AlumNet Turns 20!
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Sep. 1, 2012
AlumNet Turns 20!
September 2012 marks the 20th anniversary of the Trinity University AlumNet electronic newsletter
Stephen Curry '84 reflects on the creation and development of AlumNet.
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the Trinity University AlumNet electronic newsletter. In August of 1992, Biology professor Robert Blystone approached me with the idea of establishing a regular electronic contact with Trinity alumni who had e-mail addresses. At the time, I was the Academic Programmer at the Trinity University Computing Center (now called Information Technology Services). Basically, it was my job to assist faculty and staff in using technology for instruction and research.
At the time, Trinity subscribed to a service called BitNet. This was an electronic service that connected schools together and was, for the most part, funded by a grant from IBM. Texas had made the commitment to connect the state universities electronically (the only other state that made this commitment was California) and for Trinity to participate, we rented a telephone line connecting us with UT Health Science Center, making us the first private university in San Antonio to go online.
One of the restrictions of the Internet, at that time, was that it was limited to non-profit use. As a result, the first alumni to receive AlumNet were either associated with a university or the government. Dr. Blystone had collected 16 e-mail addresses, which I loaded into a list service and, on Sept. 2, 1992, he composed and sent the first AlumNet newsletter.
Then the semester really started getting busy for both of us. It wasn't until the end of the semester that we had the time to get together and plan the next issue. Dr. Blystone knew that if AlumNet was going to take off, it had to be on a regular schedule and decided it would be a weekly, transmitted each Tuesday. AlumNet #2 was transmitted on Tuesday, Dec. 8, 1992. AlumNet has been continuous first as a weekly, then as a monthly ever since.
Over the next three years, AlumNet was transmitted each week. More and more alumni signed up as word of the newsletter spread. In October of 1993, AlumNet was featured as an innovative new use of the internet at the EduCOM conference in Philadelphia and the following year was still the only electronic alumni newsletter in the world. By 1995, more than 300 alumni were signed up.
Then, on Jan. 1, 1996, everything changed. The IBM grant funding BitNet ran out as well as other grants that were funding other bits and pieces of what had become the Internet. In order to continue, the non-profit restriction was lifted. During the spring late spring of 1996, the Internet grew at 18,000 percent per month for three consecutive months.
From the beginning, Dr. Blystone had kept the Alumni Relations office informed of what we were doing. A draft of each issue was sent to them for review prior to transmission. But, in 1996, interest in the newsletter exploded. Subscriptions shot up from 300 to nearly 1,200. It became clear that AlumNet was going to have to evolve. It had become too big for two volunteers to support on a weekly basis. So, four years after its creation, AlumNet became an official monthly publication of Trinity University and the offices of Alumni Relations and University Communications took over editorship.
Today, Selim Sharif continues to transmit AlumNet to you every month, which now has 17,000 subscribers. New technologies have dressed it up with pictures and colors beyond the simple text-only format of AlumNet #1 (you can still read the original issues in print at University Archives at Coates Library). As new media has changed, Alumnet has evolved with the needs of its readers and the University. But it's nice to see how Bob Blystone' s legacy fills an important if little-known niche in history as the oldest university e-publication on earth. Happy 20th birthday, AlumNet.
Stephen Curry '84 recently joined Trinity United Methodist Church in San Antonio as a student pastor. This internship will complete his seminary studies leading to a Master's of Divinity at the Perkins School of Theology. Steve was a systems programmer at Trinity for 27 years.