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Early Days of Chowhound Message Boards via the Wayback Machine

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I'm sure most of you are familiar with the Internet Archive Wayback Machine -- http://archive.org/web/web.php -- which takes "snapshots" of websites from the past. I've just spent a couple of hours reading Chowhound posts from 1998-2002 (unfortunately, none of the 1997 Chowhound posts seemed to be archived -- the earliest I can find are from January 28, 1998).

For those of you who weren't here in the early days of Chowhound, you'll notice how New York-centric we were, with the only American regional boards outside of the tri-state area all lumped together under "Elsewhere in America." I do remember that because of the fewer boards, I stumbled onto valuable posts I might not have read today if it were in a board that I don't usually frequent. And I "met" some of my favorite posters this way. Volume was small enough so that I usually read all the boards. Here's the way the board index looked in 1998: http://web.archive.org/web/1998012813... The links usually work, and you can see how frequently Jim Leff posted then.

For oldtimers, you can look at old posts and immediately conjure up memories. I found my first ever post about Lotus of Siam in Las Vegas (and my inarticulate ramblings after eating at LOS eleven times in one vacation), debates with Jonathan Gold about L.A. food, the shock of 9/11, and many opinions that I would retract today.

Put chowhound.com in the main search engine of Wayback and you'll see a calendar. Click on it and you'll see the splash page, just the way a newbie would have 15 years ago. Great fun.

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  1. As a less-known historical footnote to Dave's helpful archive links, you can also go back to the very first organized public discussion of food on the internet per se, in 1982, link below. Some of us on Chowhound remember that, too.

    As mentioned in Chowhound's FAQs, most public internet discussions in pre-HTTP days (roughly 1980 to 1995) took place on "newsgroups" including the original net.cooks linked below (later, in late 1986, net.cooks was renamed rec.food.cooking).

    The internet wasn't a mainstream communications medium until the middle 1990s, but before then, its users worldwide were growing rapidly, estimated by one authoritative history (published at that time) as some 20 million by 1995. Food was an early popular topic for public-forum discussion; exchanges similar in spirit to Chowhound's occurred, and in the early years with the smaller population, it was actually feasible to follow ALL food discussion on the internet. Many of those early messages also have long been publicly archived.

    https://groups.google.com/forum/#!top...

    4 Replies
    1. re: eatzalot

      The link was to 1986 stuff -- are there links to the earliest threads? I don't think I was online in 1980, but was a few years later (with my trusty Kaypro! -- CPM, the language of the future). I wasn't aware that there were food-oriented newsgroups as early as 1980. I first participated on food boards on Prodigy in the mid-1980s, and eavesdropped occasionally on friends' CompuServe accounts. I started and moderated a self-contained Pipeline.com restaurant/food newsgroup in 1994 until the ISP was bought out.

      I don't remember exactly how and when I stumbled onto Chowhound, but its sensibility clicked with me immediately, but it was very soon after its launch.

      1. re: Dave Feldman

        Dave, the link that I put upthread was to the first posting to net.cooks, "Pasta suggestions," 9 January 1982, in the Google Groups archive (one of the places that publicly archives it). Here is a link to another archive, quux, displaying the same message unformatted (much as 1982 readers saw it):

        http://quux.org:70/Archives/usenet-a-...

        Slightly earlier were organizational messages on other newsgroups, and an announcement of the launch of net.cooks. Soon after these 1982 messages, newsgroup net.cooks rose to a high rank in statistical reports of newsgroup traffic; evidently, people were interested in food. The January 1982 message I've linked to here was the start of organized, public, food discussions on the internet _per se._ (Others occurred on email lists, private commercial networks such as Prodigy and CompuServe, and informal dial-up "bulletin boards" as early as late 1960s.) Many early messages that followed the 1982 prototype above are also publicly archived. Again, net.cooks became rec.food.cooking in late 1986, which still operates.

        As usual for newsgroups, content was unmoderated and broadcast, i.e. not tied to a specific "web site." Unmoderated newsgroups worked adequately in earlier years, but today they attract distracting spam, trolls, etc.

        Newsgroups as a tool date to 1979, and are publicly archived from about 1981.

        1. re: eatzalot

          Thanks -- very cool. I love the look of those old newsgroup posts. As a non-tech, I could never figure out all the content in the headers,so I grew to ignore them, just as I've learned to block out banner ads. I knew about the early days of rec.food.cooking, but not these earlier groups.

          1. re: Dave Feldman

            It's much like the headers of email (literally so: newsgroups are an offshoot of email). Most of the content in full email headers is not of everyday interest, so is suppressed by typical email-reading tools, unless you ask for it.

    2. Dave! This is awesome. I remember stumbling across chowhound.com in the bad old days of being up all night with the kids. The computer was in the guest room and I would surf while waiting for them to please-please-please go back to sleep. I lurked for the longest time, reading first for locale, and then for local posts from favorites (pat hammond, gabriel solis), and then more far-ranging for favorite posters (simon majumdar, jim leff). In those wee small hours, I would almost weep with joy to find people discussing, with such passion and intelligence, a subject that I was so interested in. Thank you for posting this, I foresee many enjoyable hours revisiting these boards. And Jim Leff, really, you did something wonderful when you created this.

      1 Reply
      1. re: tonifi

        Be careful. Reading the Wayback Machine can be harmful to your productivity.

      2. It *is* great fun! Every once in a while I get to feeling nostalgic and go Wayback too. Love seeing that old format. I think my first post was in '97. Thanks for this, Dave!

        1. "For those of you who weren't here in the early days of Chowhound, you'll notice how New York-centric we were, with the only American regional boards outside of the tri-state area all lumped together under "Elsewhere in America.""
          Ah, the good old days. Hard to believe that once upon a time nobody involved with the site had to have it explained to them that the term "Outer Boroughs" was not perceived as insulting by those of us living in the Outer Boroughs.