess of their circle, write some real idiot proof software” on top of a Unix operating system and build a primo thoughtspace for meetings of minds. ‘We just saw that a lot of interesting technologies were not being used for anything but file-servers,’ says Kroupa, describing the thousands of dial-up bulletin board systems in which callers often find little more than downloads of software and dirty pictures.
Kroupa is a towering 25-year-old high school dropout in a black leather jacket with long hair gathered under a gray bandanna, three earrings and a hearty laugh. “America online looks pretty, but is pretty devoid of intellectual content,” Kroupa says of the popular information service. His chronicle of an angst-ridden odyssey from an adolescent hacker known as ‘Lord Digital, to cyberspace saloon-keeper is suggested reading for MindVox newcomers. Fancher is 22 and more businesslike, but equally in love with this dream he left Tufts University for.
They’ve invested more than $80,000 into MindVox, which went fully operational in November and has more than 2,000 users, who pay $15 to $20 a month plus telephone charges. MindVox aspires to be a younger, harder-edged alternative to the WELL, a fertile 8-year-old watering hole for the mind in Sausalito, Calif., with more than 7,000 users, including scores of computer age luminaries. while there are tens of thousands of computer billboards, few have Internet connections, as MindVox and the WELL do, and few are as sophisticated. Forums on MindVox range from ‘Rave: Lunatic-Fringe’ to ‘Drugs: Steroids.’ one popular feature in a round-table discussion on computer theft and security hosted by a US Treasury agent. The latest hot topic is the ease of breaking into a new flavor of local access network. Soon to come: Maelstrom, a multiuser dimension, or meeting place, where users make up games, throw down intellectual gauntlets and create other worlds much the same as in Dungeons and Dragons. MindVox plans graphics and sound for this fantasy role-playing game and for that, the owners promise dazzling graphics that will make Prodigy’s software look like first-generation Nintendo.
Already, MindVox is full of surprises and humor. A user cruising the system at 3 a.m. might type a command and get this response: ‘Don’t hit the keys so hard. It hurts me.’