Q Is there such a thing as a computer pen-pal?
A Yes. All you avid correspondents out there will be happy to know that at least two information networks have services that will let you communicate with other computer users on-line. First, there's The Source which offers users three options : Chat, Participate and Electronic Mail. The first enables you to "chat" on-line with anyone in the world. You do, by the way, have the choice of not "chatting," exercised by simply typing "Refuse Chat." Participate is like chat but it involves several people, not just two - like a conference call. Electronic Mail is just what it implies. You can send letters via computer to anyone else who subscribes, provided you know his or her ID number. And the other person needn't be on-line to receive them. They will be stored in an electronic mailbox until the other user goes on-line and calls them.
CompuServe also has an Electronic Mail service which works the same way as the Source's. In addition, CompuServe offers a communications network which is a CB simulator. You've got a certain number of channels over which you can "broadcast," and you've got to have a handle. 10-4, good buddy.
After paying the initial $100 to join The Source, time on-line costs anywhere from $10 to as low as $5.75 an hour, depending on the time of day you use it. If you wish to use CompuServe you can do it by buying a starter kit from Radio Shack for $19.95. This gives you one hour on-line free. After that, it's $5 per hour from 6:00 pm to 5:00 am and $22 per hour during prime time (8:00 am to 6:00 pm). CompuServe divides the hour into one minute increments, so a 59 minute conversation will cost less than a full hour one will. You can contact The Source at [phone # redacted] and CompuServe at [phone # redacted].
NOTE : Excerpt from "Input/Output" Q&A column (author uncredited) of Electronic Fun with Computers and Games magazine (July 1983, Vol. 1, No. 9). Offers probably no longer valid, but knock yourself out if you want to give it a try.
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