[TUHS] history of community help for unix users everywhere

segaloco via TUHS tuhs at tuhs.org
Thu Feb 9 05:39:05 AEST 2023

At least as far as I can glean from manuals, there is the "trouble" command circa UNIX/TS 4.0 which was "a front end for the Piscataway Change Management Tracking System (CMTS)".

This was used to report issues over uucp to Piscataway where they would then be transformed into Modification Requests, examples of which in the form of the request form *and* a list of 1980-1983 changes are in Sys V literature I've scanned.

The utility would request:
- The user name
- Their location
- Phone number
- Type of request: Hardware, software, documentation, enhancement, and unknown
- System: Product in need of support (usually unix)
- Release (can be N/A)
- Severity: 1 - highest 4 - lowest
- Date
- Abstract/Summary
- Detailed Description

There is a note here too that unless stated otherwise, reports may be selected for publication in the "Mini-System Newsletter".

I've never heard of this Mini-System Newsletter. It sounds like among other things it had a digest of significant trouble reports to notify the network of known issues.

The UNIX System Error Message Manual refers to two "Support Organizations" in the Bell system:

- Field service representatives that support the hardware
- Local software support and "UNIX System Customer Service"

The manual goes on to mention the preferred group for many of the errors encounterable

I suppose this means there was usually a local guru pertinent to the type of machinery (PDP, VAX, 3B-20) and then maybe some local software folks and then the man support group.

Looks like for BTL-specific extensions, Division 452 was point of contact on that one. In the notes for the Release 5.0 manuals (troff comments) Lab

The System V modification request form lists "UNIX System Support Center" in Lisle, Illinois as the point of contact for these forms.

The 4.0 documentation roadmap mentions getting documentation resources from the Computer Information Service Library.

The 5.0 BTL-specific manual has a second trouble page listing "UNIX Computer Center Support" instead of Piscataway as the recipient of trouble reports.

In the same manual is also "wwbmail", an application that would send help requests directly to the "Writers Workbench" group. I haven't checked this manual exhaustively yet so there could be other nuggets in there.

Of course, going back in the history of UNIX, in the early days, man pages listed the application author/maintainer with the implication they should be directly contacted with questions. This changed in V3 I think, which is around the time SCCS would've been playing around with what would become CB-UNIX. I dunno when USG and the PWB groups first formally start to tinker on things, but I recall reading around 1973 being a likely backstop. I assume USG handled a lot of this traffic until the 80s and the formalization of a bunch of these other groups.

So all in all from various manuals, this is the picture I can glean from early 80s:

Support Groups:

- USG Proper
- UNIX System Customer Service
- UNIX System Support Center
- UNIX Computer Center Support
- Piscataway (USG? PWB?)
- WWB Direct Mailing List


- Computer Information Service Library

- Might be the same group but there is a trifold (I can't find right now) that lists the User's Manual along with the two falling blocks guides circa UNIX/TS 4.0 that could be requested from some doc group
- Various labs and divisions that maintained their own manual versions

- Mini-System Newsletter

Granted, this is all based on manuals, doesn't consider any activities of USENIX or what BSD folks were doing for their help and support. Hopefully I haven't misrepresented anything, happy to illuminate any references that may be dubious.

- Matt G.
------- Original Message -------
On Wednesday, February 8th, 2023 at 10:58 AM, Will Senn <will.senn at gmail.com> wrote:

> Hi all,
> Today, as I was tooling around on stack overflow, I decided to ask a question on meta. For those of you who don't know, stack overflow is supposedly a q&a site. There are zillions of answers to quite a few "how to do i do x" style questions. Folks upvote and downvote the answers and the site is a goto for a lot of developers. I've used it since it came online - back in the late 2000's. I have a love hate relationship with the site. When there's a good answer to a question that I have, I love it. When they downvote fringe cases that I care about to the point where they effectively become gray literature that is near on impossible to locate - I hate it. Meta is supposedly where you go to ask questions about the stack.
> Yesterday, I asked this question:
>> Do you know of any studies that have been done around downvoted content, specifically on stack overflow or stack exchange?
>> By way of background - I find any questions or answers that are on the border (+1, 0, -1) as dubiously helpful, but when the downvotes pile up, much like upvotes, the answers become interesting to me again as they give me insights I might miss otherwise.
> After a slew of why would you think that was interesting, there's no value with upvotes and downvotes, and your question is unclear responses along with, as of now, 31 downvotes net, the question was closed for lack of clarity. My answer, which was informed by some of the comments was:
>> There don't appear to be any papers on downvoting specific to Stack Overflow. You can find a good list of known academic papers using Stack Exchange data in the list hosted on Stack Exchange Meta (link). It is an attempt to keep a current list of works up to date.
>> The Stack Exchange Data Explorer (link) is an open API for doing data research, if you want to dig into the data yourself.
> Which was quickly downvoted 9 times net.
> To see the entire debacle:
> https://meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/423080/are-there-any-serious-studies-on-the-value-of-downvoting
> Anyhow, other than what I perceive to be a decidely hostile environment for asking questions, it is still actually a useful resource.
> Wow, have times changed though on the hostility front.
> So, it got me thinking...
> What was it like in the very beginning of things (well, ok, maybe not the very beginning, but around and after the advent of v6 and when it was at or around 50 sites) for folks needing answers to questions related to unix?
> The questions... and for the love of Pete, don't downvote me anymore today, I'm a fragile snowflake, and I might just cry...
> What was the mechanism - phone, email, dropbox of questions, snail mail, saint bernardnet, what?
> What was the mood - did folks quickly tire of answering questions and get snippy, or was it all roses?
> When did those individual inquiries get too much and what change was made to aggregate things?
> I'm thinking there may have been overlap between unix users and usenet... Also, I remember using fidonet for some of my early question about linux, but that was 1991, many years after the rise of unix.
> Thanks,
> Will
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