Community Memory

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Community Memory terminal at Leopold's Records, Berkeley, CA, 1973

Community Memory was the first public computerized bulletin board system. Established in 1973 in Berkeley, California, it used an SDS 940 timesharing system in San Francisco connected via a 110 baud link to a teletype at a record store in Berkeley to let users enter and retrieve messages.

While initially conceived as an information and resource sharing network linking a variety of counter-cultural economic, educational, and social organizations with each other and the public, Community Memory was soon generalized to be an information flea market. Once the system became available, the users demonstrated that it was a general communications medium that could be used for art, literature, journalism, commerce, and social chatter.



Community Memory was created by Efrem Lipkin, Mark Szpakowski, and Lee Felsenstein, acting as The Community Memory Project within the Resource One computer center at Project One in San Francisco. Felsenstein took care of hardware, Lipkin software, and Szpakowski user interface and information husbandry. Community Memory (CM) in its first phase (1973- 1975) was an experiment to see how people would react to using a computer to exchange information. At that time few people had any direct contact with computers. CM had a presence in Vancouver starting in July, 1974. A second incarnation of Community Memory, aimed at creating a global information network, appeared in the later seventies. Its major players were Efrem Lipkin and Ken Colstad.

In his book Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution, Steven Levy described how the founders of Community Memory began the organization[1]. Of related interest is the involvement of some of the founders in the hardware hacking group called the Homebrew Computer Club, an organization credited with significant impact in the development of the personal computer.


The first terminal was an ASR-33 Teletype connected to the SDS 940 computer by telephone, using a 10 character per second acoustic coupled modem. It was located at the top of the stairs leading to Leopold's Records in Berkeley, right next to a busy conventional bulletin board. The teletype was noisy, so it was encased in a cardboard box, with a transparent plastic top so what was being printed out could be seen, and with holes for one's hands while typing.

A large poster explained that one could ADD items, attach keywords to them, and FIND items using keywords. By the side sat a CM assistant, attracting people's attention and encouraging them to add and find messages. The record store and its bulletin board brought together drummers seeking fusion guitarists, bagel aficionados looking for sources, and the first poets of the medium, notably one who went by the nom de plume of Benway - the first net personality.[citation needed] Periodically directories of recently added items or of musician-related messages would be printed out and left there.

When CRT based terminals became more cheaply available one was set up at the original Berkeley Whole Earth Access Store and another at the Mission Public Library in San Francisco. The character of the message base varied with location.

The Community Memory software was implemented as an extension of the ROGIRS keyword information retrieval system written by Bart Nagel at Resource One, which in turn was derived from Robert Shapiro's MIRS (Meta Information Retrieval System). It ran on an SDS 940, an antique timesharing system the size of eight refrigerators, originally used by Douglas Englebart in "the mother of all demos", which had been donated to Resource One for community use.

By 1974 it was apparent that Community Memory needed to move from its home on the XDS-940 (which was large, underpowered, and uneconomical) and be recast as a network of more modern minicomputers. It was shut down in January 1975; its staff left Resource One and began to explore funding for a new project which would develop the software for a replicable and networked version of Community Memory.


  1. Levy, S: "Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution". Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1984.

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