uk-motss: gay life online, before the web

Something of a diversion from the usual topics of this blog, but I thought I’d write a few words about something that happened twenty years ago. That’s before the world wide web, and in fact before most people in the UK could even access the internet.

Back then, TCP/IP connections were pipe-dreams for most people, and email was transferred over the JANet network or via UUCP. Online communities took the form of newsgroups or email lists, and the main resource for gay people was a newsgroup called soc.motss.

In the summer of 1990, after a few UK posters to soc.motss – then primarily a US group – had met for drinks in London a few times, most frequently at the now closed Brief Encounter, I created the uk-motss mailing list. I think it qualifies as the first gay resource on the internet for people in the UK (there were gay areas on systems like Cix, Compuserve and so on, but they required subscriptions to specific systems).

Back then, we had to give the list address in four or five email formats, to ensure people could reach us whether they were connected to UKNet, JANet, BITNET or the slowly developing commercial internet – Demon’s home internet service, bringing affordable internet to ordinary people didn’t appear for two more years, and it was a while longer before the internet gained mass acceptance.

Launched on the 27th of June 1990, and kindly hosted by the now defunct IBM PC User Group (before later moving to various other hosts), uk-motss lasted for sixteen years in all; I did the day to day admin for the first seven years, writing software that was designed to help maintain the privacy of members as much as possible. After that, I passed on the work to a team of volunteers.

Back then, privacy was very important; twenty years ago, far fewer people were out and open about their sexuality. Public attitudes were tremendously different, and few people would have considered discussing aspects of their gay lives with colleagues, for example.

We talked about everything; for some it was the first contact they’d had with other gay people. For others, it was simply a space to chat with friends – or occasionally have furious arguments – and for me, for a long while, it was a labour of love.

Over the years, the list peaked at around 400 members, and I met a huge number of great people; I know some people met partners through the list, and found it an invaluable aid in coming out, or coming to terms with aspects of their lives, at a time when there was so much less support.

It seems remarkable now, when there are sites like Gaydar to provide dating and chat, and politicians who are openly gay, that there was a time when few of us would have dreamed of those changes happening in such a relatively short time.

I’m tremendously proud to have created uk-motss back in 1990, and to have met so many people through it. And I’ve gone on to be involved in other online communities, since, first creating more mailing lists under the Digital Diversity umbrella, then the forum in 2005 and most recently taking over the running of BLUF a year ago this month.

I shall post a little more on the 27th. But in the meantime, if anyone was a member and wishes to get in touch, please do drop me a line, or post a comment here.

3 Replies to “uk-motss: gay life online, before the web”

  1. I was a member of UKMOTSS until it closed. I used to meet socially with many members. I was then known as David Murtagh.

    I have limited contact with a few people who were members then. The forum is much missed.

  2. I truly miss uk-motss, and ALL the members. The friendships I made then, the parties we often attended, were memorable. Nigel did a great job creating and maintaining the group.

    The flame wars were often interesting. All in all a wonderful experience, much missed, but not forgotten.

  3. I remember discovering uk-motss around 1994. I used to avidly read the messages on an DEC VT220 dumb terminal in a lab at Brunel University. I also remember there was a very active uk based IRC channel, uk-poofs which also had a mailing list of its own. Both were instrumental in my self-discovery and eventual coming out. I made some great friends, and would love to hear from any of you who were active on uk-motss or uk-poofs. (airmaxandy at me dot com)

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