1988–1994: AEGEEs First Steps in Cyberspace

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Do you know Gopher, IRC or BBS? These were com­mu­ni­ca­tion or infor­ma­tion tools from the ear­ly ages of the Inter­net. AEGEE used them all, start­ing in 1988. Six years lat­er, Matthias Hin­nah from AEGEE-Aachen wrote a fas­ci­nat­ing arti­cle how the use of e-mails spread, how the first mail­ing lists were cre­at­ed and the first web­pages made. You’ll find it below.

AEGEE goes Cyberspace” or “From Giovannetti to Merker”

by Matthias Hin­nah, Aachen, OneEu­rope Mag­a­zine No.5 (1994)

This was the AEGEE-Europe web­site in 1997. It did not look much dif­fer­ent from the first attempts.

Today one could hard­ly imag­ine AEGEE exist­ing with­out the con­ve­niences of wide area (com­put­er) net­works (WAN). E-mail, Ftp, Gopher, IRC, and recent­ly WWW are the abbre­vi­a­tions that seem to be a mag­ic key to an unknown world. One can eas­i­ly feel left over if (s)he is not famil­iar with at least one of them. That was not always like this. The first attempts to use com­put­er tech­nol­o­gy for com­mu­ni­ca­tion in AEGEE were made by AEGEE-Delft already in 1988. They tried to estab­lish a BBS (Bul­letin Board Sys­tem) for AEGEE. Some remains of those efforts can still be seen in the office in Delft: One or two files in the shelves still show that they were orig­i­nal­ly enti­tled BBS. Unfor­tu­nate­ly com­put­er tech­nol­o­gy in the field of WAN was not yet enough devel­oped to be acces­si­ble to almost every­body as it is today.

A broad­er audi­ence in AEGEE was con­front­ed with the sub­ject of com­put­er com­mu­ni­ca­tion on the Ago­ra in Paris in May 1990 for the first time. There Giu­liano Gio­van­net­ti from Milano pre­sent­ed some­thing called EARN. Accord­ing to him exchange of infor­ma­tion should be pos­si­ble free of charge via this com­put­er facil­i­ty. It seemed very promis­ing. Giu­liano also dis­trib­uted a sheet of paper where EARN was explained as Euro­pean Aca­d­e­m­ic Research Net­work.

Some weeks lat­er an account on a Vax com­put­er was installed for AEGEE-Aachen and the big adven­ture could begin. At that time only six oth­er anten­nae could be reached via EARN: Bonn, Delft, Hei­del­berg, Karl­sruhe, Milano and Rot­ter­dam. Short­ly after­wards more and more anten­nae got their own com­put­er accounts. Although not all of them were EARN accounts they were referred to as such. On the Ago­ra in Ams­ter­dam in April 1991 a first list was set up show­ing which anten­nae had accounts like that. It was only in mid-1991 that the cor­rect term “e-mail” (elec­tron­ic mail) was intro­duced in AEGEE. The net­work which made this com­mu­ni­ca­tion pos­si­ble was and still is the Inter­net, a net­work of com­put­er net­works. It turned out that EARN is only one sub­net of the Inter­net; one which is used less and less, new­ly estab­lished com­put­er links in Cen­tral and East­ern Europe which were a great oppor­tu­ni­ty for AEGEE could not be reached.

Inter­net pio­neer John Stienen

Hav­ing switched to the Inter­net the next major step was the dis­cov­ery of Ftp (file trans­mis­sion pro­to­col). Till then only the exchange of mes­sages between a sender address and one or more receiv­er address(es) had been pos­si­ble. The con­tent was in most of the cas­es per­son­al greet­ings, the Cal­en­dar of Events or the list of e-mail users. Then Dinu Gher­man from Karl­sruhe had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to open a spe­cial AEGEE direc­to­ry on the Ftp serv­er of the ASK (Akademis­che Soft­ware Koop­er­a­tion) at the begin­ning of 1992. That offered the pos­si­bil­i­ty to store files con­tain­ing AEGEE infor­ma­tion pub­licly acces­si­ble that then every­body could copy to his/her com­put­er account via Ftp when­ev­er (s)he felt liked.

In the mean­time the so-called EMUG (E-mail User Group) had been set up in AEGEE. Some peo­ple want­ed to have an E-mail Work­ing Group, oth­ers said that the sub­ject e-mail would not jus­ti­fy the erec­tion of a work­ing group. Thus the com­pro­mise was the EMUG. All anten­nae and indi­vid­ual AEGEE mem­bers became auto­mat­i­cal­ly mem­ber of the EMUG as soon as they showed their inter­est by giv­ing their address to some­one from the EMUG. Togeth­er with address changes due to tech­ni­cal devel­op­ments that led to a rather high fluc­tu­a­tion on the EMUG list that was sent month­ly.

It was again Dinu Gher­man who had the idea of using a pro­gram to keep the list of e-mail users updat­ed. Again with sup­port from ASK he pro­vid­ed a first list serv­er for AEGEE. For about one year that pro­gram was hard­ly used. This was due to sev­er­al rea­sons: The server’s address was dif­fi­cult to reach via the Inter­net, only few address­es were sub­scribed to the list (main­ly from Karl­sruhe, Kon­stanz and Aachen) and hard­ly any­body knew about the pos­si­bil­i­ty of send­ing mes­sages to that list to be sent to all sub­scribers. The stress was put on the list of sub­scribers as pos­si­ble replace­ment of the hand-made EMUG list. That only changed when in mid-1993 the list serv­er got a new, bet­ter acces­si­ble Inter­net address and a new, more effi­cient list serv­er soft­ware was installed. Now the pos­si­bil­i­ty to let the list serv­er send one’s mes­sage to all sub­scribers became the main attrac­tion. At the same time John Stienen from Eind­hoven as E-Mail Co-ordi­na­tor of AEGEE had been very suc­cess­ful in gath­er­ing anten­nae and indi­vid­ual mem­bers reach­able via e-mail. The num­ber of list sub­scribers could thus grow steadi­ly. To show how the vol­ume of mes­sages sent via the list serv­er explod­ed a sim­ple look at the archives of the list AEGEE is enough. In the begin­ning one archive’s file was enough to store all con­tri­bu­tions of sev­er­al months. Today even a sin­gle month­ly archives file is much big­ger. The most inter­est­ing dis­cus­sions so far were those about the future of AEGEE in autumn 1993 and about the con­flict between Greece and Mace­do­nia in spring 1994.

