I keep hearing about the origins of the SDMB on AOL.

What did the boards look like back then? Are any threads in the archives?

I’ve always wondered about this too. Another question: When did the AOL-board go offline? Did the two boards ever co-exist?

Hmm…I can’t say much about the boards, as I didn’t frequent them much then, but I do remember that the main page for Cecil’s columns was organized by a picture of a brain divided into separate parts for each category of columns. I always thought that was really cool. So much more fun to browse through.

I vaguely remember the AOL Straight Dope and the non-AOL Straight Dope co-existing.

When I first started reading The Straight Dope column in 1997 (I didn’t discover the boards 'til later) there were two parts. The part I could get to and some stuff that only AOL members could get to. I never found out what was in the AOL-only section.
Was it the boards? Is that why I didn’t discover them 'til much later?

The AOL board, technically speaking, still exists now. You just can’t get to it unless you have it bookmarked. There are quite a few message boards floating around AOL without content areas connected, actually.

I doubt any of the threads from then are archived here, as I suspect it would be more than a bit difficult, but I can’t be sure, as I’ve never bothered to check.

Moderator’s note:

This precedes me so I don’t know the answer, but betcha the mavens at ATMB do. I’ll move this on over.

IMHO mod

The Straight Dope had a little residence on AOL. It was primarily a place to read the columns, but they had a message board attached to it, supposedly to discuss the columns, and ask our own questions, which could be answered by the Teeming Millions. Of course, the community developed, and when AOL decided not to renew their contract with the Chicago Reader in March of 1999, the decision was made to put a message board on, which already existed. I don’t think the two message boards ever existed at the same time - if they did, it was only a short overlap.

On AOL, there were two forums. One was technically a GQ board, and the second was Comments on Cecil’s Columns. The first forum had about a zillion more posts than the second. MPSIMS was one, extremely long thread.

When the switch was made, I was really happy cause I was out of the country at the time, and couldn’t access AOL. But when I saw the format, I didn’t like it, just because it was different. Now I much prefer this way, because you don’t have to subscribe to AOL, and because it’s much more international on the WWW. Plus, the SD rules are much more lax than the AOL TOS.

I believe I’ve heard TubaDiva say that she has an archive of the old AOL board lying around somewhere, but that she’s never figured out what to do with it. Obviously, though, this post is superceded by whatever she may say on the subject.

Probably not much she can do… wouldn’t it be copyrighted by AOL?

Hmmm…You don’t suppose you could let the BoardReader guys at it, do ya? I assume that the adminisration is cool with BoardReader regularly copying over threads here, and it seems like they’d be more than happy to add it to their cached copies. Just an idea.

I was around for the AOL days.

My memory of the early board is a little fuzzy, but I think that at first there weren’t even threads, just post titles, e.g., –

“Why is the speed of light a universal constant?”, * UKReader*, 4/1/98 12:16:04 PM
“Hey, Cecil, I Am Smarter”, * Dimbulb*, 4/1/98 12:19:34 PM
“re: Hey Cecil, I Am Smarter”, Rafaello234, 4/1/98 12:29:01 PM

Then came the “new” AOL board, which had a background of pastel push pins on a corkboard, and which had real threads.

There were only two forums, “General Questions” and “Comments on Cecils Column”. When you opened them, you would only see the threads that had posts since the last time you’d logged in, unless you clicked a button to show all posts since (specified date). So you’d open a thread and only see the new posts in the thread, not the entire thread. Therefore everyone but the newbies would copy and paste from the posts they were replying to, since people could not necessarily simply scroll up and read earlier posts in the same thread to see what they were replying to.

AOL’s formatting allowed for color and size, and also background color. Some newbies would come in and post in 18 point bold red on a fuchsia background and everyone would complain that it hurt our eyes.

There was indeed an overlap – I registered for the new board but the action was still on the old one, which persisted for awhile longer than they’d said it would.


Well, not quite. The actual official original AOL board was fully killed off unless you know something I don’t; but in the period between the announcement that the board would be killed and the coalescing of the community around the new message board at, we weren’t sure where we were going to reconvene – alt.straightdope? a new board at

One candidate was a separate unofficial SDMB-2 board on AOL! I don’t recall how it was set up, or why AOL was open to that while uninterested in keeping the main AOL SDMB, but the SDMB-2 board was set up and I went there for awhile before it became apparent that the community was coming together here. Anyway, I’m pretty sure it is the SDMB-2 board that still exists in a kind of limbo like a ghost town, not the authentic original. A few people still post there, including some old regulars from the AOL days who never really showed up here in a big way (Ranger Jeff comes to mind, based on the last time I prowled the ruins of SDMB-2).

I can look up the “aol URL” I still have stored in my “favorite places” but I have to boot in an older operating system to run AOL 3.0 in order to get to them.

Hmm…actually, I think what I have bookmarked is the original board. I can look up posts I made to the original board back to early 1999 and probably earlier. (can’t check at the moment, that bookmark is on another computer) Unless those got transferred or something…I don’t understand any technical details, really.
I just vaguely remember the unofficial board. I jumped over to misc.facts.cecil-adams at the first chance I got, so I don’t think I used that board much.

But I do remember those debates! AFCA was tossed out as an option, but it had so many regulars already – I personally didn’t like it. Opal, if I remember correctly, got action started on MFCA, but a lot of people were against that one. Quite a mess, all in all. I rather like the boards now as they are.

Ranger Jeff is around, but keeps a very low profile, for reasons I’m not totally sure of.

What I think would be extremely interesting would be a history of the SDMB, from AOL days to present, highlighting the most significant events, done as a reminiscence by Ed, TubaDiva, Dex, Lynn, and/or some of the regulars who were Present at the Creation. I know you all are mostly busy, but would you be up for starting a “Life and Times of the SDMB” thread and contributing to it as you’re able?

Jess, could you post the aol://12345 whatever-it-is link when you find it? I’d like to check that out.

The old PUSH PIN aol board is alive and well if you can find [it.]( pushpin.jpg)

Bawahahahaha :smiley:

I have a drawerful of Zip disks with posts from the old AOL board, with the idea being that at some point we would put them up somewhere in a read-only format, just so people could see them.

Like a few other projects around here, that got shelved because current problems and demands are often too great for the time span. (Yes, I do need a 45-hour day.)

I don’t think the Reader would be willing to turn this over to an outside agency, no matter how well intentioned.

What’s left on AOL is the remnants of the board still resident on one of their servers. At some point AOL will clean that server/take it out of commission and that will be the end of it. I’ve expected it every day since we left AOL in 1999 and I’m amazed that anything is still left. All the other structures of the site are long gone, though we do have the “Cecil’s Brain” stuff stashed away. I’d like to put that back up too, just for fun.

Lemme see what I can do about this.

your humble TubaDiva

Here’s the link I’ve got to Straight Dope Message Board under AOL “Favorite Places”:


I get an “permission denied” error message when I try to use it.


I recognize that the above statement was probably intended to discourage offers such as this, but here goes: If y’all need any help organizing/sifting/weeding any of that stuff, I’d be happy to volunteer.

You are using AOHell when you try, correct? and changed to 300 at the end?