October, 1993

MindVox is a BBS with even more extensive Internet access than Nyx. The drawback is that it isn’t free. But even though full Internet access requires subscribing, guests are given ample opportunity to explore the offerings and learn their way around at no charge.

This excerpt from the MindVox sysop’s opening statement describes the service best: “The closest tangible structure that MindVox could be likened to is a sprawling tavern at the crossroads of the entire world. Whether you have jacked into Vox by dialing a local number with your modem, or stacked together a web of net connections that spans the world … you’re here because you want to interact with people that you won’t find on any other system — pioneers in the fields of computer science, science fiction, music, the arts, religion, altered states, and future realities — writers, musicians, artists, programmers, designers, directors, actors, entrepreneurs, business people, politicians, chemists, body-builders, and Elvis.”

MindVox is a melting pot — a place for a meeting of minds. Located in New York City, MindVox is like a Greenwich Village coffeehouse, or Rick’s Cafe Americain. Rubbing metaphorical shoulders here are users as diverse as FBI agents and recovering hackers from The Legion of Doom.

MindVox was founded and is run by a bunch called Phantom Access Technologies Inc. You’ll notice the virtually mandatory slate of legalese that spells out various do’s and don’ts, but despite these rules and other establishment trappings, Phantom Access runs a wild and wacky world in cyberspace.

Describing MindVox’s interface is a challenge. Sitting atop the normally intimidating Unix interface is shell software called “Voices, Waffle ][+ the NeXTSTEP. “Just call it “Voices” for short. It’s a menu-driven interface, tougher to navigate than the usual DOS-based BBS software, primarily because of the range of MindVox services. For example, the average BBS doesn’t offer Internet ftp file transfers.

Fortunately, there is an ample help file available. For example, asking for help on ftp brings up a detailed explanation, complete with examples of how to get a file from a distant computer on the Internet.

Similar help is available for MindVox’s own services, including instructions on how to play single- and multiplayer games, one of which is the classic text game, Adventure. Also, for instruction on Internet or Usenet use, files in the Archives section can be downloaded and read at leisure.

At its heart, MindVox is a meeting place. The major action is in the forums and chat sections. The local MindVox Chat can support up to 50 simultaneous users, which makes it a realtime conferencing service. It supports both public and private messages, so you can meet bunches of people or interact one on one. At the time I looked in, the Chat section was active but still under development.

If the local chat isn’t sufficient for you, there’s something called Internet Relay Chat (IRC). This is an Internetwide chat you can jump into the middle of a conversation with users located in San Francisco, Boston, or Cambridge (Massachusetts or England), and maybe someone in Moscow or Beijing. On average, 1500 users are online here 24 hours a day.

One handy tip if you decide to try IRC: Make sure you turn on the “add line feed to carriage return” option in your communications program, or the display won’t scroll the lines of chat will just overwrite each other.

While MindVox isn’t free, it isn’t ferociously expensive. Users get a choice of flat-rate plans. Plan I is $10 per month and is for users entering via the Internet using telnet. Assuming subscribers already have Internet access, Plan I does not include an Internet E-mail address or Usenet newsgroups. It does include access to the MindVox Archives; various games and simulations; mail and chat areas; and forums.

Plan II, also $10 per month, is for local callers primarily interested in Internet access, but less interested in MindVox’s offerings. Plan II users get an Internet mailbox (NAME@mindvox.phantom.com), access to about 1,700 newsgroups in Usenet News, entry to the local Chat system, FTPmail software file transfers, and access to various online games. This plan does not include access to the MindVox forums, most sections of the archives, telnet, and some of the available simulations.

Plan III is $15 per month and gets you the whole shebang. All the MindVox facilities are available, and if you get bored with them, you can go read Usenet news, or join IRC and melt into the void.

Any of these plans can be paid for by credit card online, or you can prepay via check (you’ll be told when your balance gets down to $5) . Or you can “run a tab” and be billed directly, though there’s a $10 processing fee (deposit) to open an account. Access from outside the U.S. is available as well, payable in U.S. dollars. Foreign currency can be used if it is easily convertible, though there’s an additional processing fee for any orders under $50 U.S.