WOW! by Compuserve

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a movie from the WOW! Installation routine showing the main menu of WOW! from compuserve

Wow! (styled WOW!) was an online service run by in 1996 and early 1997. Started in March 1996, it was originally thought to be an improved version of CompuServe's software, but it was later announced that it would be a user-friendly stand-alone "family" online service and was widely advertised on TV as such. Wow! was the first internet service to be offered with a monthly "unlimited" rate ($17.95) and stood out because of its brightly colored, seemingly hand-drawn pages.

The first release of this program was quite buggy, with many random shutdowns of the service and loss of email messages. The service developed a small, but very loyal fan base. However, this was not enough and the service was quickly shut down

CompuServe "shut down" the service on January 31, 1997 by not allowing users to sign back in once they signed off.

There is a strong group of "WOWIES" who have fought on for years after its demise, to stay connected through chat groups (ironically on AOL), and a web ring. This group believes they were "sold out" by Compuserve because the service was being bought out by AOL, who began offering a $19.95 unlimited service as it was shutting down WOW.

This was not to end Wow!'s troubles, several class-action law suits were filed, claiming that WOW! was sold to stockholders with false and misleading information.

The CompuServe model had always been to charge customers based on an hourly usage fee. This model was no longer competitive due to the new unlimited programs provided by AOL and sprouting local ISPs. In addition, CompuServe was unable to offer customized usernames. Customers had lengthy numbers with a comma (or period if it one was sending it to another non-Wow! Compuserve member) in the middle as their e-mail address. Wow! was supposed to fix those issues and make the company competitive with AOL.

The Wow! Information Service was supposed to commence with the release of Microsoft Windows 95 SR2. This version of Windows would be the first to offer a built-in Internet Explorer. Knowing that this new browser would be considered anti-competitive, Microsoft allowed the major ISPs to include their own software installations into the base Operating System. Compuserve realized that this was a huge opportunity to get Wow! on to PC's around the country, but the software was not close to being ready for distribution.

The company decided that the only way to be ready was to have a paid beta test. IT Contracting firms were consulted and beta testers were brought to Wow! Headquarters. Each beta tester would get six months of free WOW! service and be paid $100/week, plus $10 per bug they found in the software. The beta tester that found the most bugs would be awarded a "bug bounty" of $2000. In the end, the beta testers were not impressed with the payouts, and very few bugs were actually fixed.