Prodigy, IPS, and OLTV
As I unpacked the Prodigy start-up kit and loaded its custom software onto my hard disk, the biggest challenge I faced was fighting through all the hype. What other online service have you seen advertised on national TV? Oops! Prodigy is not an online service; its parents, Sears and IBM, refer to it as an "IPS," an "interactive personal service." They reportedly spent over a half billion dollars on its development and are pushing it as a breakthrough from the online disonaurs of the past. Maybe Prodigy is something, well... prodigious. Surely these giant companies know what they're doing. IBM's last venture into the consumer market, after all, was the PC Jr.
With the easily installed Prodigy software ready to go, I was ready to enter this new stage in online information. I typed in the ID and password (no auto logon. hmmm). Following my usual practice, I intended to download the help and menu screens for study and reference, but was taken aback to discover that you can't download with Prodigy. Oh, well, I thought, I'll just print it off. But you can't even print from most of Prodigy - you've got to use everything right there. So I ended up taking notes instead (some peripheral for a cutting edge information product - a pencil and paper.) I pressed return to call up the next screen, and waited... and waited ...and waited. I hadn't seen response time like this since the 1970s. If you're using Prodigy, it's best to have something to occupy yourself while you wait for the system to respond, like knitting a sweater or reading War and Peace - you can knock off a chapter while you're waiting for you screen to fill up.
"If this is the future of online: no auto logon, no downloading, response time measured with an hourglass," I muttered, "then give me the past." But I reminded myself that Prodigy is not an online service, it is an IPS. Maybe I was missing the point. Maybe an IPS is supposed to be slow.
Back from the Grave
As I copied Prodigy's table of contents - News, Money, Shopping, Travel, etc., - it slowly came to me: Prodigy is videotex. How could this be? Isn't videotex supposed to be dead? Nevertheless, a closer examination of Prodigy's content revealed an array of conventional videotex services:
News & Features
Hard news is very thin, with a veneer of brief reports on the day's major national, regional, and international stories. There is more soft news, including features, sports, and winning state lottery numbers. The most useful section contains summaries from articles on consumer products and personal finance from Consumer Reports and Changing Times magazines.
Prodigy's finance section emphasizes the interests of the casual personal investor. It has the current day's major business news in brief, market summaries, and columns on taxes, real estate, and finance. Dow Jones supplies company news briefs, current day stock quotes, and a simplified portfolio reporter.
Like many of Prodigy's departments, Money also has a bulletin board, called a `Club', which is modelled on consumer online service SIGs like CompuServe's forums. Members can read, post, and answer messages on several different aspects of personal finance and investment.
Travel & Weather
Travel focusses on the needs of the business air traveller with domestic and foreign news and resports, and the Eaasy Sabre reservation service. Excerpts from Consumer Reports Travel Letter provide reliable advice and authoritative reports.
Weather, complete with full-color national map (Where do you suppose they got that idea from?), has national and regional reports and forecasts.
Prodigy offers the typical range of consumer goods and services found in online shopping: electronic gear, household items and appliances, clothes, gourmet foods, banking, investing, and financial services, etc. …