My Impressions of CompuServe

The Online Service Evaluation

My overall impressions of CompuServe are dominated by the sense that their service is slow. I particularly do not like the way fractions of downloads are made at a time. I figure CompuServe's reasoning behind such a strategy is that:
(1) it frees up their servers as they do not have to send whole files at once, and
(2) that it gives clients faster access to the beginning of each document because the client does not have to wait for the whole file to download before reading it.
However, I feel that the partial download is the worst part of CompuServe's service. To simply read an 8 paragraph article about a car, for example, takes at least twice as long to read as it would through the WWW or gopher. On CompuServe every two paragraphs, the user must click the "press for more text" button at the bottom of the text. To make things worse, the interface of the read more button is poorly designed. When the button is clicked a flash of new text is displayed on the screen, which causes the reader (at least me) to loose their place in the article. It then takes more time to go back an find where I left off, continue reading, and then repeat the process after I have struggled to regain my concentration to read another few sentences. An afterthought also gives me the feeling that CompuServe purposely uses the partial download to force users to spend more time reading and finding things while CompuServe accrues a few cents for each delay one is forced to endure. I should also point out that the partial download is very effective at saving bandwidth and valuable data time when the user can tell from just a partial download that the document is not what the user is looking for.

What I liked about CompuServe I think it is a great idea that as soon as the user connects, the first window displays whats new on the service. It is a great way of informing long time users of just that... what's new. It is a good strategy to do it that way as opposed to making the user fumble around trying to keep up with CompuServe add-ons. (The technique is reminiscent of newsreaders asking or showning users what new newsgroups there are out on the net.)

I also like the design of the program not having to be online to be useful. The most prominent feature being that clients can compose all their mail off-line and then send it all at once, when the client connects.

Of course, there are also many specific services that CompuServe has, that the net does not, which are quite useful or amusing. A few of my favorites are the Roger Ebert movie guide, Consumer Reports magazine, and the member directory search (I found 8 Gorelick's in the database, all in the eastern US).

What I do not like about CompuServe (or what is missing) One big irritation about CompuServe is that every time I wanted to check out another service, I had to read about it. It seems like the user has to read a new set of instructions every time s/he want to play with a different service. In other words, CompuServe's services are not uniform. Therefore using just a few services will not necessarily enable the user to just intuitively use another service. I do not get this feeling on the net; although it is chaotic, for some reason now that I have some experience on the net most new things I try seem relatively intuitive.

I also do not particularly like the basic and extended service separation. What I actually do not like is the extended service separation; mainly because I do not like the idea of paying for these services. The application is nice enough to remind you that you are on the extended services, but I have the feeling of racking up charges - especially if I am waiting. Paying for services makes the experience all too serious and largely takes the fun out of trying to go to places I am not sure that I want to go.

Another big thing that is missing is multimedia. Most of CompuServe is text. The interface is graphical, but they are just icons. Most of the services do not offer any pictures to look at or enhance text. Enhanced text is not even offered for that matter, let alone sounds, movies, graphics. Thus there are a great deal of services that CompuServe cannot have that the net does (through the web). Basic examples of art galleries or music sampling pages come to mind as services that CompuServe cannot readily or cleanly support (I say cleanly because they could but it would not have as seemless an interface as the Web has).

My last complaint is that some searches or parts of services do not work very well. For example, I tried to find some information about my car in the Consumer Reports service. It was great that they had information about older models but I could not do a comprehensive search. I could search by year, but then I could not search make and model, and vice versa. I ran into several such incomprehensive features in CompuServe's services. Some of which were flakey anyway; like the member directory search only work the first time I tried searching Gorelick, then it just gave me problems.

I think the main source of my qualms with CompuServe, or any other such provider, is just that I am already used to the Net and I like it, so I'm just being the grumpy old man, not wanting to learn something new (to me).


By Daniel B. Gorelick