Still in 1993 John Stienen intro­duced anoth­er Inter­net appli­ca­tion into AEGEE: Gopher. Like Ftp that pro­gram allows to access files that are stored pub­licly on a serv­er. The dif­fer­ence is that this is not lim­it­ed to one serv­er at a time. All servers are con­nect­ed with each oth­er and the files do not have to be copied to your own account first but are dis­played direct­ly on the screen. This allows infor­ma­tion search­es via the Inter­net through­out the whole world and cor­re­sponds to the decen­tral struc­ture of the orga­ni­za­tion of AEGEE. One main AEGEE Gopher has been installed in Eind­hoven from which sev­er­al Gopher texts of oth­er anten­nae as well as oth­er Inter­net facil­i­ties as Ftp or IRC can be addressed. The dis­ad­van­tage of decen­tral data orga­ni­za­tion is that many dif­fer­ent files have to be updat­ed inde­pen­dent­ly. Thus is does not sur­prise that the infor­ma­tion in some Gopher text is very out­dat­ed because they were updat­ed the last time two years ago.

Jens-Erik Weber made the first AEGEE-Europe home­page

Since ear­ly 1994 a rather enter­tain­ing Inter­net appli­ca­tion has been used in AEGEE as well: IRC (Inter­net Relay Chat). This pro­gram allows direct inter­ac­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tion between two or more peo­ple at dif­fer­ent places like in a tele­phone con­fer­ence. AEGEE even has its own per­ma­nent chan­nel because John Stienen has been able to set up a robot pro­gram that always keeps the AEGEE chan­nel alive even if nobody else is there. It is most inter­est­ing to see peo­ple from let’s say the Nether­lands, Ger­many, Den­mark, Hun­gary and Croa­t­ia dis­cuss togeth­er.

The lat­est devel­op­ment is that AEGEE has a so-called home page on the WWW serv­er in Kon­stanz, edit­ed by Jens-Erik Weber. WWW (World Wide Web) is a new sys­tem that tries to uni­fy the advan­tages of all the Inter­net appli­ca­tion that exist till now. Thus you can access Ftp files via WWW as well as Gopher texts. In addi­tion to this it works with graph­ic dis­plays and the so-called hyper­text stan­dard. You just have to select high­light­ed or under­lined words on a page in order to go to anoth­er page con­tain­ing more infor­ma­tion about that top­ic. By this it is also pos­si­ble to include pic­tures. At the moment one can have a look at the pic­tures that Sergey Odinets from Budapest has tak­en dur­ing the Minor­i­ty Con­gress in Budapest and the Pres­i­dents’ Meet­ing in Eger at the begin­ning of 1994 and that he con­vert­ed into com­put­er read­able for­mat. WWW is for sure the most fas­ci­nat­ing sys­tem on the Inter­net and one can think of many appli­ca­tions for AEGEE.

The dis­ad­van­tage, how­ev­er, is that WWW requires not only an Inter­net access but a graph­ic ter­mi­nal as well which only few anten­nae or AEGEE mem­bers have at their dis­pos­al at the moment. For the time being peo­ple hav­ing an Inter­net access but no graph­ic ter­mi­nal can use spe­cial WWW client pro­grams that dis­play the texts only, which is still bet­ter than noth­ing. But time does not stand still. More and more peo­ple will have graph­ic ter­mi­nals as well. Who could imag­ine some years ago that today the major­i­ty of AEGEE anten­nae has the pos­si­bil­i­ty to use e-mail? What could under­line the devel­op­ment bet­ter than the fact that for a few weeks even our well-known Michael Merk­er has got an e-mail address and uses it eager­ly?

Com­put­er tech­nol­o­gy has estab­lished its place in the com­mu­ni­ca­tion of AEGEE. In the Inter­net one of the aims of AEGEE has been achieved already: Nation­al bor­ders do not exist any­more. Dis­tance and time are no prob­lem for com­put­ers. In future com­put­er tech­nol­o­gy will play an impor­tant role in the inter­nal as well as the exter­nal com­mu­ni­ca­tion of AEGEE. This is also demon­strat­ed by the fact that some weeks ago an e-mail hot-line was opened (aegeeint@ask.uni-karlsruhe.de). Via the hot­line AEGEE locals and mem­bers can ask com­put­er experts for help if they have prob­lems using any of the Inter­net appli­ca­tions.

AEGEE’s pres­ence in cyber­space:

  • AEGEE-Europe: aegee-euro@ask.uni-arlsruhe.de
  • Mail­ing list: aegee@ask.uni-karlsruhe.de (dis­cus­sion forum)
  • Anony­mous FTP: askhp.ask.uni-karlsruhe.de, direc­to­ry “pub/aegee”
  • IRC: chan­nel #aegee
  • Gopher: gopher.tue.nl, Path=1/faculteiten/AEGEE/Europe
  • AEGEE-Europe: http://www.uni-konstanz.de/studis/aegee/
  • OEM: http://www.informatik.rwth-aachen.de/AEGEE/oneEurope/